It Is Finished…Pas Deux

Yep, I’ve finished my new piece Odyssey for the second time, and this time it’s personal!  [You can read about how I started this piece here, and a progress post here]. How do you finish a piece twice you ask? To answer that, it helps to explain my writing process. (Bear in mind that this is how I tend to work, but everyone is different). My writing process goes like this:

  1. The initial idea. Where these initial ideas come from, I don’t know. Sometimes they just pop into my head out of the blue, sometimes they come from playing piano and I just hit something or play something that I like or find interesting. Sometimes they come from a kind of musical brainstorming session (i.e. write 3 melodies of 8 bars in 5 minutes), and other times its just from deciding to write a modal blues in G Dorian.
  2. Development. This is where I take that initial idea and develop it into something longer – maybe an “A” section and an intro
  3. I get stuck. Surprisingly, this is the part of the process where I get stuck. I’ve run out of inspirational steam, but I’ve only got about 1/3 to 1/2 of the piece written and I don’t know quite where to go from here. You don’t have to be Einstein to guess that this isn’t the fun part of writing. To get unstuck, I try:
    1. Drinking coffee
    2. Cleaning my study
    3. Checking email
    4. Putting my head in the sand
    5. After these don’t really help, I try:
    6. Thinking about the piece structurally – what is the form of this piece going to be?
    7. What would contrast with what I already have (loud vs soft, fast vs slow, solo vs tutti etc)
    8. Just write something and not worry too much about whether it’s “good” or not. After all you can edit it later, or chuck it completely if you want
    9. In fairness to points 3.1 – 3.4, taking a break does help sometimes
  4. The piece is finished! – for the first time. It’s not really finished, but it feels like it. At this point I’ve got the main pieces in place, right through to the end. It might be sketchy in places, but at least in my head I know what I’m trying to do all the way through. [Here is Odyssey at this point – Odessey – In Progress (concert pitch)]
  5. Refinement. At this point I edit, cut, smooth, shape, polish, wrestle, hammer, the piece into shape. Sketchy ideas are fleshed out. Often this is particularly true of percussion parts which have often ranged from sketchy to “vague notion in my head” to non-existent. [Here is Odyssey at this point –Odyssey – In Progress #2 (concert pitch)] For me, this stage is iterative – evaluate –> refine –> evaluate —> refine repeatedly until….
  6. The piece is finished! – for the second time. This time, it really is finished…almost. [Here is Odyssey at this point –Odyssey – In Progress #3]
  7. Idiot Check. This is where I print out the score (it really is easier to read on paper than on a screen) and check for any silly little errors – missing dynamics/articulations, stuff I forgot to fill in etc.
  8. Perform/Send to a publisher. I’ll be sending this to a publisher I already have a relationship with. Assuming they want to publish it, it will likely come back with a few editorial suggestions/comments. 90% of the time, you should do what they suggest.

It’s worth re-stating at this point that you should edit your work and don’t be afraid to delete things that don’t work. I went and had lunch after my last post, came back and deleted an 8 bar section that didn’t work. It has also taken a fair bit of “hammering” to get the last 30 bars to work. If you compare versions #2 and #3, you’ll see that the framework has stayed essentially the same, but the detail has changed.

Thanks for reading, I’m off to check for idiots…

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  1. Odyssey – The Coda | Composing for Band - January 30, 2014

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