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Old 08-16-2013, 10:49 AM   #1
dannydawiz
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Composing In Your Head

I'm curious about how people go about doing this.

Do you...

1. Hear the entire piece in your head.
2. Hear only one instrument.
3. Hear only the melody but not the instrument.

The reason why I ask is because when I make music I usually start with a melody and through that melody I can hear the bass line/chord progression. From there I imagine a way to play it on the guitar and rehearse it in my head.

I'm having trouble though hearing the whole piece in my head. Sometimes I can get fairly close to hearing the whole thing but at most maybe three instruments at a time.

Also I hear that guys like Mozart had amazing musical memory. Does anyone on this forum possess a skill such as this? I have a tendency to forget some of the things that I write at work and it drives me crazy when I get back home.
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Old 08-16-2013, 11:08 AM   #2
Nelson Olstrom
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I am a singer/songwriter/guitarist, so I usually hear lyrics/melody first along with the chord progression, however I do sometimes hear guitar solos. After I have this in my head,the sooner that can get to my guitar, the better chance I have of being able to continue, otherwise it will evaporate into thin air.
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Old 08-16-2013, 01:07 PM   #3
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i honestly just do what you do most of the time. and the melody is usually the only thing that doesn't get worked on over and over again - the harmony and rhythms are things that i experiment with all the time.
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Old 08-16-2013, 01:39 PM   #4
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I have to doubt whether any composer in history has ever had an entire piece worked out in their head down to the very last detail before they got to the business of actually writing the thing. If they did, it can't have been a fiendishly complex piece. Even Mozart drafted and sketched his works. There is also a certain amount of evidence that Mozart needed a keyboard in order to compose. Beethoven certainly sketched out his themes and certain sections of his works before beginning the writing process, and often rejected and reworked ideas. Bernstein's first Omnibus lecture on Beethoven's 5th is very interesting that regard, he inserts some of the rejected sketches back into the work to try and illuminate Beethoven's compositional process.

Further to the point Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were all noted keyboard improvisers (There story goes that Bach improvised a six voice fugue on request) and would no doubt have used that facility to a certain extent to test their ideas before committing anything to paper.

I don't necessarily get the obsession with hearing something in your head before you write it down. It's a useful skill to be able to audiate ideas before committing them to paper, but it doesn't necessarily make your ideas any better or or more personal to you than if you'd found something through trial and error on your instrument.

With regards musical memory, the famous story with regard's Mozart is that he transcribed the whole of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere after hearing it once, but he went back to the venue for a second time to correct mistakes in his transcription. There is no doubt that he had a fantastic ear though.
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Old 08-16-2013, 04:41 PM   #5
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Well those famous composers are stated to have the honed ability of absolute pitch, so I can "kinda" imagine that they did come up with the whole piece in their noggin'.
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Old 08-16-2013, 05:01 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nietsche
I don't necessarily get the obsession with hearing something in your head before you write it down. It's a useful skill to be able to audiate ideas before committing them to paper, but it doesn't necessarily make your ideas any better or or more personal to you than if you'd found something through trial and error on your instrument.

Yeah, I'm with this.

Every composers process is different and the way they approach composition is unique. I'm more on the trial and error side that anything else and I get by just fine. I can't honestly say I've ever heard a whole piece or even just a melody in my head before writing. I don't know what I'm going to write until I write it.
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Old 08-17-2013, 05:28 PM   #7
dannydawiz
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Thanks everyone for letting me in on your thoughts. I'm happy to hear that I'm not the only one that writes like this.

I have heard of the story of Mozarts transcription along with Bachs improvisation of the fugue which I found to be amazing.

The reason why I was asking about this isn't because I'm obsessed on hearing things before I play them. I can agree that just writing, hitting a wrong note, or even improvising can bring about some great ideas. However I honestly can't deny that the ability to compose without the need of an instrument is something that offers wide benefits especially if you are away from home.

I'd be interested in reading if there are any more people that can do this at a reasonably proficient level.
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Old 08-17-2013, 05:50 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannydawiz
Thanks everyone for letting me in on your thoughts. I'm happy to hear that I'm not the only one that writes like this.

I have heard of the story of Mozarts transcription along with Bachs improvisation of the fugue which I found to be amazing.

The reason why I was asking about this isn't because I'm obsessed on hearing things before I play them. I can agree that just writing, hitting a wrong note, or even improvising can bring about some great ideas. However I honestly can't deny that the ability to compose without the need of an instrument is something that offers wide benefits especially if you are away from home.

I'd be interested in reading if there are any more people that can do this at a reasonably proficient level.

When I hit a wrong note, I may get another idea from there and start hearing more things. Sometimes I just experiment with different things and try how different chords sound. I get my main ideas when I don't play anything but when I develop them I need something that can play back my ideas (guitar or Sibelius).

So usually when I get inspired, I hear one part, then write it down with Sibelius so that I can play it back and then add other instruments. Then I get inspired again and come up with another idea and again write it down. I don't hear any other instruments until I listen to the idea. I might start jamming a drum beat or a bassline in my head while listening to the song. Sibelius is a handy program because you can just find out which notes sound bad and change them and try different note choices (when writing harmonies for example).
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Old 08-17-2013, 08:21 PM   #9
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Hey all!

I guess everyone has their own way of doing things which is fine so my main tip is just do whatever works for you and develop that.

I usually have a bit of a 'lighbulb' moment when I hear a certain sound or chord I like....I become like a fiend after that and HAVE to play and chase that inspiration.....so I definitely do not always have things worked out in my head but I have had this experience as well.

I think the main thing is getting into a good creative state or mood and being able to recognize that and then chase it. The ideas will flow through you and you never really will have to think too hard or over analyze what you are doing....if you are over analyzing you aren't using the creative parts of your brain and chances are you wont do what is right for the song and what the music is calling for...true inspiration comes from the unconscious and from listening to the music

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Old 08-17-2013, 08:40 PM   #10
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Yes, and no. It depends on what I've come up with. For some simple things I hear everything. For more complex things, I often hear a few things at once and jot them down. Then I have play around with it and just have fun with it, seeing what it can do.

Usually though, I either come up with a cool rhythm or some awesome harmony. Then I usually combine them. Everything else flows from that.
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Old 08-17-2013, 11:53 PM   #11
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For me I'll usually just be noodling around and I'll play a riff or some chords that sound cool. Sometimes I'll hear something in my head and try get it onto the guitar, but that's far less common.

After I've figured out the idea I gotta get it saved somewhere, otherwise more often than not it'll vanish back into the depths of my mind and I may never get it back. So it'll usually go into my loop pedal. Once it's saved I'll start messing around with it, seeing what works and what doesn't. Experimenting with what the idea wants to resolve to and stuff like that.

When I have a pretty solid foundation, say maybe a main riff and some chords for a verse or chorus or whatever, I'll put it all into Guitar Pro so I can start working on the rest of the song. I don't like stepping on people toes, though, so it's usually just a simple bass line and a good beat that helps get the idea across. For the bass it's usually just following the main riff and some nice walking under chords if that's what works for the song. For the drums I usually have a pretty good idea of where I want the accents, so it's usually just some kick and snare stuff. Then the other guys are free to chop and change what they want, so long as it works best for the song.

Then once I'm happy I've got enough parts I start working on the arrangement, but by this point the band is probably pretty heavily involved so it's not just me.
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Old 08-21-2013, 01:35 AM   #12
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I tend to think up ideas conceptually when writing new pieces, and in I don't think in musical terms. I usually think up ideas to explore certain combinations of instruments, focusing on certain parameters, how blending two extended techniques from different instruments would sound. Of course if I can, I would try to hear these things in my mind. From there I begin to build musicals ideas.
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Old 08-22-2013, 01:09 PM   #13
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Wow this happened to me last night. I couldn't get to sleep and I heard this theme in my head. I ignored it first but then it kept coming back to me so I figured why the hell not. I grabbed my iPod and recorded me singing the ideas from start to finish. I just imagined it being brass and strings with heightened and relaxed moments and knowing the placement of the main "theme." The last half of it was me improvising and seeing where I'd take myself. About 2 minutes 50 seconds long. Then I tried to sleep.

Then a few minutes after I heard a second movement (I say that loosely, so sue me) to the piece with an interesting percussive rhythm so I grabbed my iPod to record again.

This is the first time where I actually had enough for a complete piece worked out in my head. I'm gonna work on it this weekend. Feels good man.

That's not the extent of my process though. I get a lot of my ideas from existing songs and I mold them in new ways, I fiddle around on guitar, and just make up short riffs in my head and fit it into a song. Last night's just kinda happened that I completed it in my head and, despite I'm not really a symphonic/chamber composer, they happened to be big and grand enough for film/trailer music.
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Old 08-23-2013, 07:53 AM   #14
Blind In 1 Ear
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannydawiz
I'm curious about how people go about doing this.

Do you...

1. Hear the entire piece in your head.
2. Hear only one instrument.
3. Hear only the melody but not the instrument.

The reason why I ask is because when I make music I usually start with a melody and through that melody I can hear the bass line/chord progression. From there I imagine a way to play it on the guitar and rehearse it in my head.

I'm having trouble though hearing the whole piece in my head. Sometimes I can get fairly close to hearing the whole thing but at most maybe three instruments at a time.

Also I hear that guys like Mozart had amazing musical memory. Does anyone on this forum possess a skill such as this? I have a tendency to forget some of the things that I write at work and it drives me crazy when I get back home.


i hear the whole thing. sometimes i hear full symphonies, but i can't recall if it's something i've heard, or making up lol. honestly i hear music in my head pretty much all the time. i usually don't hear the lyrics in my head and if i do, i can't remember them all usually. it's like i hear the song but i can't pause it or go back. not always anyway. kind of like i don't want to ruin where it's going so i don't want to turn back and ruin the direction, like mental improv haha. i can usually pick out a melody and what the band will sound like, but sometimes that changes in reality due to improv. my mind kind of wanders with the music so i usually don't write full things in my head, but i have before. one of them resulted in a song i still use.
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Old 08-26-2013, 11:38 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blind In 1 Ear
honestly i hear music in my head pretty much all the time.


I'm much the same, but more often than not it's a song that already exists, or something too similar to use myself.

Another thing I do occasionally is take something that already exists, a riff or chord progression or idea or whatever, and change it or the way I use it so it's something new.

I think a massive roadblock for people learning to compose is trying to be too original. There's only so many notes, chords and ideas, and there's only so many ways to use them. When you consider that music has been around for so long, it's pretty unlikely that you've come up with something completely original.

When I was first starting out, I'd dismiss anything that already existed, and then later found out that I was being an idiot because as it turned out, the rest of the stuff that was "mine" already existed in one way or another as well. I'm not talking who songs here, just stuff like chord progressions, or the way a riff moves. Stuff like that.

Things become "standard" for a reason, and there's nothing wrong with using a I IV V chord progression if that's what works best for the song, even though I IV V is one of the most used chord progressions in modern, western music.
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