Music is a universal language that creative people have used to express their thoughts for centuries. Crafting a well-composed piece of music is challenging, as there are many practical and theoretical factors to consider.
While the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall is true - you do have to practice - there are other incremental steps you can take to sharpen your skills as a composer. Here are five things you can start doing today to become a great composer.
Schedule Time and Start Writing
Writer’s block happens. When you feel like you’re stuck and can’t find an idea to keep your piece moving forward, it’s important to keep at it. Set aside a block of time every day to work on your compositions and your craft. Starting in on a project for just 10 minutes can build momentum that will keep you going until you’ve broken through that creative block. Try to keep the same schedule each day so sitting down to write becomes a routine, rather than something that can be put off until tomorrow.
Research an Education Program and Learn From the Experts
To focus your attention on building your craft to the best it can be, look into options for a master’s degree in music. A graduate program builds on the lessons you’ve already learned and provides a solid base of music theory and technical knowledge. Music faculty tend to be seasoned performers and composers themselves. Many programs encourage students to compose their own work, perform with classmates and share their creations with the campus and community.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
Artists who are willing to take a few risks, try new techniques and deploy new aesthetics are motivated to keep creating. Listen to a new style of music or a composition that’s outside of your usual writing niche. Experimental composer Annie Gosfield noted in a 2009 piece for The New York Times that it’s crucial for composers at any stage in their career to keep looking for new sounds. Whether you’re just starting out or you have decades of composition experience, continuing to explore new sounds, playing styles and instrumental arrangements will keep you motivated and excited to complete your next piece.
Sharpen Your Networking and Business Skills
Even the most prolific and dynamic composers need to find a way to share their music once it’s finished. Recognize that writing music that will then be played by musicians and consumed by audiences is a business venture, then take steps to treat it that way. Look into tools and training that will help ensure all facets of that business run smoothly. Put together a template for billing that will make it easier to get compensated for your work. Sketch out a marketing plan for how you’ll share your next composition or attract a new commission. With those business foundations in place, reach out to your existing network of peer composers and musicians. Maintaining strong connections within the classical music world can lead to opportunities for new work, and will ensure you have musicians to perform pieces when they’re completed.
Admit That Your Taste Will Develop Faster Than Your Ability
Ira Glass, the host of public radio standby “This American Life,” defined “the gap” in an interview a few years back. The lesson is this: your taste in what you like to listen to will develop faster than your ability to make music that sounds that way. The same is true for writers, visual artists, podcasters and public radio hosts. That gap can lead to disappointment, but it’s important to not get discouraged. Pushing past the gap takes continued practice and time. Those who make it through go on to create art that the next generation of beginners will hold up as what they’re aiming for.
Developing your skills as a composer of classical or modern music takes time. Keep practicing and fine-tuning your skill set, and you’ll see improvement in each piece you create.