Five tips for aspiring composers 

First, let's clarify - I am also an aspiring composer!  For anyone who's interested though, here are a few things I've learned over the years... 

1. Study 

We might not like it but it really helps us learn!  On my about page you can read of previous study I have undertaken. For me, taking two steps (Grade 5 theory and music A-level) really helped me bed-down ideas and sharpen my aural skills. If you're an aspiring composer, maybe you should take this thing seriously and read up on it?

2. Learn from the Greats

You're a pretty good writer, but there's always someone who's further on than you. They've been where you are and have developed. Night school might not be your thing, but why not book in some time with somebody who is an established writer? Over the years I have asked for and got time with composers such as Robert Redhead, Kevin Norbury, Trevor Davis, Peter Graham and Kenneth Downie. I came away from every single one of those meetings with more tools in my composing toolbox.

Also, buy study scores or if you're an SA musician, ask your music department for an authorised photocopy for study purposes - they're usually happy to help. Some brass band scores that have really helped me over the years are Resurgam (Eric Ball), Majesty (Kenneth Downie) which the Army's UK music department gave to me, and Contest Music (Wilfred Heaton) which I bought myself. 

3. Listen

Here's a tip - don't let your music software be your ears. Go places, get out there and listen. Guess the keys, last notes, write them down and when you get back home see if you can find out how close you were. (After all, if you can't hear music in your head without the aid of a computer, are you really a composer?)  Listen, listen and listen. You have to develop your aural skills plus you need ideas, right? Go to a concert, be inspired, then get hold of the score afterwards and see how the writer went about creating those sounds.

4. Start small

Everybody wants the glory of a Symphony, yet few get there without learning the fundamentals. A great way to do this is through the discipline of writing for a smaller group. I say discipline because in writing for smaller groups you learn (i) to cut out the effects and (ii) which notes really count. A bigger score gives more scope for more fireworks and effects.

So, if you're an SA brass writer why not get down to writing some Unity Series music? If you're a song-writing composer why not come up with a melody line with some basic chords underneath? I then concentrate on nailing the bass line and the inner harmonies can then be filled in.

5. Get a pen

Finally, don't rely on your software so much that you lose (or never have) the skill of music calligraphy. I can testify that back in the day everything was hand-written, so it's easier for me.  But if you've begun with a PC, celebrate the fact that it won't take you twenty hours to write out the parts, and then go buy yourself some manuscript paper and two black fibre-tipped pens.

I use a thicker pen (0.5mm) for title text, notes, beams, hairpins, etc and a thinner one (0.3mm) for small text (e.g. 'Andante', 'Tutti', etc). You need to practice your calligraphy to be prepared for (i) jotting down musical ideas on the bus, and (ii) for when your windows PC breaks down (Mac users tell me that never happens to them) J

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