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Thread: Sketching

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    Senior Member Kopachris's Avatar
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    Default Sketching

    Let's talk about sketching. It's an important part of writing music. Every composer does it. But how does one actually go about it? It's not regularly discussed as part of music theory. Anyone want to share some of their sketches or talk about their process? I don't have much to go off of myself.

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    Senior Member ArsMusica's Avatar
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    I use Finale to compose and to sketch. I think I have a couple of thousand Finale documents ranging from sketches/ideas of 10 or so measures to completed pieces.

    If an idea strikes me for a piece on which I am currently working, I open the relevant file, add 20 or so measures to the end of the document and enter the notes...and at times the particular pitches are not important...I am trying to get a rough idea of the shape and rhythm...the precise pitches themselves I will work out later. Sometimes I will just open a new document and quickly insert notes; sometimes it can just be a skeletal idea but I want to get it down ASAP.

    In the old days, before I knew better, I would compose a piece from beginning to end and then revise. Finally one of my composition teachers told me if I get an idea that is good, say of 6 or 7 measures, write it down and build on that even if those measures might end up in the middle of the piece. This is what I do now; compose in "chunks" so to speak but always keeping in mind the overall feel and shape of the finished movement/piece. Those chunks will ultimately get welded together...and I do my best not to make the seams show!

    What I really think is the best way to compose is the way John Corigliano teaches. He requires his students to come up with a blueprint/outline/framework/scaffolding of an entire movement (or entire piece if it is a one movement work) before they start "building" on it. As such the entire form/shape of the piece is in existence before actual composition is done. This is essentially what an artist does with a painting (at least what I do when I paint): pencil outline of the entire picture, then blocking in colors, then building the painting up in detail. Musically, I have only done that once: it was one movement of my 3-movement symphonic piece that was my doctoral dissertation.

    I am currently working on a few pieces: a symphony for strings and timpani, a song for soprano and string quartet and a toccata for piano. I move from one piece to the other as ideas strike me. And I typically work directly on Finale. Once in a while I will take a trip to my local Starbuck's with manuscript paper and pencils and rough out ideas on paper, then put them into a Finale doc.

    I hope this helps.
    Last edited by ArsMusica; Oct-26-2018 at 17:55.
    If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art. Arnold Schoenberg

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    Lightbulb

    Have a notebook handy at all times, sketchbook ala Beethoven, to jot down inspired ideas that can come unexpectedly, sometimes even in the middle of the night. If one is going to compose or write you really have to want it as a priority, and that means never letting a spontaneous idea pass by that could be the seed of something potentially great that can be captured and then later developed. Such an idea can go through many permutations and transformations by the time it's developed, and stay aware of that but let it happen. I would also add that the development of an idea is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, even if there's tremendous labor, even the struggle involved, or why be a composer or writer at all?
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Oct-26-2018 at 22:11.
    ”Art is how we decorate space; Music is how we decorate time.”

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    Junior Member Tikoo Tuba's Avatar
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    I sketch without timing , essentially just noting the harmonic sensibility . And if a rest seems important , itsa fermata sort . I love fermata on and in everything . Fermata in my coffee , please .
    Last edited by Tikoo Tuba; Oct-26-2018 at 21:47.

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    Junior Member Tikoo Tuba's Avatar
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    I could feel so poor . My guitar has but 3 strings , and with notation paper at hand I've been sketching music for that thing daily .
    I s'pose I'll get along and write for toy piano soon . it's sitting over there .Actually , we could call it a celesta . Really I am free from formal time ; mastered that and am relaxed and trusting . What of time I do notate essentially are pivot points in time . These are instances when absolutely the music must pause or take a new direction . The end of a piece is surely one such absolute , and it is breathless .

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    Senior Member shirime's Avatar
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    I tend to draw shapes and squiggles representing textures, registers and contours, and overall map of a piece over time rather than any specific melodic or harmonic ideas. I do this to determine the structure of a piece so that I can make it sound cohesive. All the notes, harmonies, melodies and rhythms and how I orchestrate them is done later.

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    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    I tend to prepare it in my head. When I sit, the very general ideas are already there in my mind. The actual notes, harmonies, motifs, etc., i.e., the concrete elements, all arise during the actual writing of the piece. When I do this, the pieces tend to sound more spontaneous, while if I carefully device the concrete stuff before hand the final piece tends to sound a bit too cerebral. But that's, very likely, just a failure of mine.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Beethoven did a lot of noodling at the piano and wrote down voluminous sketches of ideas he developed there or away from the piano, often on walks. He kept his sketches compulsively and, as a result, many survived.

    He advised his patron and pupil, Archduke Rudolph, to keep a small “practice piano” by his bedside so the he could try out ideas before sleeping and write them down.


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    Senior Member Richannes Wrahms's Avatar
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    When I do plan ahead it's either the complete gamut of pitch material and rhythms, in which case writing is a very confined process, or I plan just a general shape/form.

    An example of the latter: I've been revisiting Palestrina style counterpoint through this wonderful Knud Jeppesen book so while I read and do the exercises my mind envisions a piece for strings in imitative style adapted to sonata form, which would be the result of introducing modulation to the style. I could of course proceed in sketching themes so as to maximize the contrapuntal and developmental potential or start writing the piece and let it flow it's natural course.
    Last edited by Richannes Wrahms; Oct-28-2018 at 17:53.

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    Junior Member Tikoo Tuba's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shirime View Post
    I tend to draw shapes and squiggles...
    I once did a music composing session with 8yr olds , and quite seriously shapes and squiggles had been what they invented to write down . They read from their music when later that afternoon they gave a class performance . Yours would be interesting to look at .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kopachris View Post
    Let's talk about sketching. It's an important part of writing music. Every composer does it. But how does one actually go about it? It's not regularly discussed as part of music theory. Anyone want to share some of their sketches or talk about their process? I don't have much to go off of myself.
    When out in public and I encounter a theme or motif engrained in my brain, I pull out a piece of paper and a pen. I scribble very quickly so as to be able to sketch it out in real time. Once I finish sketching out the theme, I sketch out additional instrumentations to pad out the sound. The sketches are highly disorganized, and extraordinarily messy. Once I have access to my computer, I begin translating my sketches into a full work. Often times I'll notate textural parts my simply describing the effect rather than the music itself.

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