Editors comment/ This article is a ‘must read’ for anyone seriously thinking of composing their own piano music. Mandy Weems talks you through each step and explains each component of composition.
Composing – Every pianist has heard the word and knows what it means, but few can do it well. Some try their whole lives to be able to compose one piece of music, and others seem to be able to crank out beautiful compositions all the time. And, while it seems to come naturally to some, how do they constantly produce beautiful melodies, instrumentals, and wondrous music that can take us far away.
These gifted musicians have a certain way that they create their piano compositions and they use this method for every composition that they create. No one can tell you your specific formula for creating a great musical composition, since there are many different steps and areas to think about when you are ready to compose. To help you find your method, here are the main components of composition and a bit about each one to show you exactly what is involved with each area of composition.
Theme – What is your composition about? What are you trying to convey to the listener? Springtime, a thunderstorm, another country, love, sadness? There are millions of different themes and emotions that music can evoke in any listener, and you should have a general idea of what your composition will be about. Once you have this theme for your music, you’ll find that the composition process will go a lot easier. While you are creating the other areas of your piano score, keep your theme in mind so you don’t stray from it. Write it down on a sheet of paper and keep it in front of you, almost like a goal that you are trying to reach with your composition. The theme is the life of your composition and you should always keep it close to your heart, and your fingers, while you work.
Melody – When you decided to compose a piece of music, you probably already had a small strain of music in your mind. This strain is your melody and should be the focal point of your composition. It was probably this strain that led you to your theme or vise versa, and the two should always work hand in hand. For example, if your theme is love, then a cacophony of percussion and hard hitting notes isn’t the best way to go about conveying your love to the listener. But, wonderful melodies that melt the heart with soft and warm winds and piano strains would be better suited to create an atmosphere of love in your composition. Once your theme and melody are aligned, the rest of your composition will be a lot easier to create. Use your base melody and expand on it throughout the piece, allowing it to grow and move you where it wants you to go. Your melody will help you move to your chorus, which will be the next focal point of your composition.
Chorus – This is the strain of music that will be repeated at least twice in your composition. It can be as simple as a few lines of music, or as complex as a whole page, depending on the length and the theme of your music. The chorus is the one area of your composition that every listener will recognize the second time they hear it and know that it is the chorus. It is also where your theme and melody should meet flawlessly and allow your listener to see that thunderstorm, hear those springtime birds, or visualize those waves crashing on the beach. The chorus is what will keep your composition together and give you a base to work from for the remaining parts of the work.
Introduction – The intro into your composition is not a “must have” item. Some composers will not create a piece without one, while it doesn’t matter at all to others. The intro can help you bring your listener into the composition and help to set the overall mood of the piece. Thunderstorms usually start with a light rain, so you can use an intro to set the mood and the ambiance for your storm. But, they also can come on suddenly, with a surprising crash and brightness that can be blinding, so you can do with an intro and throw your listener into the eye of the storm. Either way, the introduction is up to the composer and should bring your listener into your work.
Bridge – The bridge is the part of your composition that will bring two sections of music together that wouldn’t otherwise fit. In most musical works, the bridge is used to take a pause to help the listener reflect on previous parts of the composition. It is used between the melody and the chorus, and in many other areas throughout different compositions, and is only a small strain of notes that will “bridge” other pieces of the piano composition together.
Instruments – A good composer knows his instruments, their ranges, their sounds, their pitches, and so on. It doesn’t matter if you are only composing for the piano or for an entire orchestra, knowing your instruments and their abilities will help you to create great melodic strains that will melt together flawlessly. Along with the instrument comes the musician, and you should also consider who will be playing your composition when you are creating it. If you are writing for the piano, you don’t need to consider things such as length of breath, but instead you should think about the average player’s abilities, positions of the notes on the ivories, and their stamina for continuing long and complex strains of music. Knowing your instruments will help you to become a better composer.
Changes – Once you have developed a melody, theme, and so on, you will start to place these items into your composition. But, creating a piece of music that is a completely repetitive pattern does get a bit boring, so you will need to change things up a bit. By changing up a part of your composition, you will help to keep the listener in the moment and really listening to your work, instead of drifting off somewhere. You can create a second melody to compliment the first, and insert it into your composition without warning to create a change in the overall sound in certain parts, or you can insert a completely different chorus or bridge that will help to change up a transition into another area.
Once you have these basic areas of composition down, other areas can then be worked in. Things such as your personal style will play a huge role in the overall sound and composition, but is completely different from composer to composer, and no one can tell you how to create your own individual style. With your own personal style of composing, you’ll find the pattern that you prefer, be it Melody, Chorus, Bridge, Melody, Chorus, Bridge, Ending, or be it something completely random and different. By simply sitting down at the piano, with a tape recorder, and a pen and paper, you will be taking the first step into completing a masterpiece that you can be proud of for the rest of your life.
By Mandy Weems
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