Creative License

Not all that many years ago, when I still had energy and drive and my brain had not yet turned to mush, I wrote music on occasion. Not a lot, but enough to have compiled a modest repertoire. To date I have roughly fifty finished pieces; a bunch more are unfinished. A couple count as “professional,” works because I was paid for them. Both were theme songs for short films. Alas neither ever saw the light of day.

But mostly I composed just for the fun of it. Although to call composition “fun” might be a stretch. HL Mencken famously said: “Writing is easy; just open a vein and bleed.” Music composition is sorta like that.

The difference is that, unlike verbal writing, with music you usually have a pretty good idea of what you want to say, so to speak, before you sit down to formalize it. You’ve “heard” it in your head, sometimes from start to finish, usually in pretty good detail, so the act of writing it can almost be like taking dictation. But even a small piece has a couple thousand notes spread across a number of tracks, and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds if you don’t concentrate.

The actual process of rendering the music is laborious. The composition is scored in a “sequencer” program, which records note duration, pitch, and dynamic value. Each individual track represents an instrument. A piano piece usually has two tracks (left hand, right hand,) but an ensemble composition might have 20 or more tracks: woodwinds, brass, flutes, vibraphone, piano, bass, percussion, and so forth. When you hit “play,” the sequencer sends the information to your musical workstations, which use that information to generate a succession of tones, i.e. music. My setup has three separate workstations, each of which can handle¬† 16 simultaneous tracks, plus percussion.

When composing you typically enter the notes one at a time, as though writing a physical score. But you also have the option of entering tracks in real time by playing them on your keyboard, to a metronome, which saves a bunch of time. But unless you are a really good player, and I am not, you have to go back and clean up the timing errors, and there are always timing error, so that you have exact quarter, eighth, dotted eighth, notes, and so forth. If you are in swing time, in which note couplets are timed like triplets, you must input each note by hand. For some reason a lot of my pieces are in swing time.

The following piece is one of my most recent. Four-four time, moderate static tempo, big-band instrument set. Had a devil of time duplicating the complex harmonies of big-band works, but I think it’s pretty close. The piece ends at a natural break point but I am working on a concluding section that includes a thematic counterpoint followed by a summary.

The sound quality is pretty good, considering. Bose noise-canceling headphones help a lot.

© 2024 by Scott P. Snell

Right of reuse is freely granted with proper attribution.

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