My dilemma as a beginning composer

Posted by: EdZ314

My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/12/20 09:58 AM

Hey folks. I'm really at my wits end here. I'm hoping that there are some other people who have been in the same position and pushed through it to the other side. Here's my dilemma: I've been composing music for about 3 years now, and just returned to playing keyboard after a few years of lessons on organ about 40 years ago. I feel like I've just hit a wall in the last few months. Maybe I've reached the limit of my abilities to learn and play, and it's just incremental from here. I've been studying music theory, listening to and watching classic Jazz, Blues, and rock performances and YouTube videos. I've spent a lot of time in the forums here and with BIAB over the last year and a half, trying to absorb as much as possible. There's some serious talent here, so I'm not concerned with trying to reach the top tier in this group - I just want to be able to produce something that captures what I want to express and make it good enough that people want more. I really value being part of a music community and want to participate as well as listen to it.

I realize that there's no simple answer to anyone's particular set of challenges, but if anyone can share some insights or experiences that you have had where you made a breakthrough, or a had turning point or found someone or something that really helped you, I would really like to hear about it.

Thanks!
Posted by: MarioD

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/12/20 10:29 AM

Hi Ed,

I doubt very much you have reached your limit of abilities. I believe only quitters achieve that goal eek

I have told all of my guitar students you are going to hit a wall sometime. How you handle that is up to you. Keep on learning is what I suggest.

If you are having writers' block then try something completely different like read a book, take a walk, etc then try to write a song about that experience. I also have BiaB write a melody and/or solo for me. I never take them as given but I usually can find a phrase or two that I can turn into a song.

If you are having problems mixing a song then slowly dissect what you have and then try different things to achieve what you want. This can be a tedious trial and error process but it is worth it in the long run.

Lastly don't compare yourself with anyone else, just please yourself. That is what I do. I know that there are BiaB pros here producing, IMHO, radio ready songs. I have my own new age, smooth jazz, and blues world that I live in. Am I ever going to make any money with my songs, no, but I have fun composing and producing them anyway. YMMV
Posted by: EdZ314

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/12/20 11:25 AM

Thanks Mario. That first line - so funny but so true. Fortunately I stopped trying to compare/compete a long time ago, and that was a huge weight lifted. All of these are good tips. It's always nice to hear from people like yourself who take time to give back smile
Posted by: pghboemike

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/14/20 07:19 AM

I just want to be able to produce something that captures what I want to express

Can you be more specific about why you think you may not be already doing this

and make it good enough that people want more.

What does want more actually mean to you
Are you expecting to make money And/or increase subscribers to your SoundCloud channel

Answers to these questions may help people help you
Posted by: EdZ314

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/14/20 02:16 PM

@pghboemike - Those are good questions. I'll give a couple examples.

I'd like to create some jazz or blues songs with some colorful chord combinations, not just basic minor, major and 7th triads - adding 13ths and 11ths and passing chords, etc. I'd like to split them across two hands, and that sort of thing, along with a melody. So there would be backing tracks, but the piano would be mainly from a midi keyboard. Right now, my arrangements are quite bland and bulky sounding. I favor the sounds of someone like Bill Evans in style, although I've listened carefully to samples like Miles Black's Realtracks.

On a rock song, where I might perform a guitar solo, the challenge there is to get the timing right and the accents and swing on the right beats. I listen to some of the BIAB generated solos, and it's not easy to get that sort of interesting feel out of my own, and it *is* easy to drift off into something rambling. I'd be using the keyboard here too since I don't have an electric guitar.

There are similar things with pop songs, and other styles. I feel stronger at creating melodies than harmonies, so thank goodness for BIAB, but I want the songs to sound fresh and well produced.

Not expecting to make money. More subscribers to SoundCloud would be nice, but only from people coming back for more. I really want people to connect with the music and feel something, preferably a song that will hook them and stay with them for a while. Better chops so that I can do more collaborations. I enjoy the process of creating music on my own, but its also great to be contributing something to a community.



Posted by: Tangmo

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/14/20 07:08 PM

Ed. I don't know if my example is actually producing the results for me that you are wanting for yourself. That's for other people to say. But I'll chime in any way. As long as I have been writing/composing, I have been trying to try out some new (to me) musical concept. It's hardly worth learning if you can't/won't actually do something with it. Usually, that has been either structural or harmonic/chord progressions.

But you mentioned melody. So here's something I'd like to do more of but lack your skill with melodic instruments. Explore MODES (and other less common scales).

Here's a quick and dirty way to do this without ever leaving the white keys.

C Major Scale (AKA Ionian). CDEFGAB-C C is the root note. C major is the I chord.

D Dorian. DEFGABC-D D is the root note. Dminor is the I (i) Chord. Try writing a melody that treats D as the root note but only uses the white keys.

E Phrygian. EFGABCD-E E is the root note. Em is the I (i) chord. Try writing a melody that treats E as the root note, but only uses the white keys.

I'll skip a few (though they are just as useful) and go to A Aeolian (AKA A minor). ABCDEFG-A. A is the root note. Aminor is the I (i) chord. Try writing a melody that treats A as the root note and only uses the white keys.

Even if you don't want to write a whole piece like that, look at it for sections. Try out those very easy to play scales, left hand either on the root note, the I or i chord, or a root power chord. Each one has their own "flavor", and if that "flavor" is what you're looking for to make your pieces more memorable, then there's an answer for you.
Posted by: sslechta

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/15/20 05:04 AM

Building on what Tangmo said, here's a really great post from the forums on modes...

The modes ranked by brightness
Posted by: EdZ314

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/15/20 07:36 AM

@tangmo - Your comments are very encouraging. I've read a bit about the modes, but I have never tried using them when creating a song. Plus, you are too humble - whatever your technique, there's great melodic elements in your music.

@sslechta - That's a great video. I've watched channel before, but I had not seen that one. Thanks much.

It's been great to see so many responses to this post. Seeing some of the music you're making and hearing from you is a great motivation smile
Posted by: edshaw

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/17/20 06:10 PM

Ed Z: You have received some good comments in this thread already. In particular, Tangmo's suggestions seem to address your intention, comping chords outside the box -- elementary for the Berklee graduate.
Originally Posted By: EdZ314

I'd like to create some jazz or blues songs with some colorful chord combinations, not just basic minor, major and 7th triads - adding 13ths and 11ths and passing chords, etc.

My own improv has benefitted from learning and playing the classic melodies from The Hymnal, single noting and chord comping from the Hal Leonard Fake Book Series, but really, any basic instruction can be used.
The academic approach is to address what's called The Elements of Composition, shown here, but any source will do.
Elements of Composition
I can see from your Soundcloud that your tastes run to jazz. Whether it is classic jazz or not is debatable -- New Orleans style, Big Band, Bessie Smith, are considered the roots, are they not? Anyway, your tracks seem more modern and abstract, which is in line, I think, with your intentions. With your recorded tracks playing, try this practice:
(1) Comp the chords in a couple of positions for a verse or two, using triads if it helps.
(2) Play the melody in bass , middle, and high positions, (C2, C3, C4, for example)...
(3) Comp with abbreviated chords and whole notes. Great for playing around and finding new voicings that sound good to you.
(4) Experiment around with imrovised melodies. It is a great help to have a lead sheet with staffs for this. If you are playing Cmaj and your landing note will be F, substitute an A, try it, on like that. Or a D or B for the change to Gmaj.
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The same thing goes for other elements, such as Rhythm and Harmony. This way, you are engaged in the writing process, not trying to perfect a cover. Just some thoughts.
Posted by: EdZ314

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/20/20 08:57 AM

Thanks Ed. That's some really good specific advice. In your SoundCloud songs I hear a very rich blend of melody and harmony, and it really resonates, so I get what you're talking about.
Posted by: edshaw

Re: My dilemma as a beginning composer - 09/20/20 04:20 PM

You are welcome, EdZ; and, thank you for the encouragement -- always good to hear. Much of it just comes from the wish to keep the listeners on their toes. They get bored easily by repetition, even a little of it, especially with instrumentals.