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jawoodruff

Self-Gauging Growth as a Composer

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Self-gauging = assessing

growth = how far one has come, evolved, learned

Thus,

How does one asses how far they have come as a composer?

I'm not really sure how to take such a simple sentence that is a clear, direct question and 'elaborate' on it. Is there something you want me to say to make the question clearer for you? Please, do let me know.

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Also, as a prior YC staff member, please avoid posting 1 word posts. I've noticed you do that quite a lot. Certainly, a person with your overwhelming intellect is capable of structuring more than 3 words together into a sentence. No need to spam the forum with 1 word posts.

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Oh I see what you mean.

Well! I would regard that as an impossible question to answer myself! I'd say that my voice just came to me and I haven't tried writing in other styles since. A composer's voice is individual. It's unique in the fact that no one else would think in the same way to create music as someone else would. I remember a talk that a composer/teacher was giving someone about writing on old styles. This one student had written a keyboard toccata in the style of JS Bach, sticking to the form of something similar to a French overture. This toccata was brilliantly written and the student had a very good understanding of counterpoint and harmony. The teacher told him that if he (hypothetically) showed that to Bach, Bach would have told him that it's a fantastic piece of music, but also that he should come up with his own style of writing according to the era he was living in. (Actually, from then on I stopped writing sonatas like Mozart and concertos like Vivaldi! So you can see the talk had an effect on me as well.)

As for trying to find your own voice, well that's a toughie. Composers' voices develop as they mature. I know Ligeti went through several phases where for a few years he was writing very rhythmic and percussive sounding music, then he moved on to what he calls "micropolyphony," and also on to a more postmodern sounding voice at another point in his life. A lot of the "minimalists" (in need of a better word) started out composing in post-webernian serialism before taking interest in non-western music and repetition. There is a famous story you might have heard about the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzola and his encounter with Nadia Boulanger. Piazzola had been studying composition, counterpoint and whatnot which had him composing in a very European style. He showed some of his compositins to Boulanger who told him, "You don't need me to teach you composition. Go back to your own country and explore the music there." It was in fact she who encouraged him to write his Argentinian Tango music.

My own compositional voice at the moment is freely atonal and often uses leitmotifs in programmatic music and operas. It has a fair bit of repetition in it but mainly seems to focus on tone colour. It is usually very contrapuntal and uses lots of canons and fugata sections at various points. When I first started composing four years ago, I didn't have a good understanding of counterpoint and harmony so my very first compositions (which were tonal) were very homophonic and my music teachers would often point out consecutive fifths and octaves throughout every piece. The process of changing my compositional voice came mainly through experimentation and research on contemporary music all around the world. I have changed a LOT since then, and in ten years time when I'm 24, I bet I'd be writing in a completely different voice compared to what I am now.

There. I hope that helps.

froglegs

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Jason,

I gauge myself in a number of ways.

Sometimes if I have to bug to write, I look at my repertoire and see what do I have missing.

The simplest thing I do is look at my works prior to now and see if they're garbage. Rewrite them and make them awesome :toothygrin: !

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Get older. Look back at your old works. Smile at the fact that you got better.

BTW, comparing yourself to other composers is a futile endeavor because you all have different paths of knowledge and creative thought.

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Perhaps you can only answer that question when you have figured out what your goals are. Do you want to get a lot of respect/appreciation for your works? If so, how much? Do you want to be the most famous composer of our era? Of all time? Can you measure this in money? In performances?

Or maybe your goals are more humble? Maybe you want to have a personal voice? And how do you measure that? If others say so? If you say so? But what if you say so and other's don't?

So let me counter your question with a question:

What do you want to accomplish?

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Ok, I am with the camp says get older is the best way to see how you are doing and showing it to others and getting things performance.

However, it isn't straightforward.

I recall a period (about 2007 - 2009) my teacher though I was improving by leaps and bounds. Yet, some of my work in late 2009 was thought by a few to be stagnating or getting tamer. And I think it was both - I was attempting my first string quartet so I scaled back on trying certain things to aim for some greater cohesiveness. I would say I entirely succeeded with the goal but I am glad I did it as I got training in thinking how to assemble long forms.

Then I took a break for personal reasons. Guess what? I actually improved greatly! During the rest I did practice some piano, and review scores but no composition projects.

Now, I am not taking a composition class nor private lessons solely in composition but I am reviewing theory, building my aural skills, working on score reading and thereby studying orchestral scores. And writing. And another style change is happening because at one point I realized the simplicity of music.

Of course I have days once in awhile when I feel like I cannot hear or write a thing.

I do miss working with performers. So, I hope to rectify that soon.

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I found in my own works that it is often difficult for me to gauge growth -especially when dealing with works from the near present. Works outside of the scope of perhaps a year or two, I can definitely see growth.

For myself, since that is the most intimate... for obvious reasons, I found that I've grown in my use of material. My earlier work was chock full of ideas. The organization was sloppy. The development was scant.

What I find fascinating on this topic though..

Is that even in just the few replies this has had we already have many different ways to gauge one's growth. INteresting, yes?

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Like someone else suggested, a good gauge of progress could be the difference in quality between your current works and older works. For example, I started teaching myself piano 4 years ago. Back then when I first dabbled with composing, I could only come up with overused pop chords and my songs were terribly unoriginal. Since then, however, I have gotten more exposure to different genres (notably film and game music) and now I write music that has much more interesting chord progressions than before. I remember when I first started: I wondered how could I ever compose? How do people even hear chords? I guess it just takes time and practice!

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Then I took a break for personal reasons. Guess what? I actually improved greatly! During the rest I did practice some piano, and review scores but no composition projects.

I can relate very much to this. I started composing at age 13-14, but as I had to use pen and pencil, and was still lacking in knowledge about playing techniques, my pieces were rather clumsy (esp. the piano ones). At 19-20 I was forced to virtually stop composing, but when resuming in 2003 (aged 25) I was surprised to see how much I had grown despite this pause. I took another long break in 2007, and even questioned to myself if I would ever compose again... only to get back at it and discover the astounding wealth of knowledge and self-assurance I had acquired in the meanwhile. Now I am in one of my most productive periods ever, musically speaking...

How do I know I've grown? Looking at my older pieces and discovering all I could have done if given the proper knowledge. Perhaps my two youth symphonies would be quite different, had I studied Mahler and Tchaikovsky's scores earlier - but then again, there's always the chance to revise and improve...

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