Keeping it fresh! Renewing the mind, body and spirit!

Filed under:Advice and Tips,Announcements — posted by admin on June 1, 2009 @ 10:38 am

shapeimage_1One of the biggest concerns I hear from other composers is “I have such a hard time finding the time to compose. I have to work a regular job and seem to run out of hours in the day.”

With the exception of those fortunate few who have the privilege of composing full-time, most of us are in the same boat. We all have to pay the bills by often working a job that isn’t directly related to our love of writing music.

Finding time to write is a challenge for many of us. We all have the same twenty-four hours in the day, but how we use that twenty-four hours is drastically different from one person to the next.

I’d like to say there is some magic formula to add a couple of extra hours in the day, but I’d be lying if I did. The reality of it is it comes down to certain choices. We need to set priorities and spend our time doing the things we truly value. It really defines who we are. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” If we want to “be” a composer, we need to compose. The problem is, we don’t always feel energized and consequently we are not always fruitful in our compositional endeavors.

We can’t add hours to the day, but we can renew our mind, body and spirit. We can make choices that help us to be refreshed and ready to create.

  1. Try to compose at a regular time. If you work 8-5, there are only a few choices. Can you find an uninterrupted 1 or 2 hours?
  2. Make a realistic plan. Don’t set yourself for failure by saying, “I’m going to get up and compose from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., jog from 5 a.m. –5:30 a.m., eat, shower and go to work, pick the kids up from school, write again from 9-11 p.m. and then get up and do it all over again. Make a realistic and doable plan.
  3. Be willing to adjust as you go. Life has a certain ebb and flow. Realize that if you run into a conflict, you may need to adjust your schedule to accommodate life. Maybe you have to move your time for a few days from the morning to the evening or to a Saturday morning. Go with the flow. Just avoid putting it off altogether. An adjustment here and there is just fine.
  4. Understand that you CAN’T do it all. If you try, you’ll get your life turned upside down emotionally, physically, spiritually, professionally and musically. For myself, if I have a deadline, I give up the non-essentials for a while. For instance, I may give up television for a week or two, sometimes longer, in order to free up another half hour in the day.
  5. Be sure that you don’t run yourself ragged. Sleep well and sleep regularly. The value of sleep is underappreciated. You can keep yourself going for a time with coffee and Red Bull, but eventually you are going to crash, AND CRASH HARD! At that point, you will become completely unproductive and end up wasting a week or two recovering or, worse, become ill. It’s very much akin to giving up candy for Lent and then gorging yourself for the 50 days following Easter until you weigh 60 pounds more than when you started.
  6. Find balance in your schedule. Do things that make you feel good in the long run. Rest, recreate, eat well, sleep well, compose, etc . . . If you sit in front of the TV or Playstation for 2-3 hours every night for 6 months, you will start to think only about TV and the Playstation. Trust me! I know this from personal experience. You probably will be able to compose odd unimaginative ostinati that sound strangely familiar to you favorite television theme or game, but in other aspects of composing you will be lacking. Ultimately, you have to make the choice of what is important to you.
  7. Get out of the house or apartment. Find a green space. Walk! Really examine the world around you. Read a book outside. Enjoy a 7-Up or sparkling water in the park. Breathe and take it all in! Remember garbage in = garbage out. Fill your body, mind and spirit with good things. The mind/body/spirit connection affects “the Muse.”  Nurture all three!

Most of the time we can’t “find” time to compose because we are “exhausted” from our daily schedule. We run ourselves ragged and by the end of the day all we want to do is crash in front of the TV and eat Cheetoes. By regulating one’s life, we create new pockets of energy in our day and, if you choose, develop new priorities.

Take care of your mind, body and spirit. Feed your mind with knowledge, wisdom and challenges. Nurture your body with rest, exercise and healthy eating. Renew your spirit through, meditation, quiet time or prayer. You will find that by taking care of yourself, you undoubtedly will desire to do things that are creative and artistic.

Good luck in your renewal and in your writing!

There’s a difference between composing and writing notes on paper.

Filed under:Advice and Tips — posted by admin on May 14, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

There IS a difference between composing music and writing music on paper. Composing is the act of creating musical ideas. Writing it down is simply translating the musical ideas into a form that can be read by others. Think of the oral tradition of storytelling. The stories were passed down from generation to generation orally. They weren’t written down, but yet, many of those stories still exist.

Why do I even mention this? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to suggest that we eliminate written music. Lord knows there have been many wonderful stories and songs that have died with the storyteller or musician. However, it isn’t necessary to be able to write down music in order to create it. The paper isn’t the music. The music is the living sound. Writing it down simply is an insurance policy that it won’t be forgotten.

I think some people are scared away from composing, because they don’t know how to notate (write down) what’s in their head. Writing down the ideas and composing are two entirely different activities. Allow me to illustrate the point.

I can drive a car, but I can’t fix one. The ability to fix a car, while a valuable skill, is not necessary to use the car to get where I’m going. Granted, the ability to repair a vehicle can have some benefits like saving money and personal convenience, but it isn’t a prerequisite for using the vehicle. 

Likewise, being able to notate one’s music has many benefits, most importantly, the ease of communicating one’s ideas to others and, as stated before, the insurance that it won’t be forgotten. Writing it down, however, isn’t absolutely necessary.

In an age when digital recording is easily accessible, many people have the opportunity to record their musical ideas and share them with others. Resourceful, aspiring songwriters, can plunk out ideas on a piano or guitar and record the session.

People can create their own notation system for their own reference. They can sketch out the ideas on regular paper, without using traditional notation, in a form that they alone can understand. It isn’t useful for other people to read, but it is a way of “storing” ideas so they can be remembered at a later date.

I recently met a songwriter who is interested in pursuing composing as a career. I invited him to show me his work and he showed up to our meeting with several CDs he had recorded AND a large book of graph paper on which he had written lyrics to thirty or so songs. In addition to the lyrics, he had written out the music in a shorthand version that, while it made no sense to me, allowed him to perform his music on the piano. The point is that HIS system allowed him to remember what he’d written.

I sometimes wonder how many people in the world have musical ideas floating around in their heads, but have never tried to share the ideas with others simply due to the fact that they assume composing means writing it down. Some really talented songwriters may be out there who may never explore the possibility of letting us hear their songs.

If a person has original music in his/her head, he/she needs to find the means, ANY MEANS, to get the song out of the isolation of their hearts, minds and souls and into a form that can be shared and remembered. Use a tape recorder, computer, sequencer, personal notation system or anything that works for you. Just get the ideas out of your heads and save them.

You can always learn to notate if that is important to you. I would recommend learning how. It does save time and, in the long run, makes it easier on you and your performers. However, don’t let your inability to write it interfere with your ability to create it!

What to do for “writers block.”

Filed under:Advice and Tips — posted by admin on May 13, 2008 @ 11:31 am

Sometimes composers, authors and artists have dry spells when they can’t produce work. They lack inspiration and struggle to get started on projects. This desert experience is frustrating for the composer and unfortunately can cause periods where the writer stops working for a while.

When these periods happen for me, I can become disinterested in writing and if I allow that to last too long and give up trying, it can be really hard to get back to work. The solution? Keep working!

“Huh? What do you mean keep working? I don’t have any ideas.” 

It sounds like I’m saying you need to bang your head against a wall. That’s not at all what I’m saying. Allow me to explain.

When you run across a dry spell where the ideas just aren’t flowing or if you are losing interest in your work, try some of the following ideas:

1. Organize your workspace so it is a place you want to go. Place pictures, plants or anything that is pleasant for you in the space to make it comfortable. Keep it free of clutter and keep it clean and orderly. Have things you need easily accessible like staff paper, pens, a tape recorder or keyboard.

2. Put yourself on a schedule. Try to work daily during the same hours as possible. Remember that inspiration is only part of the composing process. It takes time and it takes work. Set aside time so that you do it everyday. 

3. Have balance in your life. Don’t overburden yourself with your work. Work for a couple hours each day. Take time off. Do other things. Don’t live in your workspace. Don’t become bored or frustrated with work. Do enough each day to get your writing done, but don’t try to complete it all at one time. Keep yourself coming back for more.

4. Do some of the non-creative work. Use work-time for promotion of your composing. Use work time for the more mindless tasks like copying parts. 

5. Revisit older works. Take some of your older pieces and re-work them. Take the time to improve upon your past work.

6. “Lift” music from recordings. The skills developed from taking a recording and transcribing the music are necessary and invaluable. The ear training alone makes “lifting” music worth the time and energy. After practicing this skill, you will discover that it will be easier and easier to write down the music in your head.

7. Develop long-term goals. Plan for your success. Think about what type of composer or song writer you want to be in a year, or 5 years or 10 years. 

8. Develop relationships with ensembles or individual performers. Write for these groups so that you can have your pieces performed. 

9. Have specific writing goals and create deadlines for yourself. Deadlines encourage you to complete what you start.

10. Enter contests and write for scheduled concerts. Specific events for which to write also encourage you to “get to work.”

11. Study scores and recordings. Learn from the work of others. Take advantage of the opportunity during your writing time to expand your music writing “vocabulary.” Become more fluent at composing by having more sources upon which to draw. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Rather, learn what’s already been done and then invent a new form of transportation.

10. Read about composers. Take the time to read about the lives and, specifically, the work of composers. Find out how they went about their own writing. Learn about their struggles and triumphs. Learn about their work habits.

11. Study books on orchestration. Get to know the established practices of orchestration. Learn how timbres can be combined to create interesting and unusual sound colors.

12. Learn to play a new instrument and write for it. Get to know an instrument really well. Learn what it is capable of and write something for it.

13. DO NOT plant yourself in front of a piano or computer when you are stuck. Go for a walk. Some of the greatest composers of all time became inspired and came up with new ideas while walking. Something physiologically, psychologically and musically beneficial occurs when walking . . . don’t ask me to explain it, but it works.

I could go on . . .

The point is, when you have writers block, do something that relates to songwriting or composing. I am willing to bet that by continuing to work each day, you will work through the block. Also, remember that “beating a dead horse” gets you nowhere. If you are getting nothing done and just getting angry or frustrated, get up, get away from your work for a little bit. Get some fresh air and come back later. You’ll be more productive and less frustrated. 

Now go out there write some music. :)



image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace