Music Learning Notes (Music Theory and Composition) 20/09/2020

I decided this needed its own category.

I’m really sleepy but just wanted to note that tonight, I finally got the courage to start rendering down in notation (in pencil so I could erase the mistakes) one of my “compositions”. For years, I’ve basically prevaricated on whether I actually had the right to call myself a composer. I’d tentatively call myself a “songwriter” because I wrote things with vocals. I think I only started calling myself a “composer” in 2007 when I “wrote” the entire Lady Dissonance Suite in a single week after I memorized all the octaves of the piano and learned a few scales and chords. A few weeks later I was off to Australia for my PhD and I only got my piano back (I had to rescue it from the badlands) in 2014. Or was that 2013? I don’t remember anymore.

Well. Upon writing down the first few phrases of Against the Forge, I discovered

  • Semi-quavers running rampant.
  • Arpeggiated chords.
  • At least two key signature shifts et modulation
  • At least two time signature shifts.

It starts out in 4/4 time and there’s a little section that goes into 6/8– but I am not super clever on rhythm and time so maybe this can be simplified. But. I wrote down in pencil so I’d remember: “I am a composer”.

I don’t know if one could call me a baby composer since I have been making music for as long as I can remember, but I guess I am on the road to becoming a serious one so I will say “fledgling”. I haven’t earned my wings yet, I feel. For what good it will bring me. I can render things down into sheet music (at least I finally got started today!) but there’s no guarantee anyone else but me would play it or even publish it.

It’s a strange thing, this compulsion to compose but mostly I want things in notation so that I can improve on them. I wrote most of Against the Forge around 1996, and kept noodling on it over years. Fixing the phrasing here, and there. It’s my most complex piece for the classical guitar but I always thought it was going to be a vocal piece with spoken word. Recently I’ve had the lightbulb moment that, “It wasn’t working BECAUSE of the vocals.”

So I rendered that melody line down into the arpeggiated chords action I have going (I say this but verily right now I am woefully struggling with the Grade 5 arpeggio exercises fml), and suddenly new avenues were available to me. I was able to be more playful and explorative with that melody.

So. I’m doing this thing. I’m going to focus on learning the classical guitar as though I want to perform it (I don’t know, who knows), because that’s one way to master the instrument and mastering the instrument will help me understand the voice of the classical guitar better so I can write for it more effectively. That’s what I want to do. My quiet journey. I still have massive loads of impostor syndrome and lack of self-confidence about this. But composing is a very important aspect of who I am, and always will be. I need to remember that, even if I am still learning and in many ways fledgling.

And hence, this category. Also because I haven’t finished those two Coursera music theory courses from the Uni of Edinburgh and Yale, yet. Argh! Have to stop procrastinating on that but I am doing so many things! Anyway!

Onwards, and upwards.

Oh additional note: When I worked on this piece in 1996, I used Wayland the Smith as a metaphor because I was fascinated by the mythology behind him. But recently I read more and discovered the rape thing :/ — so I’ve removed him as a metaphor from this piece which wasn’t about him so much as it was about the lady contemplating an escape, and I was never quite sure if it was towards, or away from the forbidden lover. So very fraught but hence the arpeggiated chords. I wanted to capture the rhythm of running away and some sort of pursuit, of danger. The Great Hunt, one might say. That was in my twenties. In my forties, the piece is becoming something stranger and more contemplative.