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Hi! I'm a seventeen-year-old aspiring film composer really hoping to be able to get into a college for Music Composition. However, I know virtually nothing about composing and I have to have finished compositions to send in. Background: I am proficient at piano (had private lessons for 12 years), and fell in love with film music a few years ago. Now I desperately want to become a film composer but I'm not sure how to start and I currently feel like I'm drowning in everything I don't know at the moment. : ) I'm using MuseScore and I'm hoping you guys can tell me what you think about these ideas and how to improve them. None of them are finished, but they're literally all I have at the moment. Thanks!

Theme_Practice.xml

Rhapsody for String Orchestra.xml

College_Application_Piece.xml

Test.xml

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Here you go! Thanks for replying!

 

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Alright. So I'm primarily just looking at your college application piece. What college are you trying to get into? Because I honestly don't think this is going to be your ticket in.
I'm also going to look at this as though an elitist college professor would look at it so you know what they're looking for. Some of this might be jargon to you, but they'll look for this.
m. 1 - Placement of the piano marking is incorrect with poor engraving through the measure. 
m. 2 - There's no reason you shouldn't have used a second layer in your 4-3 suspension, maybe even in the first two beats as well, since there is no pedal.
m. 3-4 - same.
m. 7 - resolving to a 4th escape tone dissonance is wrong.
m. 8 - crossed unison voices between the left and right hand.
m. 9-10 - static with simple repetition, and no actual progression in the left hand motion, sense there's no dominant function and the tones used don't command a lead in because they're the same.
m. 11-12 - same issue with the second layer. 
m. 12 - did you intend to have pedal tonic under a dominant chord. It's never a good idea to have an instrument with a decaying envelope on such a rickety function chord with a motionless bass line. Also, the use of parallel 5th's with the dominant suspension is an issue in voicing. 
m. 13-14 - same. 
m. 15-16 - pedal dominant in the bass with a neighboring iv chord in the right hand. While this isn't wrong it makes it seem like you don't know what you're doing even if functions perfectly well.
m. 19 - beat 4 is entirely in the dominant so the use of the minor 3rd of the tonic chord against a suspension sounds strange.
m. 20 - same.
m. 21 - beat 3 same issue as 19 in inversion.
m. 19-24 - 6 bar (or 2 3 bar) phrases with a tag on the dominant is also incorrect. 

So I don't mean to discourage you, but musical academia, speaking frankly, is a bitch, and a composition department will look at everything to make sure you know the rules before you break them, especially with modern stuff. It shouldn't take you long to learn these basics and it also heavily depends on the school you're applying to (USC, Oberlin, UW, and all the music departments of the major film schools) but they all will want to make sure your orchestration skills match the theory you present. For example, in your Rhapsody, in the first 4 measures there are issues with crossed voices in timbral polyphony and a dominant on a predominant function chord. If you analyze film scores (which I urge you to do), you'll see how everything works with spacing and very intentional rule breaking. 

I wish you luck. Nothing about this is easy and your passion for music is clear.

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Hello,

I am not going to talk about the music since I cannot listen to it on my phone.

Maybe important to know: I am also 17 years old and I am now studying the pre-study composition at the conservatorium. This year will be my final exams.

When I started composing, my goal was not to become a professional composer. This idea only came up a half year ago.

Because you say that you 'virtually don't know' much about composition, I would like to advise you to do research if this study is something for you. Of course, dedicating your work to music is a great gift, but there are many disadvantages.

Based on your post, it sounds to me like you 'just' submit works and you will see if you are good enough. Be prepared...

Our high school stimilates us to visit 'Open Days' of Universities and all scholars need to fill in questions about the job and study they would like to study. All this to make sure that you do not make the wrong choice and waste your time and money...

Last year, I visited 'Open Days' of the Conservatorium Amsterdam and Conservatorium Zwolle. Furthermore, I went to the University of Nijmegen and University of Groningen. This year I am going to visit the 'Open Days' of the Conservatorium Den Haag, Conservatorium Tilburg, Conservatorium Rotterdam and the University of Utrecht.

The latter, because I am still not sure yet if Composition is a job for me. Stress is an important factor and a study at the University brings much more jobs and oportunities and hence money. I do not want to become rich, but when professional composers (even teachers at conservatoria) say that they find it hard to live from only their income of composing, I begin to doubt.

At the University in Utrecht there is a study called 'Muziekwetenschappen / Musicologie', which means Musicology. This looks very interesting to me and the advantage is that I can keep composing as a hobby. Moreover, it is possible to study Composition after my University.

In conclusion, I think you have to do more research about the study. Talk about it with your parents, friends and teachers. 

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Thank you both for replying!

Wow-this seems like it's going to be much harder than I anticipated, and you're right, Monarcheon, I didn't understand half of your critiques. My main reason for going to college for composition is to learn this stuff--but I'm finding out more and more you basically have to be an expert before you can even get in (which seems like a catch-22, in my opinion)! Is there anything I can do to learn some of this information and apply it to my pieces before I attempt college? One thing I do know is that music is my passion, and I'm not about to give up when I've barely started just because I don't know how to do it. (By the way, some of the critiques that I did understand are not really in my control because I don't know how to fix it in MuseScore. My handwritten copy doesn't have some of the things that you pointed out. And some of the left-hand notes are meant to be an octave lower, I just forgot to put that in there.)

Maarten Bauer, I was thinking of six different colleges: Oberlin (the hardest to get into, I know), Whitworth University, Biola University, Liberty University, Texas Christian College, and Belmont University. I am not financially able to visit any except a slight chance at visiting Whitworth. Also, I have been researching this for a long time and I have heard that it's almost impossible to make a living out of composing, but I've also read that the only ones who manage to make it work are the ones that hang their entire career on composition with no plan B. I'm not saying that I honestly have no plan B--I have very good grades and I could do virtually anything--but film music is the only thing I'm really passionate about.

Do either of you have suggestions on how to turn these ideas into something good enough to submit?

Edited by MissionTrainer
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12 minutes ago, MissionTrainer said:

Thank you both for replying!

Wow-this seems like it's going to be much harder than I anticipated, and you're right, Monarcheon, I didn't understand half of your critiques. My main reason for going to college for composition is to learn this stuff--but I'm finding out more and more you basically have to be an expert before you can even get in (which seems like a catch-22, in my opinion)! Is there anything I can do to learn some of this information and apply it to my pieces before I attempt college? One thing I do know is that music is my passion, and I'm not about to give up when I've barely started just because I don't know how to do it.

Maarten Bauer, I was thinking of six different colleges: Oberlin (the hardest to get into, I know), Whitworth University, Biola University, Liberty University, Texas Christian College, and Belmont University. I am not financially able to visit any except a slight chance at visiting Whitworth. Also, I have been researching this for a long time and I have heard that it's almost impossible to make a living out of composing, but I've also read that the only ones who manage to make it work are the ones that hang their entire career on composition with no plan B. I'm not saying that I honestly have no plan B--I have very good grades and I could do virtually anything--but film music is the only thing I'm really passionate about.

Do either of you have suggestions on how to turn these ideas into something good enough to submit?

 

Great to hear that music is your passion. Music is my passion too.

It is a shame that you are not able to visit all universities you would like to 'taste.' My bad, because I forgot that Holland is just a small city so the travel costs and time are very low.

Maybe you can take a look at Musicology? Based on the scores, I think you still have to learn alot to be admitted to the conservatorium.

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20 minutes ago, MissionTrainer said:

but I'm finding out more and more you basically have to be an expert before you can even get in (which seems like a catch-22, in my opinion)!

An expert? No. But when you go to do your interview, a love of music isn't going to be enough, and that will be reflected in your music. You should also keep in mind that you're competing against people who do know theory.

20 minutes ago, MissionTrainer said:

Oberlin (the hardest to get into, I know)

Oberlin requires a music theory test to be considered as an applicant. 

 

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Thanks for telling me the truth, guys, even though it's making me kind of depressed. I thought I had a good grasp on basic theory, but I knew there was a lot I don't know yet. I needed to hear opinions from people already in the field instead of just those of the nonprofessional friends and family around me. I guess I should tell you (if you weren't able to guess)that my main musical influences are film composers, specifically Harry Gregson-Williams, Hans Zimmer, Alan Silvestri, Howard Shore and others. I've been trying to compose music that gives the same impression that the music I love to listen to does, but I've been floundering because I have no idea where to start. Do you think if I took a free online course on theory, that I could apply it to my pieces, so I can make them better? In fact, do I even have any good ideas, or should I just scrap everything and start over?

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You have to kind of realize how arbitrary everything we've (or at least what I've) been saying is up to this point. The only true way to know if you're ready is to actually go for it. If you're passionate about it, that should be the only drive you need to get better. 
Talking to these schools is the best way to know what each of them wants, since our experience is obviously not going to be the same as yours. I can give you nitpicky feedback about a piece you did but I am not the admissions board of a conservatory. If you want to be ready for a piano performance audition, it's the same kind of thing.
Basically, all film scoring schools will spend 4 years trying to get you to answer why does this piece make you feel something and how can you apply that same reasoning to your own pieces. I encourage you to try this yourself:

Talk to the professionals at these schools. You can't write an essay without knowing your prompt. 

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I guess one important question is... how long do you have before you need to send in your applications?  It does seem incredibly unfair that schools want you to have so much knowledge in a subject that is so rarely taught in public high schools in this country, but they do want to be sure that you can survive when you graduate.  They only have 4 years to get you to that point and there is SO much to learn.  

You aren't in as bad shape as many students though.  The beleaguered music professors I know describe kids who want to be music majors who don't play any instrument and can't read music.  (These students do not get to be music majors).  Since you've been taking piano, you're a step ahead of that crowd.  Piano also gives you more career flexibility after graduation, since there are always people looking for accompanists, and it means you can write for piano and play the whole thing yourself, rather than having to hire other musicians or pester your scores into the hands of film directors or groups that play contemporary music to bring your compositions to an audience.  

An online theory course is definitely a good idea, but be aware that the free ones are often for people with no music experience at all, so they start with teaching you to read music, which is not what you need and time is of the essence.  Would your piano teacher be able and willing to add theory lessons or recommend someone else?  Are there any semi-famous composers living near enough to you that you could take a private lesson with them once a week or every two weeks?  (Google is your friend.  Everyone has a website these days, and even famous composers have to live somewhere).  If your high school doesn't teach AP Theory or composition, is there another school in your area that does?  I'm sure that teacher would be happy to tell you what textbook they are using and you could buy it online.  Does one of the local churches in your area have a kick-butt music program?  Would their music director be willing to meet with you and look at your compositions?  Can you find out what the Intro Theory textbook is at any of the schools you are applying to, and go ahead and start reading it now, and Google anything you don't understand?  

How would you feel if you got into music school, but ended up making your living in some other musical way than as a film composer?  How would you feel if you had to have 3 jobs?  

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Wow-that's a lot of questions! Let's see how many I can answer. First of all, I should have said right off that I'm a homeschooled senior looking to send in college applications in a couple months. I have a very limited budget (like if I have to pay for it, I probably can't do it kind of limited budget) and will probably be existing on scholarships and a job or two if I get into college. Because I'm homeschooled, I have had no access to orchestras, ensembles, good quality choirs (I'm in my church's choir, but we're unfortunately not very good musically). I listen to film music constantly with a little pop, country, Celtic, classical, and Broadway interspersed through it.

The only instrument I actually have a lot of experience with is piano, and I haven't taken private lessons for almost a year because my grandma couldn't pay for my lessons anymore (she has paid for them since I was five). I managed to get a couple months of guitar lessons a few years ago, but I only know a few chords and I don't think that qualifies as being able to play it. I can play the keyboard part of the organ at my church but have no idea how to work all the stops and buttons. My mom has a viola she played in high school, but I had just taught myself to play a basic scale on it when the bow came unstrung. I have a good voice and can sing very well. I have played piano during service at my church almost every week for the past 3 years and I seem to have turned into the go-to girl for picking out parts during choir practice, so I've learned a small amount of improvisation, but it's not very good. So that's basically my music experience as far as playing goes.

I haven't checked around for local churches, but the "thing" around here seems to be a lot of CCM during service (but we do old-fashioned hymns at my church) so even though I personally know the worship leader at one church I don't think that would work. I live in the Treasure Valley, Idaho, so Boise State University is pretty close by. I was thinking of maybe taking a class or two there (like one of those where you can sit and listen, but don't get the credit, so you don't have to pay for it) next semester but that will be too late for November early action deadlines for the colleges I'm applying for. I'll look up composers in my area and try to see if anyone would tutor me or at least review my scores for super cheap or free.

I'm not afraid of hard work (in fact, I enjoy it), so 3 jobs would be busy, but doable. I'm afraid if my goal was still music, though, I'd get frustrated because I'd never have time to do what I really want to do. If I had to have a job that wasn't in music, ideally it would be an outdoor job, but with my grades and test scores (SAT: 1350; ACT: 30) I've been told I could probably do whatever I put my mind to. I've been dual enrolled at a local community college and taken English, Math, Humanities, Communications, and this semester am taking Spanish and Microbiology, so there are a lot of classes I could probably transfer. I just got a job at a local farm-turned-theme-park that has 2 corn mazes, a pumpkin patch, hay rides, petting zoo, bounce houses, merchandise, concessions, etc. and I think it'll be a lot of fun. I'm people oriented and I enjoy working with people, but I work really well by myself, too. I was going for nursing before I decided I loved music too much but I decided that I'm not a science/math person and would not enjoy working in an office or in a lab. I like variety, and creativity, so I would probably do best in an entertainment/adventure type setting.

But if I could have my druthers I'd rather be in music than anything else.

Hope that helps answer some of your questions! Thanks so much for encouraging me!

Edited by MissionTrainer

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I don't know much about composition and college, so I can't give you much information there. I can't give you much hope, either, so  I'm going to give you critiques that I think are most appropriate.

 

College Audition Piece

M. 5-7: the left hand should be an octave lower because the right hand sometimes plays its notes and that's technically insane difficult. C# in m.6 does not fit well with the notes in the right hand because there are no chords in either hand and there should not be a prominent leading tone in both the melody line and the bass line. To fix this, I think an A in the left hand of m.6 should fix it. The resolution at the beginning of m.7 is weird, like @Monarcheon said.

m. 8: the left hand is also too high and share notes with the right hand. Not technically possible.

m.9 onwards: the figure in the left hand is not nice at a slow tempo, so you could change the tempo here. Also, the right hand does not need to play a triad from m. 9-10, as I feel it's unnecessary. A D in m.9 right hand is enough.

m.12: The dominant chord with a pedal tone in the bass isn't the greatest thing here, but it doesn't sound terrible.

m.14: the left hand change progression too late. This is fixed to an extent in m.15.

M.15: the right hand should begin with a dominant chord and not an inverted tonic chord. Also, there's a weird leap, though this isn't a weird issue.

m.18: I think this measure is unnecessary. I'm expecting the tonic chord here.

m.19: both hands start on a high note, which isn't a very logical idea because you're coming from below. Also, the left hand should play a vastly different rhythm from the right. This also applies to subsequent measures. The end of this bar and certain parts of subsequent bars don't sound son nice because the left hand doesn't fit well with the right hand harmonically. I can't explain what is wrong, but @Monarcheon could very well be right. Even I have difficulty understanding some of the language in that post, but that's my problem. m.22 is good.

The end is good, but this piece is too short overall and can be developped way more.

 

Rhapsody: Overall, I would like to see more complex harmonies, since you have more voices to work with. Everyone should play different notes except in special cases, and it's hard to write rules around those special cases.

m.1: The bass should always sound lower than the cello. Also, someone (either violin 1, violin 2 or viola) should play straight eighth notes for a better flow into m.2.

m.2: violin 2 moves above violin 1 and that is, unfortunately, incorrect.

m.3: viola drops out unexpectedly.

m.5: C# in violin 2 doesn't fit. I don't think it's a good idea to have such a note at the end of a bar and the harmony is D minor tonic chord.

m.6: The notes in the top 3 parts seem to be better suited for dominant harmony.

m.7: You can either continue using D minor chord for the bottom 2 voices or change F to E in violin 2.

m.9: it would be nice to have the viola play something other than D. The second violin and viola can hold their notes as long as cello or bass, or vice versa.

m.9-15: Mezzo-staccatos on 16ths would be very hard to execute unless done very slowly.

m.16: odd use of pizzicato. The cello should be higher than the bass and the two instruments share notes too much. This whole section is too static and can vary more harmonically, melodically and rhythmically.

m.33: the bass part does not fit with the cello part. It could play the same or similar thing as the cello. The resolution int eh next bar is weird because I'm expecting the E to resolve to D (tonic) and not Bb (submediant.

m.35-36: there's an augmented 2nd in the second violin. It still sounds okay, but it's theoretically incorrect.

m.37: too many As in upper strings. I think 2nd violin should play C# or G.

 

m.46: C and then C# sounds awkward.

The 6/8 section could be way more eveloped and there can be more harmonic and rhythmic complexity.

 

Test piece: The left hand could move more. This test piece is clearly incomplete and needs to be developed much further.

 

Theme: This is definitely incomplete and needs to be further developed.

m.1: The double bass should play the tonic note. Starting on an inverted chord is weird.

m.3: I think you want a dominant triad/7th chord here, or you could have the dominant triad/7th come in at the end of the bar.

m.5: Bass should resolve to the tonic chord.

m.5: Also applies to measure 2: As shuold be B-flats.

m.8: Bass should play tonic note.

Edited by ilv

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Thanks, @ilv for putting your critiques a little more simply so I can understand them--and for the encouragement! I've basically put those pieces on the back burner (they were the kind of thing where I had a glimpse of an idea, started on it, and before I got far thought of another idea and started a different piece so I would remember it). I posted them to kind of see where I was relative to where I want to be, and to get some ideas on how I could improve. I've been working on another piece that's a little more complete than the rest, and I thought I'd post it here for more feedback. I figured out how to use some more of the features on MuseScore (slurs, double bar lines, dynamic marks, etc.), but it's not finished. I'm putting a disclaimer here that I know I've missed several things in terms of remembering to put all the extra stuff in, so if a few details are missing, let me know where they are and I'll fix them. Also, I took the advice I've been getting everywhere and started simple, with the instrument I'm familiar with. It's an Italian-style waltz for piano only, based off a piece that I like to play called Un Giorno de Roma, and Michael Giacchino's theme for Ellie in the movie Up. Could you tell me if I've gotten better at least or where I could improve?

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Good job overall. I like how you vary the theme each time you repeat it. Some things to look at:
0:12, 0:42 and 1:35: Iv6 preferred over Iv56 (Ab prefrred over G in left hand)
Avoid parallel octaves between hands. Also, you can add shorter note values to your melody to spice it up a bit.
0:23: odd leap in left hand
0:30: awkward augmented 2nd in left hand, can be fixed by using a different bass note (preferrably Eb) in the Ab minor chord
0:47: similar to 0:12 and 0:42, just a C-flat involved in stead of C-natural
1:17: A D instead of Eb would be nice in the right hand.
It would be nice to end in the home key and hold the last note longer.

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