The Art Of Pre-Composition

I have a belief that all true musicians will take the necessary actions to learn as many different musical tools as they can.

Ultimate Guitar

Expressing one's self through the art of music is a unique bond that the artist can share with his/her audience. Not to mention, that composing music that truly delivers one's message is personally satisfying; and I have a belief that all true musicians will take the necessary actions to learn as many different musical tools as they can, so they can fully express themselves in their compositions.

Theory and technique are two of these tools and happen to me the most common topics of discussion when speaking of music, but composition now a day seems to be in the backseat of a world focused on the craft, rather than the art. It use to be that pre-composition, or compositional techniques similar to it, were widely known and used by classical composers from every era before popular music like blues, jazz, and rock started to dominate the mainstream. I'm not trying to infer that any of these popular musical styles or their composition techniques, are inferior to classical ones, just different. So I have decided to take the task of reintroducing this lesser known art back into the 'public eye' and discuss its function and importance in the composition process.

Pre-Composition - A compositional technique that involves writing down and charting specific details of the things the composer wishes to express, before picking up an instrument or notating the actual music.

I was first introduced to the concept of pre-composition through my mentor, virtuoso guitarist Tom Hess. Ever since then, I have explored this technique and applied it to most of my compositions. I believe that this compositional technique is very useful for any serious musician who wants to express themselves fully in their music. With this technique, any artist will be able to create a 'blueprint' of their composition before they even touch an instrument and begin to write the any notes down on paper. However, I am not trying to claim that this technique is beneficial to every musician and for every composition. This is especially true for someone who is strictly an improvisational player and decides to leave out certain details in his/her composition, because they prefer the musical spontaneity of improvisation. That is why I said most of my compositions use this technique, but not all of them do. It should be understood that in some cases improvisation, collaboration between musicians, playing the guitar and writing down what ever you play, or other compositional techniques are a better choice for writing your music. However, I know that even if you won't use this compositional technique, it is still greatly beneficial to learn it and expose yourself to a new way of thinking.

Now that we have established that pre-composition is a very useful tool for writing music I will explain its importance. I like to think of pre-composition as a sculptor does with his stone or an architect does his blueprints. Think about it, when an architect builds a house or building, he always has finely detailed blueprints so that he already knows before hand what will happen and how the building will turn out. Every flaw is recognized and taken care of in this stage, before anyone even picks up a hammer. Also, all of the "artistical" elements and gestures that you wish to include in your music are now focused on and implanted into the blueprints along with structure, dimensions and other layers. Most people don't even think about any of this before they pick up the guitar, so many vital gestures or details that you would like to express, do not get the musical attention they deserve.

Most of my explanation on the Pre-Composition technique and how to use it will be in my second article. However, I will demonstrate in a short example, the usage of a single element in the Pre-Composition technique. (Emotion in this case).

As you can tell, the pre-composition technique uses a chart format and every word and line from the chart, symbolizes something. I will explain the purpose of this technique and go into depth on the function of each element and why those lines are drawn as they are, in my next article. Until then, I want you to think about this example and try to understand what everything means or could possibly symbolize. Good luck fellow artists, I will see you soon!

Copyright 2006 Kole (Kyle Hicks). All rights reserved.

Kole (Kyle Hicks) (photo) is a 19 year old solo musician, guitarist, composer, instructor, and music major at Indiana University. He has been a student of the guitar for over 7 years now and is currently being mentored by guitar virtuoso, Tom Hess. Kole has been teaching private guitar and composition lessons for the last year and is continuing to do so in Bloomington, IN. He is the guitarist/vocalist for two different bands based in Bloomington, IN and is currently composing one of his two debut albums; which will be recorded and released later this year. If you would like to contact Kole or find out more information about Kole or his band(s), you can visit the links below.

E-Mail: Kole's Website: Band's Website:

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    you didn't actually explain anything. I understand that it's part 1 of a series, but this part could have been ommitted completely since it doesn't actually say anything about how to do anything in the pre composition stage. You just talk about it without actually saying anything useful. I'll tune in next time though to learn something about this topic. It seems interesting.
    i've played and jammmed with alot of diffrent musicians. recorded quite abit of music too. Some people need to precomp some don't. Man I've seen some guys write and think and pre write and the songs still be just so so and some guys just roll in with something in ther head and just kick ass,most of it has to do with the person themselves and what's inside. But I will also agree that precomp can help some.
    this is so stupid i hated the chart u dont plan out it that much. personally i like it when i make a song and i get suprised by something that wasnt planned but it was almost better.
    I'll wait until the picture works before I rate this. Pretty good article, though.
    Angel Zamora
    Pre-composition saves you time, it's a pro tool without compromising the self expression. It's a GOOD article
    The picture is broken. Right now, the article seems to be more like "Here's what I'm going to tell you about...tune in next time!" Making the picture work would likely improve that problem a lot. As for the concept of pre-composition, I'd be quite interested to hear more about it. However, it seems that Kole here has picked up Tom Hess's egotistical style of writing
    it might be much more informative if that picture worked. it just seems a bit pointless now.
    I think that any good musician will take the knowledge you have shared and add it to the tools they already have. It can only make them better.
    The Arch-Mage
    Good article. I had somewhat thought of the idea of pre-composition, but your article explained it well and made me truly realize the possibility of pre-composition.
    this is some namdy pamdy s'hit the likes of which i havent heard since the last tom hess column i read read it again it tells you nothing basically i want to write a happy song that crescendos in its happiness yes very good maestro