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Thread: Learn to compose

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    Junior Member camus's Avatar
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    Default Learn to compose

    Hi, I really like classical music and want to learn composing. I am teaching myself music theory right now and planning on getting a digital piano, assuming that would come in handy and be helpful.
    So I'd like to know if there are resources out there for non-professional and wanna-be composers? Like online courses, books or something. My goal is to write chamber music, like string quartets or vocal pieces.

    The biggest challenge for me at this moment is polyphony. I have trouble tracking multiple lines - for example Bach's works. Any tips on this?

    Thanks!

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by camus View Post
    Hi, I really like classical music and want to learn composing. I am teaching myself music theory right now and planning on getting a digital piano, assuming that would come in handy and be helpful.
    So I'd like to know if there are resources out there for non-professional and wanna-be composers? Like online courses, books or something. My goal is to write chamber music, like string quartets or vocal pieces.
    You've lost me there. On the one hand you want a digital piano, and on the other hand you want to write string quartets. If it were me, I'd spend my time trying to learn songs on the piano, to become a better pianist. And make sure most of it is done by ear.

    Quote Originally Posted by camus View Post
    The biggest challenge for me at this moment is polyphony. I have trouble tracking multiple lines - for example Bach's works. Any tips on this? Thanks!
    What do you mean by "tracking multiple lines?" Do you have a sequencer, digital recorder, or computer software?

    I hope you do realize that polyphony is an old way of doing things. Modern harmony is based on chords and scales, so to speak. Why on Earth would anyone want to compose like Bach, or have the audacity? You'd probably learn more by transcribing Bach, then if you have any talent, your brilliant mind will take over.

    Also, why are there all these new "teaching beginners" threads all of a sudden?
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-31-2020 at 16:09.

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    I'll assume that "tracking multiple lines" is just another way of expressing the concept of polyphony.

    The art of polyphony certainly can refer to Bach's concept of the fugue, but can just as easily be referred to as counterpoint.

    I accompany a couple of 6th grade choirs (that would be kids around 12-13 years old). The choir director starts them learning the concept of polyphony/harmony by teaching them rounds. The less musically talented can sing these, and the more musically talented start grasping the concept of hearing two melodies simultaneously.

    From there she moves on to "Partner Songs"; chorus medleys that include a chorus of a familiar song (e.g. Yankee Doodle Dandy), and another tune that works with the same chord changes. They sing the new tune, then the old tune, then they divisi and sing both at once.

    Here's one: You can sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot and When The Saints Go Marching In at the same time.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by camus View Post
    Hi, I really like classical music and want to learn composing. I am teaching myself music theory right now and planning on getting a digital piano, assuming that would come in handy and be helpful.
    So I'd like to know if there are resources out there for non-professional and wanna-be composers? Like online courses, books or something. My goal is to write chamber music, like string quartets or vocal pieces.

    The biggest challenge for me at this moment is polyphony. I have trouble tracking multiple lines - for example Bach's works. Any tips on this?

    Thanks!

    Hi Camus,

    Learning polyphony will be crucial to your ability to write good parts for vocal music and string quartets (and any other combinations). It is an essential technique to master along with vertical thinking so do not deter yourself or let others deter you from studying this vital technique.

    Studying Bach and earlier vocal music is rewarding for many reasons, not least of all in inculcating of a sense of individual line that has purpose and flow. This will put you in good stead when it comes to your own way of writing. And so with that in mind, try these free classics...

    https://www.scribd.com/document/4075...lonfck-PDF-pdf


    For great vocal lines, try Bach himself here....

    https://imslp.org/wiki/Chorale_Harmo...ann_Sebastian)
    Last edited by mikeh375; Mar-31-2020 at 19:36.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    You've lost me there. On the one hand you want a digital piano, and on the other hand you want to write string quartets. If it were me, I'd spend my time trying to learn songs on the piano, to become a better pianist. And make sure most of it is done by ear.
    There's nothing inconsistent about studying theory, getting a piano, and wanting to write chamber or vocal music. Practicing the piano - reading scores, playing by ear, improvising - are all important.

    I hope you do realize that polyphony is an old way of doing things. Modern harmony is based on chords and scales, so to speak. Why on Earth would anyone want to compose like Bach, or have the audacity? You'd probably learn more by transcribing Bach, then if you have any talent, your brilliant mind will take over.
    Polyphony has been "a way of doing things" for about 900 years. What it's a way of doing is setting one component in a musical composition against another. A composer ought to be able to think of things happening simultaneously. Polyphony doesn't have to sound like Bach, but Bach has a few lessons to teach, including showing how harmony and polyphony are integral to each other (mikeh375 expresses this well above). Ignoring polyphony and "basing music on chords and scales" may be someone's idea of "modern music" (it sounds like what I hear coming out of the ceiling at the local supermarket), but it's a very limiting idea of music and a crippling limitation on a composer's education.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-31-2020 at 19:44.

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    Senior Member TalkingHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Polyphony has been "a way of doing things" for about 900 years. What it's a way of doing is setting one component in a musical composition against another. A composer ought to be able to think of things happening simultaneously.
    That's right. Consider, for example, Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony (1973); clearly "an old way of doing things", huh?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QjUajnM52E
    Last edited by TalkingHead; Mar-31-2020 at 19:58.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TalkingHead View Post
    That's right. Consider, for example, Ligeti's San Francisco Polyphony (1973); clearly "an old way of doing things", huh?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QjUajnM52E
    Perotin would understand (well, maybe...)

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Ignoring polyphony and "basing music on chords and scales" may be someone's idea of "modern music" (it sounds like what I hear coming out of the ceiling at the local supermarket), but it's a very limiting idea of music and a crippling limitation on a composer's education.
    Polyphony is heard coming out of 900-year old churches. I wonder if you don't hear Bach coming out of the ceiling at the local supermarket is because it's 900 year-old church music? Would you be happier if it was? Anyway, supermarkets are more essential than churches.

    CP doesn't teach 'chords & scales' as implied. It's the major/minor system, extremely limiting.

    Oh, yeah, Ligeti is really "steeped in tradition." is TalkingHead on your side or against you? I can't tell from this example. At any rate, he's ruining the asymmetry of the discussion.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-31-2020 at 20:19.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Let me get the smelling salts, he's fainted again.
    Incisive as ever.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Polyphony is heard coming out of 900-year old churches. I wonder if you don't hear Bach coming out of the ceiling at the local supermarket is because it's 900 year-old church music? Would you be happier if it was? Anyway, supermarkets are more essential than churches.
    Polyphony is also heard coming out of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, Debussy, Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Britten, Boulez...

    I would be happier to hear any of these coming out my supermarket ceiling than the "modern music based on chords" (and damned few of those) that I do hear. Even the celery would taste better.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Polyphony is overrated. Counterpoint is too strict. If you've got melody on the brain it's for you, but Debussy? Was his music full of counterpoint? Satie?

    There's really no need for "counterpoint" as a separate category, now that harmony has progressed to the point it has now. What used to be a "passing tone" B-C is now a major seventh chord.
    You polyphony guys are old hat. The study of it is really more of a historical pursuit than it is a vital, living style of music.

    Row, row, row your boat, gently into obsolescence.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Polyphony is overrated. Counterpoint is too strict. If you've got melody on the brain it's for you, but Debussy? Was his music full of counterpoint? Satie?

    There's really no need for "counterpoint" as a separate category, now that harmony has progressed to the point it has now. What used to be a "passing tone" B-C is now a major seventh chord.
    You polyphony guys are old hat. The study of it is really more of a historical pursuit than it is a vital, living style of music.

    Row, row, row your boat, gently into obsolescence.
    The self-appointed voice of the culture. We know how quickly history sends those into obsolescence. If you had a shred of perspicacity or shame you'd save history the trouble and yourself the embarrassment.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    The self-appointed voice of the culture. We know how quickly history sends those into obsolescence. If you had a shred of perspicacity or shame you'd save history the trouble and yourself the embarrassment.
    History? There is no history anymore. Perspicacious? No, I simply know how you think, and it never goes past Wagner. Self-appointed voice of culture? No, I'm simply taking over the valuable real estate you have so foolishly abandoned.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    History? There is no history anymore.
    If there's no history, then polyphony can't be "old hat."

    Polyphony is overrated. Counterpoint is too strict. If you've got melody on the brain it's for you, but Debussy? Was his music full of counterpoint? Satie?

    There's really no need for "counterpoint" as a separate category, now that harmony has progressed to the point it has now. What used to be a "passing tone" B-C is now a major seventh chord.
    You polyphony guys are old hat. The study of it is really more of a historical pursuit than it is a vital, living style of music.

    Row, row, row your boat, gently into obsolescence.
    Camus, the junior member who opened this thread, expressed an interest in learning theory and the techniques of composition, and mentioned his difficulty in following polyphonic lines. That would seem to be a request for direction in finding good instruction. So why are you telling him that what interests him is "overrated," that there's "no need" for it, that it's "old hat" and "obsolescent"? How can you justify responding to him that way? (Mikeh375, btw, being a real composer, responded to the OP in a knowledgeable and encouraging way. You're the only one who felt it necessary to tell him that he's "obsolete" before he even begins.)

    What I'm sure Camus was NOT looking for was to be treated to your musical prejudices and limitations. How can you "rate" polyphony when you don't even seem to know what it is? You did hear, somewhere along the way, didn't you, that polyphony doesn't have to mean Palestrina or Bach? That it doesn't have to mean strict species counterpoint? That it exists even in many forms of non-common practice, non-Western music? Listen to any gamelan lately? But that aside, strict counterpoint is a matchless discipline for the mind of a composer. Some composers still think that mastering a full range of techniques sharpens their minds, equips them best for their work, and provides them with the greatest richness of possibilities from which creative thought can arise. Lounging in a warm bath of "chords" doesn't get one far.

    If I were new on the forum and got a response like yours, I might think twice about sticking around. He's being quiet now. I wonder if he's planning to come back?
    Last edited by Woodduck; Apr-01-2020 at 08:35.

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Perhaps MR's right Woodduck. I'm going to write a string quartet and give a lead line chart to the leader and the rest can have chord symbols with slashes in every bar. My next symphony for a full orchestra of 90 players will be known as Symphony no2 'The Busker'. Regardless of it's title, I wont compromise and will retain a tight control. Even single note instruments will be expected to play the chords. I'll want Dm13, F7b9, Bbmin/maj7 etc. you know, all that good compound stuff on each instrument. I mean what other harmony is there?

    Jam sandwiches will be served in the interval to all the best soloists and barre chord charts handed out to the crap ones who think they should have actual lines of music to play.

    Camus, if you are still with us, do consider the advice of the pros more so than the armchair thinkers.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Apr-01-2020 at 08:57.

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