Advice for Composers

Special Sounds: Describe rather than Proscribe

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I tend to get caught up in issues of notation, so it’s time for me to step back. Keep it simple.

If you are a composer looking for a special kind of sound, but aren’t sure how to notate it, your solution may be as easy as adding a bit of text describing what you want.

This seems like a no-brainer, but many composers feel compelled to add proscriptions rather than descriptions. Unless you are a player of the instrument in question, avoid proscriptive indications like the plague. Here is an example: a proscriptive indication might say “use lots of air”, or “tight embouchure”.

A more useful, descriptive indication for “use lots of air” might be “match the sound of the string harmonics” or “imitate a bamboo flute”. Matching string sounds and producing bamboo sounds are two very different techniques, so it is helpful to have a descriptive indication to know which of these the composer might have in mind.

The proscription “tight embouchure” might be “thin, reedy sound” or “like a buzz saw”. Again, very different means of production, so a description is helpful.

I hope this has made your composing day a bit easier 🙂


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