Advice for Composers extended techniques

New Tutorial Series

I have done quite a few tutorials, thanks to the Musikfabrik and our youth ensemble Studio Musifabrik. However, in the course of our Adventure project with composition students from the Hochschule here in Cologne, there are several topics that keep coming up. I have been asked to make short explanatory videos about these topics, and now it is time to deliver. I decided to do it in a very casual setting (a bar/pub at closing time) and with a deliberate DIY look.

There are four topics I will be covering: unpitched air sounds, pizzicati, pitched air sounds, and notating multiphonics.

Here is the link to my first topic, unpitched air sounds. The rest will be published in the next few weeks, stay tuned!

Advice for Composers

Special Sounds: Describe rather than Prescribe

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 prescriptions rather than descriptions. A prescriptive direction tells the player how to execute the effect and does not describe the intended result. Unless you are a player of the instrument in question, avoid prescriptive indications like the plague. Here is an example: a prescriptive 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, but both using an airy type of sound, so it is helpful to have a descriptive indication to know which of these types of airy sound the composer might have in mind.

The prescription “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 🙂

Advice for Composers

Style Guide for Composers

If you are a composer looking for general-purpose layout advice, or a performer/group looking for a single page reference guide to give to the people who write for you, here is a document my colleagues and I at Musikfabrik have come up with. It is by no means exhaustive. One could read the 704-page Behind Bars by Elaine Gould, but we have tried to distill everything on to one page. Ideally the second page will have links to specific instrumental techniques. I should also apply the disclaimer that these guidelines reflect our own ensemble culture at the present time.

Here is the link in case the embedding does not work below: