My student Simon Donovan asked me a very important (and common) question about the process of composition the other day. Here’s his question and my reply. (Thanks Simon for allowing me to post this.)
[…] So my question is when you have written a piece or a section of a piece and you have listened to that section, over & over & over again, as composers do, you begin to build fatigue over the whole thing and start questioning it, even though you got excited by it from the outset.
Does this ring a bell with you? Do you just walk away from it for a while? Scrap it completely etc?
Hey Simon this is a good question.
Of course you build fatigue when listening to a section or an idea over and over again during the process of composition, and arranging and orchestration.
That is why a lot of novice composers will start introducing new ideas much too quickly and the continuity and integrity of their music will suffer.
Take time with your initial idea to make sure it’s good and that it works for you both emotionally and intellectually and that it has good development potential. Because once the process of composition is started you might get sick of the idea, so you need to commit to it at the outset.
While writing out the piece and developing your material, it’s common to think that you have repeated it too often – to FEEL that you did because you have played it like a million times that day! 🙂 But take a moment and actually COUNT how many times the material has been repeated in your music. It’s most likely waaaay less that it feels like. Just count how many times your listener has heard it.
Bring someone into your room to have a quick listen to what you have. This is like a magic bullet let me tell you, at least for me. It will change your point of view in a jiffy and you’ll suddenly listen to your music from the perspective of the person there. At least for me, I often don’t even need the other person to say a single word… just from their presence I know if it’s working or not!
RE: walking away for a while
Absolutely, you have to pace yourself and keep your mind fresh. When you have deadlines to meet though you have to be clever with this. You can take work on one piece/cue/idea for a bit until you start having diminishing returns, then take 5 and switch to another piece/cue/idea. That way you get some distance from the first one that was giving you some doubts or problems and can return to it later that day.
If you are only working on one thing, then yes, taking a break can actually make things move faster later because nothing slows you down more than doubt… other than maybe a stomach flu.