A Look Inside the Process of Composing Music – What’s behind the NEW black key holiday piece!
The Process of Composing Music – What’s behind the NEW black key holiday piece!
We’ve all had beginning piano students who are just not ready to move to the white keys as quickly as their books think they are! Maybe you’ve also have students who have moved to the white keys, but just aren’t ready for white key holiday or Christmas music. And chances are, you probably have beginning students who wants to sound like they are all over the black and white keys for their family and friends!
Or maybe you are a bargain hunter and like to get four versions of the same piece for the price of one!
If any of that describes you, today is your day! The new Up on the Housetop arrangement comes with:
A black key piece with teacher duet
A black key piece with teacher duet without the little eighth note motive (if you don’t want to teach it by rote or your students are afraid of black keys
A white key piece with teacher duet
A white key piece with teacher duet without the little eighth note motive (if you don’t want to teach it by rote or your students are afraid of black keys
All four of these pieces come together and are available through Friday for one low price!
What all goes into composing something like this?
Some interesting things happened in the process of creating this piece and it reminded me that before I was a composer, I thought the composition process was so mysterious! When studying composition for my masters degree, I devoured any reading that talked about how composers composed. It was fascinating AND encouraging to me to hear about their struggles.
So, I thought you might want to see:
A Peek into the Process of Composing Music – a black key holiday piece in particular:
Black key holiday music is easy to compose, right?
Lol. I always think that until I start composing. Perhaps you can tell that I don’t like harmonizing even folk tunes with just I, IV, and V chords. I just think that’s boring, too easy, and not what connects with students in the 21st century. So enter those little harmonies in m. 11, 14, and the sequence at the end [watch the video below to hear it]. I edited, and brainstormed, and quit, and came back, and edited, and brainstormed again and again to find those little ideas. So, those of you who struggle in composing…be encouraged because that’s just part of the process! I don’t think my best work ever comes straight from my fingers. Composing is not the same as improvising, so it’s a good thing to struggle and take the time to find the best ideas that work.
Down through the chimney?
Why, yes! That’s the perfect place for a glissando on the black keys, but the pentatonic quality of the black keys doesn’t quite have the tension required to really propel the music forward. I struggled with this for a while. In spite of my obvious love of using glissandos, I only use them when they serve a purpose in the music. And a pentatonic glissando is so beautiful sounding that just doing one doesn’t really propel the music forward in a very exciting part of the piece. So, I felt like the duet part during that the glissando was crucial in making it serve a musical purpose in the piece. That took quite a bit of time to figure out – creatively solving small musical problems is a big part of the process of composing music.
You know those black key pieces you play with your students where you have to play of the student’s black keys? They panic a bit when that happens, though many get used to it. But when I was practicing with my duet partner, I realized that it unexpectedly happened in this piece! So, I was curious what other teachers thought. I put out a polling question in the Art of Piano Pedagogy Facebook group and got this response:
68% of teachers said “It’s fine with me.”
23% said “It’s bothersome but we get used to it.”
9% said, “I don’t like it at all.”
So because I want my music to be useful to all teachers, I had to ask, “Is there a way to rearrange this section so that 100% of teachers will be happy with it?” Yes, there was, but I admit that I had to sacrifice a little bit of my harmonic pride. For those that purchase it, can you guess where I might have rearranged something just for the sake of a possible crash? This is a good composition exercise for you composers out there!
A Classic Example of Scope Creep
I was introduced to the term “scope creep” when my brother-in-law was building a tree house for my kids in our back yard. Here’s how it’s defined: “uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope.” For the tree house, that translated into a bigger and better treehouse, but a more expensive and longer building process. And ever since then, I’m all too familiar with scope creep because it happen all the time in composing music.
Up on the Housetop was originally just supposed to be a single black key piece with an awesome teacher accompaniment. But, then I got to thinking (a dangerous thing to do)…what if you have a student whose on the white keys and wants to play the piece!
Okay…I added a white key version.
But then I got to thinking that some teachers don’t like to use eighth notes even by rote before students have had them in their method books. So…I created a version without eighth notes!
And of course, that means that I had to create a version without eighth notes on the black and white keys.
The results is that you get four version of the piece for the price of one!
Whew. Let’s just say that it’s an amazing bargain for the formatting and creation nightmare that it was. But, when a piece like this is finished, I’m always happy when you get more than you pay for!
The “law of diminishing returns” frequently visits the process of composing music
The “law of diminishing returns” happens when the “level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.” So, when I am in the editing process of any piece, but especially this black key holiday piece, I frequently find myself editing into oblivion. Moving text just 1/16 of inch to the left, adding or deleting fingering, changing the font size, adjusting the color of green on the cover, etc. Some of these things can be important, but as a perfectionist and as one who enjoys the [first] part of the editing process, I spend waaaaaaay too much time making things look perfect. In the end, taking time to move the word “down” 1/32 of an inch further away from the bar line is not going to help me OR you.
So, I frequently have to ask myself, “Will this edit really benefit the teacher? Or are you just being ridiculous, Wendy?” Ridiculous is too often the answer!
And the winner for the most difficult part of the process of composing music is…
Well, normally it’s probably the process of composing music itself. I find the actual process of composing music somewhat painful. It’s a little like giving birth. The end result is one of joy and elation, but the delivery process is not very fun.
But the winner for the most difficult part of Up on the Housetop is…layout! Oh goodness. I can’t really even get started telling you how complicated this was. Let’s just say that composing black key holiday music takes about 7x as long as the layout of any other kind of music and I sure wish it could be simpler. I usually like editing and formatting, but this one got to me. Especially after the scope of the project got so much bigger!
But am I still happy with it?
Oh goodness, yes! I would never release a piece to you with which I was completely thrilled. I hope you like it too! And I hope that this look into the process of composing music is helpful and encouraging to those of you who compose as well.
Up On the Housetop
$10.99 Bonus Studio Use License (Reproducible to use with your students) BONUS CONTENTS: Comes with 4 versions:
Black Key solo/duet with eighth notes
Black Key solo/duet without eighth notes
White Key solo/duet on the staff with eighth notes
White Key solo/duet on the staff without eighth notes
What is a studio license of the Up On the Housetop?
Studio License – When you purchase the digital studio license, you will receive a PDF and are permitted to print the easy O Come O Come Emmanuel for use with students you directly teach for as long as you are teaching! This cannot be shared with or transferred other teachers, even within the same studio. See terms and conditions for full information.
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