I have been likening composition as a performance over the past few years. That the moment of composition, when that great idea strikes, becomes a performance where all your skills come into play and are there to support that great idea.
Those skills and techniques should be learned, like a language, or skills in a sport like hockey, so that they become natural to you. They should be practiced over and over until they are innate and you can just “play”.
Furthermore, those skills and techniques you learned and mastered, they become part of your musical intuition.
A great analogy is hockey.
Seeing my son practice hockey the past few years, doing drills over and over again, and then seeing them gradually find their way into the context of a game, I have started to see the parallel with composition. He practices those drills until they become something he does with ease and almost as a reflex, so that in the context of a game he can flow like water, adapting to what the game is doing at any given split-second.
The more skills you have mastered the more flexible you become as a player.
A composer gains fluency and speed and also gains a connection to his inner-music by learning theory as sound (never as black dots and/or numbers on a page), drilling over and over until it becomes easy and natural – like language.
Learning theory is NEVER enough; it should be learned as sound and it should be drilled over and over and over, like a hockey drill, until it becomes a tool that you can drawn on when it counts: during YOUR game, YOUR performance: the moment of composition.
All you learn becomes a tool, a skill you draw on, and it becomes part of who you are as a composer…as long as you learn it as sound and you drill it over and over.
What should you drill like this? Everything from the ground up:
First the basics:
- seventh chords
- four part writing and voice-leading
- diatonic and chromatic harmony
Focus on first understanding the theory and the sound of your materials, and then develop speed. Time yourself even! You are a composition athlete! Don’t worry about the great ideas when practicing, just drill and drill, those are your practice sessions, and then write a piece applying those drills – that is your game.
That is exactly the approach I take for myself and in all the courses here on ScoreClub, and let me tell you, the results are fantastic.
So go on. Go practice!