Writing Music – Where to Compose?

Following my post the other week about composing, songwriting and producing music, I started thinking the other day that I might want to take a shift in my music back toward more ‘classical’ music – that is to say, I’ve always wanted to write a symphony. I actually did write most of one back when I was, like, fourteen, but it was awful and I never finished it anyway.

For a long time, I’ve considered whether or not I should try to write something in a more contemporary classical vein. I don’t mean like Beethoven or Brahms – I’ve done enough pastiche in my time – but something that is genuinely original, true to my own musical influences and style, and that could stand in its own right at a concert amongst other contemporary music.

A symphony is an opportunity to explore the textures and dynamics of an entire orchestra, which is something you don’t usually get the chance for in rock and metal (outside of those instances where bands are backed by an orchestra). I’ve always loved the sounds possible from flutes and violins and trumpets and timpani, and with over twenty different instrument lines to work with (consider that, despite there often being over a hundred instruments in a full orchestra, many of them play the same thing, such as the string sections), there’s an enormous range of complexity available.

But this is where things get complicated when it comes to actually writing the music. Conceptually, I understand the idea of composing at a piano and arranging the composition for orchestra. But I find that when I move to try and arrange/compose in a music production application such as Logic Pro X, I lose track of the harmonies, the melody lines, and I don’t end up with music that is as interesting or detailed as I think it could be.

So then I wonder – should I be composing in notation software again? I used to use notation software – Finale, in particular – exclusively, and whilst I still have a copy of the program on my computer, I’ve really not used it in over ten years. It doesn’t have the same level of sound quality for playback, but it helps me ‘visualize’ the music better, so I’m wondering if I should return to Finale for the composition of my new symphony.

I could, of course, always re-produce it in Logic afterward, but that ends up being nearly twice the effort. I did that with some old metal songs originally wrote in Finale, and it took frigging forever. In the end, though, the idea of composing is to get the damn notes down, so perhaps Finale is the way to go; when it comes to making a living, breathing recording of the music, I might just have to bite the bullet.

For those of you with experience with music production and notation software, what’s your preferred go-to?

It’s Like Riding a Bike … Until It’s Not

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to make a return to music – in particular, music composition, and writing scores for orchestras, and pianos, and more. Factoring this in with the enormous amount of other creative work I want to do – writing the fourth book in “The Redemption of Erâth” series and continuing work on young adult novels – means it was unlikely I was going to really make a move on this in the near future, but the dream was always there.

And – foolishly – I assumed I would remember what to do when the time came.

It’s funny – it’s been more than ten years since I last focused my energies on creating music, and whilst I’ve certainly not forgotten the basic principles of playing music, there is a surprising amount that I have forgotten – and it makes me sad.

I (obviously) devour music as a listener; whether it be classical, rock or symphonic metal, I am always, always listening to music. And in my past, I was a somewhat accomplished pianist, played bass moderately well, and knew my music theory like the back of my hand.

And while I can still pick up a bass and pluck away, or tickle the ivories in a half-assed manner, there’s a huge amount that I no longer remember. It’s funny – it’s almost like the old, “I’ve forgotten more about making music than …”.

I recently set up a kind of office in my loft, with a nice, large desktop computer screen, electric keyboard to one side, and plenty of great music-writing software. And once the setup was complete, I fired up Logic Pro, downloaded some beautiful piano samples, and tried to play.

I couldn’t remember a single song.

Isn’t that weird? I know the keyboard, I know the layout, and can play in any key – but I can’t remember how to actually play anything. A few measures at most, and the rest is just gone.

Oh well, I thought – playing was never my main gig. So I opened up my music notation software that I haven’t used in a decade, and suddenly I couldn’t remember how to use it. As in, almost every single feature and capability of the application is a mystery to me. I’m going to need to relearn it.

They say playing an instrument is like riding a bike – you never forget how to do it. And whilst to an extent that isn’t entirely wrong, it certainly isn’t entirely true. I’ve just discovered that there is a huge knowledge gap in my mind when it comes to music, and it’s bothering me greatly; I used to know my arpeggios from my appogiaturas, and now I can barely remember what an ossia is. There’s literally terminology for musical notation that I’ve completely forgotten.

I’m confident I can relearn it, and it will eventually come back to me, but it’s disturbing to see what a lack of practice can do to something you once thought of as a part of your very being.

Is there anything you used to know well, that you feel like you’ve since forgotten?