That is my number one goal: Be a composer.
That is my number one goal: Be a composer.
Not caring what anyone thinks about what it takes to be a composer.
You' ve got a point there, some guy!
To be a composer, you should compose; everything else is secondary. If possible, work with musicians, and listen to what they have to say about what you've written, technically if not aesthetically (a decent player may not have any comprehension of what a piece of music is trying to do, but they can certainly tell whether or not a given passage is well or poorly written for their instrument). Get as many scores as possible and follow along with recordings, so that you can hear how various combinations sound.
But above all-- compose, compose, compose!
Nope, one of the best ways to learn is to learn of others and listen. I agree getting bogged down in similar questions is counter-productive, but it certainly helps!Not caring what anyone thinks about what it takes to be a composer.
I advice (EARLY ON!) to copy the styles of composers you really like (they have influenced you anyway, may as well control and tap into that valid and rich resource). You will clearly breach away from the copying (which gets (not initially though) boring to you and the listener), but it will teach you so much. Also, definitely try to copy Mozart and Bach (They will give you a grasp of several basics of composition - as well as thousands of other things later on) along with whoever else you like.
You will soon discover your own 'voice', but don't commit to it. Feed your voice, but you may also find later on that you have a different voice. Never commit in entirety to an idea, but feed everything you come across.
"What does it take to be a composer" and "how can I learn how to compose" are two completely different and separate questions.
I answered the first one. Yagan answered the second. (Answered it very well, too, even if he sorta spoiled his answer with a swipe at an answer to another question.) But "oh, well." His advice about how to learn is excellent. No one learning to compose should worry about losing their own voice, which is what I always hear fledgling writers worry about. You are you, and no one else. Turning into someone else just ain't gonna happen.
Listen to some very early Bartók, for instance. Amazing how much that sounds like his great countryman Liszt, eh? Now listen to something a little later on, like Miraculous Mandarin. That's not even a little bit like Liszt, is it? So yes, if you have whatever it takes to be a composer, then compose. And the best way to learn that is to copy. And not just the style. Copy out scores, note by note. You're learning techniques at this stage. Merely copying a style means you're only mimicking those other composers. And mimicking a notion you have of them. You really need to learn exactly what they did. How they produced the effects you like so much. And since it's technique that you're learning, I'd recommend that you also copy composers you don't like. One, you force yourself away from what you already know, and what you already like, and two, you may end up liking someone new that way! Either way, you win.
Describing what it takes to be a composer is quite a difficult task. As a professional composer and arranger I will try to isolate things which might be signs that you may have what it takes.
First you must have a very good grasp of how to interpret what you hear, both in the real world and n you head. My experience is this: At University we had to do harmony, couterpoint and ear training exams. The time limit for the Harmony exam was 3 hours for the whole paper. I and another student walked out after less than ten minutes and we both got 'A' (I scored 98%). In the ear training exam we had to transcribe by dictation a 4 voice Bach chorale (all voices) which would be played a total of 8 times. I walked out after one playing and The guy who walked out of the Harmony exam with me after 2 playings. The other guy is also now a professional composer who has worked in Hollywood (scores for 'Stranger than Fiction' and 'Waltz with Bashir' being amongst his high points).
So you have to be able to work quickly and accurately with what you hear.
Seconly you must have a almost encyclopedic knowledge of how most musical instruments work. There are exceptions to this but that should not be an excuse not to learn. It's not enough to know the opens strings of the guitar; in order to write a convincing piece you must know how hand positions, bars, harmonics, picking techniques etc. work together. You must also know how to notate these techniques on paper so the player can actually read it! It's a lot of grind but there are now computer programs which make notation easier for those who know what the page should look like. I started composing before these were available and I learned to write with an italic ink-pen and even went through a period where I actually drew my own stave paper with a five-pointed ink-pen designed for the job! This close relationship with the medium trough which your music is distributed to musicians is also what it takes to be a composer. At University pencil scores were always being passed around amongst the students; today it's Finale Files on flash memories. The love is still there!
Thirdly you must be able to write all the time! It is a myth about 'writers block'! If you can't come up with the goods you will soon fall by the wayside. It may be that you have no commissions at the moment but that should not mean you stop writing. Russ Garcia gives the most important advice when he says: 'Write, get it played, write some more, get that played too, write some more then even more. Write and write and write!'
Fourthly, having excellent relationships with players, conductors, managers, fixers, soloists, funding bodies, local church choirs etc. is so important and links in to the third point. This is how you really learn. Get you music played even if it's sight reading by the local amateur band! It will give you an invaluable insight int what you write well and what you write badly! the second is the most important. What you write badly should always get more attention than what you write well. I spend days going through scores if there is somethingthat didn't work as well as I had expected. Recently I was asked to orchestrate 4 songs for a huge open air concert with soloist Dimitis Kavrakos of the New York Metropolitan Opera. There was about 20 minutes of music and I was given 6 days in which to deliver the scores. The conductor was a friend from the Greek National Opera and was delighted with the work. The rehearsals took place in the National Radio Studio 1 and everything went very well. The dress rehearsal took place in the open air and the change was very disturbing. The delicate woodwind solos suddenly seemed very week and the harp was getting lost in the lower register. I sat in the break of the reahearsal with my laptop and re-arranged the solos, doubling brass lines and supporting here and there with strings and percussion. The harp was doubled in low wwodwind and some piano and some other changes were made. This was done in about 25 minutes and parts were re printed and ditributed to the players and the piece was saved! I was praied by Kavrakos for my professionalism but I consider this part of the job. If I did not have the good relationsgips with those people first though, I would have not been able to do this. It would have been scrapped from the program!
1. Great ears!
2. Know the instruments!
3. Ablity to write all the time!
4. Good working relationships!
Oh and 5.
Praise other composers. Don't bitch, nobody likes a bitch!
Richard Cherns gave me the best advice not just for composers but for all musiciians-
"Srtoke your fellow musician!"
How easy was that then?
Hope this helps you achieve your goal!
You can't wtite a master piece everyday, that's for sure, but you must be able to turn up with the goods. This is essential if you intend to be a professional composer. You will find yourself on the sidelines very soon if you turn down commissions because you 'lack inspiration'. Quality is only relevant up to a point; your work should never fall below a certain (high) level no matter what state you are in. (A bit like Mozart dictating the Requeim in a fever on his death bed in the film - totally implausable but you get the point.)
Composers hardly ever think in terms of the quality of their work anyway: they assume that they will write quality material 'by nature'.
All these comments should not discourage anyone from trying their hand at composition but should serve as a guid and perhaps a warning for those who are thinking of becoming professionals in the music business.
I meant copy styles though scores, through your ears only has limited value. I disagree (in once sense) with trying to copy composers you don't like. Because you don't like them, you are likely not to learn much from them. What I suggest, is to try and like them; listen to them, who they influenced and who influenced them. If you start to like them then copy them.Merely copying a style means you're only mimicking those other composers. And mimicking a notion you have of them. You really need to learn exactly what they did. How they produced the effects you like so much. And since it's technique that you're learning, I'd recommend that you also copy composers you don't like. One, you force yourself away from what you already know, and what you already like, and two, you may end up liking someone new that way! Either way, you win.
I partially agreed with you, I wasn't taking a swipe.(Answered it very well, too, even if he sorta spoiled his answer with a swipe at an answer to another question.) But "oh, well."
Not for a learner however, they have yet to develop the skills and practices of starting a piece. But you are absolutely true with even a semi-accomplished composer, there is no excuse to not being able to write something at an above-okay level.You can't wtite a master piece everyday, that's for sure, but you must be able to turn up with the goods. This is essential if you intend to be a professional composer.
Indeed!Composers hardly ever think in terms of the quality of their work anyway: they assume that they will write quality material 'by nature'.
Hard however when you are surrounded by people doing the same thing which you agree with.Praise other composers. Don't bitch, nobody likes a bitch!
Richard Cherns gave me the best advice not just for composers but for all musiciians-
ooh ditto!At University we had to do harmony, couterpoint and ear training exams. The time limit for the Harmony exam was 3 hours for the whole paper. I and another student walked out after less than ten minutes and we both got 'A' (I scored 98%).
_________________________________Slight complaint (Off topic): I tested my father who has not read anything about music (just radio), had can't read music, and isn't very knowledgeable about music, he got 9 out of 10 in a final year Harmony test for BMus. The absolute ********* test in the world:
Algorithmic composition uses what factor as a key in the creation of works?
And it gets worse!
What is the difference between improvisation and composition?
a Composition is the only true method of music creation
b Improvisation is spontaneous, composition is usually premeditated
c Composition offers more freedom than improvisation
Now, I agree with the last, does that mean I should pick C? Completely subjective opinions that can be correct if the person doing the test agrees with it but would be marked down because of it. Basically the question was: What is the lecturer's opinion on the difference?
__________________________________ Back On Topic
This is certainly a great help, but it isn't a necessity, you can get around it.I walked out after one playing and The guy who walked out of the Harmony exam with me after 2 playings. The other guy is also now a professional composer who has worked in Hollywood (scores for 'Stranger than Fiction' and 'Waltz with Bashir' being amongst his high points).
So you have to be able to work quickly and accurately with what you hear.
Of course, this approach is perhaps incompatible with prolificness. However, I would say that, although all of the above is very relevant, the idea of 'trial and error' is also important, and so it is indeed important that composers get a variety of their works performed.
Last edited by Herzeleide; Jan-20-2009 at 15:17.
While reading over the answers here it struck me that there are really three questions being answered, and the answers are accordingly quite varied.
1) The literal original first question: what does it take to be a composer? I stick by my own answer here: a composer is one who composes; therefore, to be a composer one must compose. But this utterly ignores--
2) An inferred subsidiary question: what does it take to be a successful (i.e. moneymaking) composer?
3) An inferred, and very important, complementary question: what does it take to be a good, or perhaps even great, composer?
It is the latter two questions to which most of the (very thoughtful and useful) answers are being given. The problem is that for every one of those answers there are significant exceptions. Take question 2. There is, so far as I can tell, no universal rule here. Does one even need to be able to read music? Not at all; Paul McCartney still takes pride in being unable to read music, and no one will dispute that he is very successful. Does one need to play an instrument? Irving Berlin, another whose success is indisputable, could play only piano, and that only in the key of F# Major (he had a special paino built with a transposing device built in). Neither Berlioz nor Wagner could do more than adequate work at the piano, and neither knew any other instrument well (Berlioz could play guitar a bit); their success as inventive orchestrators is obvious. [Please note: I am not equating the musical significance of these people, but merely indicating that they provide historical exceptions to suggestions already made]. Nor is it clear that even the most well-trained person will succeed; far too many artists of all sorts have signally failed during their lifetimes, and it strikes me as improbable that the posthumous success stories of which we know happen to cover the available worthwhile artists completely.
It gets even tougher whe we consider question 3. Leaving aside disputes over whether to attribute 'greatness' to any given composer, there is a huge range of methods and outputs to be found among those whose historical significance is clear. Bach wrote 1500 works, Berg wrote 15; both are considered major figures. Telemann wrote 2000 works, and no one considers him a major figure. Ned Rorem, clearly a recognized major contemporary composer, took an an entire year off from composing (and this fairly early in his career); Paul Hindemith seems to have composed every single day; the former is widely performed, while the latter has all but dropped off the concert stage (a couple of pieces excepted). Perhaps the only really accurate comment here is that of Honegger; asked what it took to be a great composer, he replied that, 'first you must be dead.'
So I find myself coming back to the question as asked, and picking up suggestions from some of the other answers. The only way to be a composer is to care about creating music so much that you want to write it as much as you can as best as you can-- and not really care about what others think of it or how often they perform it or whether you make a lot of money from it. These latter considerations, though they may be useful financially, are really extraneous to the heart of being a composer, which is (you guessed it ) to compose.
Last edited by LvB; Jan-20-2009 at 15:38. Reason: Fixing typos
Closer to 800. His catalogue is different from many.Bach wrote 1500
Terrible advice! Always listen and care about what people say. That doesn't mean you have to act on their advice (in fact you often shouldn't) but always take it into consideration.and not really care about what others think of it
Yes but that leads you to what Brahms did, edits his works to make them better, yet which are performed more...Quality (at least for me) is the point! And personally as a composer, I'm constantly preoccupied with the question of quality - it is a broad aesthetic issue which I feel obliged to ask about any music I write and any music I study - why is this good? How could it be better? etc. These are the real issues at the heart of creative work and aesthetics in general, and I feel the need to confront them frequently. They always branch out into questions of form, cohesion, unity, and ultimately, what one wishes to achieve.
I didn't make myself clear. I was not objecting to any of the advice above, but rather pointing out that none of it is absolutely necessary for a would-be composer to follow. After all, there may be many comments made from the purest ignorance. Certainly there have been many composers who have been little interested in the comments of others, even people with some claim to musical knowledge. Beethoven to Schuppanzigh (loosely translated): "Do you think I care for your puling fiddle when the spirit is upon me and I must compose?!" Beethoven again, in a marginal note written on a critical review of Wellington's Victory (untranslated for obvious reasons): "O du elender Schuft! Was ich scheisse, ist besser als du je gedacht!" Reger, famously, to a critic of his music: "I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me." And so on. You're absolutely right to say that composers may learn from the comments of others-- but not to suggest that doing so is some sort of requirement for entry into the composer's union, so to speak. Only the composer can know what he or she has attempted to achieve; outside of purely technical comments by performers, only the composer can judge whether their own work does what they wanted. Only history can judge its overall worth, and the voice of history is the something we can never hear while alive and still writing.Terrible advice! Always listen and care about what people say. That doesn't mean you have to act on their advice (in fact you often shouldn't) but always take it into consideration.
Last edited by LvB; Jan-20-2009 at 18:02. Reason: Quotation error
I think you are not being completely honest in your interpretation of the original question. The 3 catagories you set up later are all inherrent in the first post. I could ask: 'what does it take to be an Englishman?' You would answer: 'Be born in England.' and stop there. All the Empire and stiff upper lip, phlegmatic humour, drinking tea at 4 o'clock etc. would have to be catagorised. If it is as you suggest just a simple question 'What is a composer?' then answer 'Someone who composes.' But this is a deeper request for information, ideas, guidelines etc. And the many answers given here are all true to a certain extent in that they apply to the composers who gave replies.
Also the point was that composers should know how instruments sound and work, not to be able to play them all. MacCartney who can't read music relies totally on those professionals who can to cover his short commings; copyists, orchestrators, arrangers etc. There is a huge industry called 'Music Preparation' which you may have seen going past in film credits, which is just this; arranging scores copying and transposing parts which the composer either can't do or, more likely, doesn't have time to do. I am often involved in this stage of working in film and television. Next week a new series will begin on Sky TV called 'The Great Greeks' which will credit me with music preparation. In fact, I actually orchestrated, arranged, copied and prepared parts, and conducted the orchestra in the recording sessions. The composer reads and writes music but really doesn't have the time to do all the nitty gritty involved in getting TV scored 'on the screen'.