David Hicken ~ Pianist & Composer

Advice For Pianists

Lao Tzu said in the "Tao Te Ching" - "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step" and this can be translated for aspiring composers as "the journey of composition begins with the first note".  Sound too simple?  The truth is that it is as simple or as difficult as you make it.

Your job as a composer is to combine pitches and rhythms while using variations in volume and tone color to create something meaningful for someone.  It's a good idea to write for yourself first, because if you like what you are writing, then chances are that someone else will also like it.  There's not much point in writing music that you dislike, although many film composers have to do this a lot.

Your task in combining the pitches and rhythms really does begin with the first note.  As you move forward and combine more and more notes, you will always be asking yourself if the combination is pleasing to you or not, and then continue to tweak and change as necessary until you have achieved the desired result.

If you have never composed before and it is something that you have been wanting to try, then begin immediately - today.  There really is no time like the present to get started.  Before you object and say "hold on, I can't read music, I don't know how to do this, I need a teacher, a degree - blah, blah blah", realize that these same objections have prevented countless people from following their dream of writing music.  It all boils down to "fear".  You must eliminate that fear (and doubt) and begin combining your notes right away, no matter how little experience you have. 

You learn how to compose by doing and not by sitting in a classroom or reading books.  By doing, you will learn which combinations of notes please you and which don't.

If you have read my book, or any of my previous posts, you know that I am all for traditional training.  Yes, you do need a teacher and yes you need to study and read lots of books.  The books will teach you why the combinations of notes that you stumbled upon please you, or why they don't.  Learning these rules will save you time in that you can avoid what does not work, however there is something to be said for discovering these things on your own through trial and error.

Teachers are important for aspiring composers to help point them in the right direction, but at the end of the day, many teachers will inadvertently create clones of themselves.  They cannot help but give the student formulas based upon their own personal preferences.  This is fine to a certain extent because students will begin to develop their own voice anyway and will hopefully go in their own direction.

If you want to compose, begin today.  Sit at your instrument and combine notes, and keep doing it until you find something that you like.  If it doesn't go too well today, then do it tomorrow and the day after.

Find yourself a teacher and learn all you can from them.  Ask lots of questions.

Read books about music theory, harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and music history. Devour as much information as you can about what composers have done in the past.  Even if you don't particularly like classical music, study what the great composers did because they were experts and really knew what they were doing.  Studying what they did and applying what they learned, doesn't mean you'll end up writing symphonies and concertos, but you will write music that has a solid foundation.

Do not assume that attending music school and getting a degree will make you into a composer.  Let me repeat "you learn to compose by doing, not by sitting in a classroom and reading books".  Books are great.  Teachers are great.  Courses and classes are great.  But spending as much time as possible at your instrument is even better.

Don't over-analyze your music.  Push your doubts aside.  You will always find someone who has created a piece of music that is better than your current effort, but you may also find many people who have created something far worse.  Try not to compare your music to that of others and simply look at it on its own merit.

Commit to composing music every day for the rest of your life.  The more you do it, the better you will get.  Experience trumps everything.

Most important of all - have fun while you're composing and enjoy the process.

Look out for my new book "Secrets To Better Composing And Improvising" which will be available soon.  Sign up on my website to be notified when it is available.

Musically yours,

David Hicken