Music Theory and Composition : Music Theory and Composition

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Music Composition – 10 Limits and Considerations

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Music Composition – 10 Limits and Considerations

Sheet MusicIn music composition there are several limits and considerations a composer must know which are related to both the instrument itself as well as for the artists and the performers of your compositions. There are other limitations which a composer must consider as well such as who their audience is, in what media is the composition directed, what style of music, what is the deadline for delivery of the music, etc. again all must be known or at least considered when composing music.

There are basic considerations to keep in mind when composing music for all musical instruments. So let’s begin by taking a brief look at those considerations first which will set the stage for advancing your knowledge of other considerations and limitations to consider when composing music.

10 Limits and Considerations

There are three important musical instrument based considerations, the tonal qualities residing within the different playable registers on the instrument, the performance capabilities of the artist and the playable articulations on any specific musical instrument are all important limits and considerations a composer must be familiar with in order to properly compose for them. Let’s take a brief look at each.

Instrument Tuning

 Not intending to undermine your intelligence but rather to be thorough and to consider all possible audiences exposed to this article, for composers with students a properly tuned violin for example, sounds far better than one that is not, especially for the beginning student undergoing ear training using a musical instrument as the device used for pitch demonstration, ear training and the like. Obviously, with an improperly tuned instrument progress is slowed and takes much longer or is disrupted or made virtually impossible. Therefore, it is vitally important to use an instrument which is in tune to support ear training for your students. Further, it is important to teach your students to properly tune their instrument each and every time they play and to be able to do so in the case where during the performance and/or while you are practicing, should the instrument lose it’s tuning during these activities.

Secondly, many musical instruments, such as a classical guitar, are playable using different tunings. Consequently when composing and when instructing performers, it is vital and necessary to designate any special tuning requirements for the composition. This designation is typically placed above the tempo mark in the score or manuscript.

Range

Writing music playable within the note range capabilities of a musical instrument is also necessary if you want a live performer to play your music. This is a common mistake among beginning composers who have a limited or non-existing knowledge of the range capabilities for any given instrument. Also, this same mistake is frequently made by those beginning composers who write their music using some computer based digital music notation programs which do not have a way of designating instrument range limits or when using other midi input devices or when using other electronic devices to compose their music. Just because you can place a note on the staff or on any ledger line above or below the staff doesn’t mean it is playable on an actual instrument. In that regard, the study of the instrument, any instrument you are writing for, should include learning the playable range of notes.

Registers

Many musical instruments have the capacity to play in different octaves, note ranges or registers. Each octave and/or register embodies different tonal qualities or characteristics. The composer must write within these instrument considerations to be effective in conveying the intent of the composition or any note, passage, phrase or section within your composition. Also, since all ranges are not playable by all performers it is a good thing to be able to write music applicable to the performer’s skills and abilities and the register or registers available on the instrument and their ability to perform on the instrument(s) the music is written for. For playability and for attaining tonal character it is important to know the register ranges as well.

Articulations

Articulations are special methods and techniques which produce various tonal qualities of a note or notes being played. The attack or decay and the method or technique used to produce variations in sound character is known as articulations. Pizzicato, marcato, staccato and legato are only a few possible articulations. Not all instruments can play all articulations and consequently, a composer must be aware of the possible articulations any instrument is capable of producing either through performance techniques or through the use of external additions to the instrument such as a mute for example. Some musical instruments have a wide range of articulations such as a violin while others have few or none. Also, any and all articulations playable on any given instrument are restricted by and dependent upon the performer’s skills and abilities to perform them.

Performance Capabilities

Another area of concern for the composer to consider is focused specifically on the performer and their actual skill level and abilities. For example, if you are composing music for grade school students versus writing for a college student for instance, the skill sets are on different levels and the composer must be aware of and keep this consideration in mind while composing for each of these classes or levels of performers. As a composer, your consideration of the performer’s capabilities must be a priority. With that in mind, you will be more satisfied with the actual performance from the beginning student through to the advanced skills of the virtuoso performer when writing for any artist or musical group.

If a composer is intent on writing only music which is not directed to any specific solo artist, musical group of any class or for a specific application such as for music underscoring a film, TV, ad, commercial or designated business presentation, it may not be necessary to consider anything other than the previous areas presented above. However, as a working composer it is likely you are generating income from any or all of these applications of music composition.

Additional Considerations

With that said it is necessary to know additional areas of limitations and concerns when composing music.

Time Limits

Commercial advertising has time restrictions which are predetermined and set in overall length or duration. For example, a radio ad may be 15, 30 and possibly 45 or 60 seconds long in which case your composition must fit within the specified time limitation. The same holds true for radio, television and internet advertising.

Further, time limits can also be time constraints such as in due dates. If you work for a music production company you may be asked to write a composition suitable to the “work order” and due within a designated amount of time such as a half hour, three hours, two days, a week, etc. As a composer you must be able to work under this limitation as well while producing music of of the highest quality. Are we having fun yet?

Genre or Style Limits

You may be asked as a composer to write music in a specified style such as classical, blues, jazz, big band, rock or other musical genre. So it is in this nature that you must consider and be able to compose in multiple genres of music which makes you an attractive candidate as a composer for hire or as a paid employee of a music production company.

Further, you may be asked to compose music similar to another artist or musical group. In this case you must be a quick study of artist based styles and familiar with many popular artists of the day.

Period Music

Also, you may be asked to compose music specific to a designated time period in musical history such as the baroque, renaissance or classical periods. Further, you may be required to write in the styles of the roaring 20’s or music from the early 60’s period in which case it is important to learn to be able to compose in various time period styles.

Instruments

Your work as a composer will at some point (or at least) may involve you writing for various instrument groups aside from those alluded to above. This would include the need for your ability to write music for any or for all solo instruments, duets, trios, quartets, quintets, a small group ensemble, or for full symphony orchestras or any combinations of musical instruments. In this regard your value as a composer increases with and is tied to your ability as a composer to write music for a variety of musical instruments depending on the taste and preferences of the person or company commissioning the musical work or composition.

Conclusion

Given the above information, you can see now where the ability to be a commercial composer has a lot of considerations and limits within which you must work. The ten presented above are the most frequently arising considerations and there are others as well. If you elect to commercialize your music composition skills and abilities these 10 limits and considerations will help you to prepare for what lies ahead.

This paper was written to offer 10 limits and considerations when composing music. It was written for any composer working in any capacity, including the non-promoted, private composer sitting at home writing music. Whatever capacity you work within is your choice. This presentation only provides some of the considerations and limitations you will be addressing when composing music and when reaching out into the world promoting and working with your creative music abilities and skills.

Music Composition – 10 Limits and Considerations

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