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Claude_Ruelle

Learning to write music faster!

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Hi everyone,

 
Lately I've been watching a couple of masterclasses by composer Mike Verta - he keeps saying that writing music fast is a skill that is very important to have, because it saves you from getting bored with your ideas and ending up by overwriting or throwing your pieces away - It also keeps you in the creative inertia that you have when you write an initial idea, and it saves time when you're on short deadlines. Finally it forces you to develop your other musical skills, because you can only rely on them when you have to go fast.
 
Anyway, I've decided to develop this skill by doing speed writing exercises. I'll start by writing very short pieces (30s or so) and then probably switch to longer ones as I get more experienced with this. 
 
This the first piece I wrote, I've written it mainly for strings - it just has a touch of brass and harp on the last chord :
 
 
The writing process took me like 2 min, but then I had to spend some time orchestrating, rearranging the parts and performing it in my DAW.  So it was a total of ~15min for 30s of music - I think it would have taken me more time with a bigger orchestration.
 
I'll continue those exercises until I get better and faster in my writing :)
 
I would like to know what you guys think about this approach.
 
Happy composing,
 
Claude.

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I've also practiced this with orchestrating exercises. I compose something really quickly with piano and try to orchestrate it in many ways to get the most out of it.

 

Here's what I came up with: https://soundcloud.com/lassi-tiainen/orchestrating-ex

 

I have to do these exercises a lot more. It's really fun and you can get so much different version out of simple things. Maybe listen to some really different tracks and try to copy the orchestration feel from them :)

 

BTW really nice little composition you have there :)

Edited by Kasu-_-

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Very good thread - writing fast is a great skill. Part of it, in my own experience, comes from several things:

 

1) Know your set up well.

 

This includes both hardware and all software items. Spend time learning your FX chains and how they best work to achieve various textures and feels. Know your sample libraries well. For example, I know that combining two patches in a certain way creates a very useful texture to fill in orchestral sounds, be it long or short notes. On a very much related point, I also know that for certain instruments I'm going to have to pull the level or EQ out certain frequencies right off the bat to achieve the sound I'm after.

 

2) Have a template set up.

 

The less time you have to do the technical set up means you get to start creating that much faster. Writing to only piano and orchestrating later is useful for sure! But sometimes you need to compose and arrange (and mix!) all at the same time. Having a ready-to-go template for various kinds of genres can really help speed things along and help you focus on creative decisions instead of technical ones.

 

3) Keep your scope in check.

 

From what I've heard in both of your quick pieces, you guys are already doing this. Good job! When writing super fast, you may not be able to get a fully fleshed out orchestral piece so strive for what is vital and quick. Sometimes simple flourishes can be easily created and help give your piece that extra bit of polish.

 

4) Do it often.

 

This is what I love about this thread. You guys are already doing this! I once had a work situation come up where I was put on a game late Friday afternoon - about 3PM. The game was due on Tuesday. Normally these games would take about 2 weeks to do all of the audio. I basically had the weekend. So I jumped into hyper drive and wrote as quickly as I could. Thankfully, this kind of stress motivates me and I've been in this kind of situation many times before. But if it's your first time in a quick crunch, it can become a blocking instead of a propelling situation. So it's great that you guys are already imposing a time limit on yourself now.

 

5) Don't question yourself.

 

I don't mean just write crap. Be critical of your work and push for excellence! But the less time you have to work on something the more precious your decisions are! It may not be the best time to debate over a melody's note or two. Instead go with what works. It sounds bad to say but part of writing really fast is going into somewhat of an automatic mode. Again, not saying write poor music but you go back to your bag of tricks which you've already tested and proven (like you guys are doing now!) which you know will produce the right results.

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One more thing - imposing external deadlines is great but putting yourself in true crunch situations is even better. So I'd recommend those game jams and 48 hour film festivals where the entire team is crunching and you're writing music/producing audio as quickly as you can. I just did one two weekends ago and, due to the nature of post audio, was writing much of the music on the last day. And because the shoot went different then expected the film's vibe and direction changed somewhat. So not only was I down to hours to produce the music, I was doing rewrites! That kind of stress isn't always fun but MAN is it a good test and barometer with how you can handle time sensitive situations.

 

At these kind of events, you're often you're working with a team of friends (who are also rushed), so it's not like you're gonna get fired. Put yourself in situations like this often and you get better and better at handling that kind of stress. I remember the fastest I've ever had to produce audio was for a MechWarrior game where I produced 18.30 worth of in-game music, produced 9 minutes of music and sound design for cut scenes and did all of the in-game sound design as well as implemented it all into FMOD in 8 days. I was working from 6AM-2AM every day during that chunk. It paid REALLY well but... pretty sure I took a few years off my life on that one!

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Really great points there nsmadsen, thank you!

 

I've actually noticed that I've composed some of my best music when there's been a really tight deadline. I've had to do some tracks in just one evening and it really opens my creativity and I can write straight from my brains. No options available and no rewriting. Of course if it happens in that moment that your brain throws you a shitty track then you have no choice :D

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In my experience, the best way to improve your speed at composition is to improve your skill at improvisation. In other words, you should practice making up complete ideas on the fly on your instrument of choice - in real-time and without stopping to write it down. A keyboard instrument is preferred for this as it will allow you to improvise a few musical lines at once to fill out the harmony. Once you're pretty good at improvising well-crafted music on the spot, then it's just a matter of remembering what you played, writing it down afterwards, then arranging it for the intended instruments.

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Excellent point! I completely agree. Much of how I compose is basically improvising and then building up on those core ideas, adding polish and editing.

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This the first piece I wrote, I've written it mainly for strings - it just has a touch of brass and harp on the last chord : https://soundcloud.com/claude-ruelle/speed-writing-250516 The writing process took me like 2 min, but then I had to spend some time orchestrating, rearranging the parts and performing it in my DAW. So it was a total of ~15min for 30s of music - I think it would have taken me more time with a bigger orchestration.

 

 

I like it! Have you done more of these?

 

 

 

I've also practiced this with orchestrating exercises. I compose something really quickly with piano and try to orchestrate it in many ways to get the most out of it. Here's what I came up with: https://soundcloud.com/lassi-tiainen/orchestrating-ex

 

 

Sounds good and seems like a good excercise. I need to try this some time.

 

 

 

4) Do it often. This is what I love about this thread. You guys are already doing this! I once had a work situation come up where I was put on a game late Friday afternoon - about 3PM. The game was due on Tuesday. Normally these games would take about 2 weeks to do all of the audio. I basically had the weekend. So I jumped into hyper drive and wrote as quickly as I could. Thankfully, this kind of stress motivates me and I've been in this kind of situation many times before. But if it's your first time in a quick crunch, it can become a blocking instead of a propelling situation. So it's great that you guys are already imposing a time limit on yourself now.

 

 

That reminds me of a very interesting article about "forcing" flow and creativity, that I've read a while back:

http://www.modernfilmcomposer.com/2015/06/the-science-of-hacking-creativity-and-motivation-part-1/
http://www.modernfilmcomposer.com/2015/06/the-science-of-hacking-creativity-and-motivation-part-2/

 

 

 

I used to spend a lot of time on digital painting forums, and "speedpaintings" that roughly took something between 30 minutes and 2 hours always were a popular thing there. I can see how that kind of excercise would be equally valuable for composing music. I hope I'll get around to giving it a try soon. I'm not "really" a musician though. I don't play keyboard, so I can't just improvise away and then orchestrate it. But I've got a Steinberg CMC-PD padcontroller to play around with rythms and harmonies. At the moment I'm still caught up in work, but if I manage to write a bit of music in a short time I'll post it here. Looking forward to hear more contributions from you guys as well!

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