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I recently decided to update my About page which was hopelessly behind. Anyway, as I (for some reason) chose to admit my failings at composing I thought it only made sense to talk about it a little.
For one, allow me to say that I’m really into Jazz. Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to other types of music (especially classical) but so far the only thing I really enjoy playing is jazz. Jazz occupies a large spectrum of styles and what I most like is Modal Jazz, Hard Bop, and Bebop. If you’re interested, More about jazz styles.
Because of my interest in jazz I had to learn a lot of theory including a little of an understanding of modes and composition just to be able to play some. I always loved the creative side of any pursuit, and so diving into composing only seemed natural. The problem with composing is that it’s hard. In concept I figured it had to be fairly simple, I mean, I whistle a new tune that doesn’t sound bad at the drop of a hat. How hard can it be to translate that to paper and stretch it out some?
I found NoteFlight, a free web app for composition. It’s not perfect (there are a few annoyances), but it’s solid. It allows you to play your tune right there in browser or even export a wave file. So I got started. Well, it turns out that it wasn’t hard to come up with a nice musical idea, a simple piece of a melody or even a full melody. Putting it down, creating some kind of form that made the song feel like it was moving and had a destination was all a bigger challenge than I anticipated.
My teacher gave me some starting advice after a few terrible starting attempts. And I was able to produce something simple and bland, but
not bad actually. Some of the advice he had given was a chord progression involving all 7th chords in the key of Gmaj. Listening to it now, I see that I got something right about it even though it’s incredibly simple. Although I still can’t put my finger on exactly what I did right.
If you’re interested: Composition XII – Lucky 7.
And since I’m apparently feeling no shame today: Composition I
Last but not least (the one I intended to discuss when starting this post…): Composition XLIV
Not that I actually think anyone would want to use any of this nor can I imagine that someone would actually want to claim ownership to any of this, BUT … I retain all copyrights, blah, blah (a.k.a. don’t use it and call it yours).
With the last composition shown above (XLIV) I was understanding more but I’m still missing something. While this composition is in some ways more complex and interesting as compared to XII, it lacks the form that makes it feel cohesive. The chord progression in XII is purposeful and in XLIV it’s a all over the place. In I, well, half the chord names are wrong a maj chord with a flat 5th is, I think a half diminished chord? I don’t know for sure. Something like that. Anyway, let’s ignore Composition I it’s just too confused.
1 | 4 | 2 | 5 1 | 4 | 2 5 | 1 1 | 4 | 2 | 5 1 | 4 | 2 5 | 1
5 | 1 | 6 | 1 4 1 | 7 | 4 5 | 1 5 1 | 5 | 3 4 | 1
The chord progression on the second was really based on a melody I worked out on a piano, then wrote, then tried to find a chord that I thought sounded good with it. The problem though is that as you can see, there’s no form. There’s nothing to really follow. I didn’t follow a typical blues or jazz or pop form, or anything. So it leaves the song feeling not quite grounded. The first progression though is direct, simple and cohesive. It’s close to a modern rock type of progression and so the underlying current of the song doesn’t pull you out of the melody. At least that’s as well as I can explain it with my limited musical knowledge.
And herein, lies the core of my problem with composition. It’s satisfying to write something and have it sound good. But it’s also very hard. If I try to just write what I think will be fun, it goes all wonky. If I follow the rules I realize it works somehow, but it bores me. So I write something that seems fun to me like XLIV but there’s still a lot of structure behind it, for one the melody is focused on the C Blues Scale and that ends up making it sound a little flat and uninteresting. So I try no rules (Composition I): insane and weird and impossible to follow. Then I try lots of rules (Composition XII): completely diatonic, highly structured form, the whole melody is within an octave+1, etc. and it bores me. It works granted, but it’s boring. Then, I try some rules (Composition XLIV): keep the melody within a single scale (though a more interesting scale), focus the chords on 5 & 1, focus the melody on jazz/blues sounds that are key and sound fun, and it’s got something I like, but it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s missing some undefined characteristic to make it work.
So here I am, I’m bored with it, or I just don’t like the way it sounds. I suppose like other things as my knowledge increases my ability to write something that sounds good and interesting may increase as well, but I just haven’t been able to find it. As of writing this post, I haven’t successfully written more than a couple of measures in months. I find it hard to compose when it’s nearly always something distinctly unsatisfying. But still some part of me loves the idea of composing. Probably much like my love for idea of writing a novel. In theory, it sounds great, until you actually try. And it’s awful.Tags: composing, jazz, Music