Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Write Something(Composition Exercises I )

David Berkman
Sure, I went to Queens College. I got my Master's Degree in Jazz. What's it to ya? Anyway, in addition to one semester of piano study with Ted Rosenthal, I studied the next two semesters with pianist David Berkman. Professor Berkman told me right away that he didn't want to work on piano with me( I guess he thought I was beyond hope....), but instead, that we should work on composition. He gave me a cool list of composition exercises. It was extremely inspirational and helpful. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the list to share with you. So I came up with my own list, which I'm sure is loosely inspired by Berkman's. (You'll see it below in a second....)

My main reason for writing this(and I'm sure it's not complete) is because I have too many talented creative students who don't write music for whatever reason. I'm guessing it's mostly because they are afraid that it won't be great, or at least good. Well, I'm here to set a great example in that my music SUCKS! and yet I still write anyway. It's not about the result; it's about the process. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO REINVENT JAZZ TO BE WORTH IT! We create because we are alive and we want to be expressive. If I stupidly thought that all of my word writing had to be on the level of Ernest Hemingway, I wouldn't even write a thank you email to my sister, let alone a blog entry!

I am amazed at the excuses which people come up with for not composing. "I just don't have the right keyboard." Really? A MIDI controller cost what? 50 bucks? And most people have Garage Band. If not, manuscript paper costs even less. You could probably sing melodies into your phone, record them, and upload the recordings, email them to your friends, and have them learn them by ear: BOOM, you have some tunes. IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE GOOD. Just write. 


OK, if you have trouble getting started, here is my list of composition exercises/ways to get inspired:

Composition Exercises I

Write a tune with one note, two notes, etc……
Write a tune with one note and hip rhythms
write a tune with two notes and as many hip chords as you can think of
Write a simple folk melody
Write a simple modal tune of any tempo or rhythmic feel
Write a blues
Write a blues with a bridge
Write a blues in a strange key
Write a blues in a strange meter
Write a rhythm changes
Write a rhythm changes with a non standard bridge
Write a blues or rhythm changes with less complex chords
Write a blues or rhythm changes with more complex chords
Write a blues or rhythm changes in an odd meter
Write a  tune with at least two different meters
Write a contrafact-new melody over existing chords
Write a contrafact on old chords in a different key
Write a contrafact with old chords with harmonic rhythm augmented or diminished
Write a contrafact with less or more complex chords
Write a contrafact of a contrafact
Write a contrafact where you make the melody more simple than the original
Write a tune where you take your favorite tune and keep chipping away at every element( melody, harmony, rhythm, form, meter,key) until it is unrecognizable
Write a tune where you totally reharmonize a known tune, then write a new melody: repeat as many times as possible
Write a tune where you take the first chord of your favorite tune and then go a completely different direction
Write a tune where you take a ballad and make it into a fast song, and vice versa
Write a AABA tune with a verse
Write a AABA tune and then try it BBAB
Write an 8 bar tune
Write a 4 bar tune
Write something through composed as long as you can stand it
Write something which is simple and open so that musicians can easily improvise
Write something which is so complicated that no one can solo on it
Write a piece of  music in this order:
melody harmony rhythm
rhythm melody harmony
harmony rhythm melody
Write something for your favorite character in a movie
Write something for your best friend
Write something for your worst enemy
Write a song inspired by a political movement
Write a song inspired by unrequited love
Write a song about your favorite food or drink
Write a song about your anger
Write the saddest song anyone has ever heard
Write something which will make people laugh
Write a song based on the last poem or book you read
Write a song based on the dumbest thing you have seen on facebook
Write a song about the weirdest thing that ever happened to you
Write a song about something extremely routine and mundane
Write a suite, and have each movement be related in some way
Write a suite and have each piece be completely unrelated
Write lyrics, put a melody to the lyrics, and then throw away the lyrics
Write a tune right before you fall asleep
Write a tune just when you wake up
Write something in the middle of the night when you can't sleep or you had a nightmare
Write something while moderately drunk
Write something when you are moderately high(Note: I only condone this in Washington and Colorado)
Write something that you know all your friends are going to love to play
Write something that is going to piss people off because they are going to have to practice
Write something that could be your ticket to riches and fame
Write something which will be misunderstood by critics and push you into further obscurity
Write something when you don't feel like writing anything
Write music in a weird place, like a park, or on a crosstown bus, or anywhere in New Jersey
Write music on your instrument
Write music away from any instrument
Write music with clear intention and purpose
Write music with questionable intent and reckless abandon
Write music inspired by a musician that no one would believe you listen to
Write music on your instrument as if you've never had lessons and found your horn in a dumpster
Write music after seeing kids at the playground
Write music after seeing homeless people downtown
Write music when you feel that everything is right in the world
Write music when you feel like you are at the end of your rope
Write a tune in the shortest amount of time you can
Write a tune and really labor over it for months
Write a tune and post it on Facebook immediately
Write a tune which you don't want anyone to hear
Write a tune based on the chords of a non jazz tune
Write something with a beat which you don't fully understand the tradition of and just tell the drummer to play something kind of "like" whatever it is supposed to be
Write something for a solo instrument
Write something for as many instruments as Sibelius will put in a score
Write something in Garage Band
Write something on manuscript paper
Write something in your head and teach it to your band, or your friends, or anyone who wants to learn a new song
Write your own theme song
Write a theme song for someone else
Write a song as a gift
Write a song as if this was your last day on Earth

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