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shamirtheviolinist

Melodies are way too short! Help!

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Hi everyone!

Another problem has came up since I started composing. My pieces are short. When I say short I mean 20 measures or less short. Its seems as if when I hit the 20th measure, my ideas are leaving me like hearing left Beethoven聽馃槀! I sit at my computer and try to think of something else but, nothing pops up. So, I leave the composition for a few weeks and start something else. Eventually, I come back to the first piece and still, nothing pops up. I'm not writing for many instruments at a time so instrumentation isn't the problem. As stupid as it is to compare myself to such geniuses, I see what composers like Beethoven and Mozart were writing at my age (14) and I start to lose my desire to compose entirely because I feel that since my compositions aren't as good or lengthy as theirs, why even compose at all? For example, I started a string trio just a few minutes ago and decided to listen to others just to get the full idea of what it means to actually write a string trio. I find Mozart's聽Divertimento for String Trio K. 563 and Beethoven's聽String Trio No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 3; both are about 40 mins long and full of amazing melodies. Immediately, this both excites me about writing my own and discourages me because I know that my trio won't turn out like theirs. How did they do it? How did they write 40 min long music that is also amazing? Can anyone help me to follow that same path?

Thank You!

- Shamir

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The main piece of advice I can give you is to work out your form in advance, then come up with some ideas (they can be short) to fill each section. Learning how to develop well will help make you pieces longer.

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Posted (edited)

Hi Shamir.

First of all, don't worry at all if you can't write as good as Mozart or Beethoven at the moment, and also don't worry if you think you would never be able to write as good as them. As Edvard Grieg once said, "Artists like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights. I only wanted... to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy and at home.", now we all know that Grieg was a fantastic composer and he wrote so many masterpieces, yet he kinda 'confessed' himself that he was nowhere near as good as Bach or Beethoven, but this doesn't mean that he wasn't a brilliant composer. You must also consider the fact that Beethoven was studying composition since he was 9 or so, and Mozart was even younger when he started. Plus, Beethoven was almost 24 when he wrote the String Trio you mentioned.

Also, you are only 14 years old! Many of the great composers (including Berlioz, Schumann, Stravinsky,聽and Tchaikovsky) wrote their first complete pieces when they were 20 or even older (Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky were almost 23-24 when they wrote their first serious and long pieces) and many of them were even older when they wrote their serious pieces (Borodin was almost 30 when he completed many of his pieces and Bruckner was 38-39 when he wrote pieces like String Quartet in C minor and the study symphony).

Now let's talk about your problems with composition:

As far as I can understand from your post, it seems like you're trying to write melodies out of nothing, and it's one of the mistakes I did when I started composing music almost a year and a half ago, and I got a聽'composer's block' after writing 4 short pieces using this method of writing melodies and then harmonizing them (the pieces were all about 2-3 minutes long, and they had many flaws although I had spent several聽weeks on each of them).

The best advice I can give you is to start studying harmony, because this is what every great composer did. You should understand how harmony works before trying to write melodies, it makes the process very easier. The book I recommend for starting is Walter Piston's Harmony textbook, it's really clear and simple and it has tons of exercises and examples from the common practice period. It also covers a lot of different topics from the very basic ones such as intervals and how chords are built, to the more advanced ones such as altered chords. Once you could understand what he says in that book, you can continue with Arnold Schoenberg's 'Structural Functions of Harmony', which is a book that I'm studying at the moment and it's definitely one of the best textbooks on music that I've ever seen. In this book he introduces the idea of regions and how you can use the chords of other regions of a tonal center systematically to create interesting progressions. He also explains a lot of great stuff about transformations of chords and vagrant harmonies and how you can use them in your progressions. Also, in the later pages of the book (which I haven't gotten to read yet) he illustrates a lot of examples to explain the concept of extended tonality and finally begins teaching some small forms (sentences, periods, etc.) and shows some examples from the repertoire.

Now, after you'd finished studying harmony, you still shouldn't expect yourself to write long pieces, because you should first gain a clear understanding of musical form. There is another book by Schoenberg, titled 'Fundamentals of Musical Composition', which I'm going to study myself after the book I'm currently studying. And just by reading very fast through some of the pages of this book, it seems that he's going to explain聽how someone can write a聽long and complete piece out of a basic motive. In this book, he starts by explaining how a motive is written, and then how you can write different variations on that motive,聽then he gives a detailed explanation聽of how basic themes (sentences and periods) are written and illustrates a lot of examples from the masterpieces of the repertoire. After all of this, he explains the small ternary form and also how you can develop a theme (where he writes 25 different developments on an 8-measure theme). He also talks about other things such as the sonata form and many other things. I think it's a book which is going to help myself a lot in the future.

My final advice is, just keep studying and practicing composition and never give up. It might even take you some years to figure everything out, but I think it's definitely worth it.

Good luck!

P.S. You can also start by studying Schoenberg's 'Theory of Harmony' instead of Walter Piston's book, but I don't recommend it.

Edited by Ali Jafari
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On 4/28/2019 at 6:35 AM, shamirtheviolinist said:

As stupid as it is to compare myself to such geniuses, I see what composers like Beethoven and Mozart were writing at my age (14) and I start to lose my desire to compose entirely because I feel that since my compositions aren't as good or lengthy as theirs, why even compose at all?

This is something that crops up in every single artistic community. I'm part of the online community for the game 'Doom' (the one from the nineties) and it has a very active modding/mapping scene. There was a forum thread recently where someone expressed exactly the same thoughts as you, but referring to level creation instead. The community has been around for a long time, and by now there are a lot of really incredible mods out there that people have spent years on, and it's easy to look at those and think 'Why should I create anything at all?' I've tried my hand at that sort of thing myself so I know the feeling.

The answer is to maybe try rethinking what your goals are. We can look back at the greats of any art form - music, painting, poetry, plays, etc - and think 'How will I compare to them?' But is that really your ultimate goal? Music is slightly different then the other forms, because depending on what your target market is, they might be extremely selective of playing new music (orchestras) or much more welcoming (wind bands, solo pieces, etc). So if you want to write for professional orchestras, maybe you do need to compare yourself a little to whoever else is already out there. But apart from that, there's plenty of room for new music in this world. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you set out to become the next Beethoven, a household name internationally, you'll certainly be disappointed. But if you just set out to create some interesting sounds that you like, and to maybe try and entertain some people around you with them, then you'll still feel fulfilled and you might even surprise yourself. That's certainly all I've ever wanted to do. Also, music created by someone alive, someone who you know, will always have its own appeal that music written in the past will just never have.

Keep in mind, for every 'great' composer that we know about today, there would have been dozens more at the time all writing their own music, just as there are hundreds of composers out there today getting stuff performed every day. It's also a mistake (that I think people sometimes make)聽to think that just because we only remember certain names today, that they were the only 'good' composers at the time. There would almost certainly have been many more who were very decent, who just set out to do what they loved, who were known within their small community and were happy enough with that, but they didn't have the lucky breaks that the more famous names had.

Also, if you're feeling depressed after comparing yourself to a few composers of the past, just wait until you study more over the years and find all the other hundreds of really good composers! Believe me, it just gets worse in some ways, but it also gets better - you eventually realise that it's far better to carve out your own little聽niche than to try and have the whole world.

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Be patient with yourself..聽 Take part of the melody, and repeat it with some melodic variation.聽 Listen to pieces that are similar to or you aspire to.聽 Get very analytical and study what they do.聽聽 Find a midi file of something you like, play with it,聽 mute the melody and write your own,聽 notice the chord changes.聽 rewrite some parts.聽 You may never play this for anyone,聽 OR you may come up with something great.聽聽 Make enough changes, so you don't infringe on copyrights (usually doesn't matter on very old pieces)

I didn't find any聽 compositions by you, are they here?..聽 Post something, and see what response you get.聽 People here are pretty decent.聽 And the fastest way to learn is to 'expose yourself' Musically of course.

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Lots of great advice here! Mine is to familiarize yourself with music theory and learn the "terrain" of one or two key signatures. Compose in just those two keys for awhile, until you begin to like what you compose. The Baroque composers (in particular Bach, Vivaldi, Handel) are fantastic case studies in your chosen keys since there are less instruments to have to follow. A lot of their sheet music is available for free at聽https://imslp.org/.

Hope this helps! Happy composing!

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