by Dainis W. Michel
March 11, 2006
When using or purchasing music composition software, a very helpful question is: "am I seeking to replace knowledge or skills that I do not have?"
In the beginning of my composition career, before university study in music composition, my answer to that question was "yes, kind of..." I had no idea how to draw legible notes by hand, no idea which direction my stems should point, I was clueless as to what to do with more complex measures, etc.
So, I punched my music into Finale, got it checked out by some experts, learned and made corrections, took some lessons, and got myself into a Master's Program...where I had a bunch of deficiencies to make up...but hey...it was great!
The "one step forward and two steps back" method with software might work for you (that's what I would describe the method I used...get it into Finale=step forward, then go back and learn everything that you need to learn to make the written music clear = two steps back). Hmm...in my analogy, stepping back=progress...OK, stranger analogies have been made...
Please don't forget to take those steps back, though, and here's something I wish I would have heard earlier on:
Be able to write the music with pen and paper, thereafter use the computer as your tool. The pen and paper version does not need to be perfect, but nothing replaces good solid musical skill...even a couple thousand dollars worth of computer software and hardware.
Maybe your budget would be better spent on lessons or books than on software.
I know, I know, you're reading an article on software! Am I asking you to forget about buying software? My answer to that is, if you will increase your expressive musical ability more by spending your money elsewhere, then absolutely 100%...YES!
If you are already aware of these kinds of requirements, and you've made particular decisions for yourself regarding music composition software, then you might just want to skim this article and send me a suggestion as to what software you'd like to see reviewed here. Maybe you can write an article about your use of particular software, or maybe you can search on exactly the kind of software you are looking for...find it, and let us know at this site how you've done...might be worth a post on our young forum...
Now, let's talk about your expressive musical ability. Let's move backwards from the source/cause. The result is music...duh! :-) Not so simple, though, when one tries to define music in general. Still, it will help you to define:
So, the source/cause of the music is you! There's you and everything you are, and there's the musical result you create. Some see themselves as the source of the music, others see the "source" as something greater...no matter, because the result does come through you.
Now, you have unique experiences, talents, skills, etc., and your uniqueness characterizes not only you, but also the process by which you write or create music.
We're back to your expressive musical ability, which can be seen as the "quality" of your compositional process.
If you were forced to make a choice:
To do #2, if it's not already there, you need to bring your skill level, your expressive musical ability, to the point where you can realize your compositions to your satisfaction and to the "satisfaction" of others. Also, I think it's important for composers to define success for themselves as well. Writing "hits" may not fit with your compositional goals.
What is success to you? When and how would you see yourself as successful in music composition or songwriting? Is your definition of success externally or internally defined? When and how do you see your music as successful?
How does "everyone else" define success? How do "they" define success? How is "success" portrayed in the media?
Currently, I'm a fairly unknown composer. Yet, I consider myself very successful. I consider myself successful because I've converted some wonderful ideological concepts into music. If you read my "why do I compose music," article, you might note that I'm thrilled about being able to share growth, adventure, and my path to peace through music. Mostly, I feel that in a few pieces, I've been able to say: "we can all live together in peace," and to me, that's success.
In an article about music composition software, I'm asking you to define your vision of success? Am I zany? Why yes, I am zany! Zany, and doing the best I can to help you make an informed decision about music composition software.
Let me know, if I'm helping!
Let's move forward.
Please, imagine yourself successful.
Take some time to let the splendor of it come to you. Hear, touch, smell, taste, see...sense it it every way you can.
Come out of the vision slowly and relax.
Now, let's examine whether your image of success matches the vision of "everyone else." Are you envisioning the "surface" of success, or are you envisioning the process?
I'm going to formulate a theory, which I will continue to test throughout my career as a composition teacher:
The more weight you place on external images of success, and the less focus you place on the process of training your expressive musical ability, the more likely you are to attempt to replace expressive musical ability with software.
Interestingly, quite a number of people have attained commercial success with limited expressive musical ability (in particular categories), yet the question remains open if they've attained their own internal, self-defined success.
So, healthy conclusions regarding how you define success for yourself will help you decide whether, for example, to spend $600 on software, instrumental lessons, composition lessons, books, or on trip someplace quiet, or on something else entirely. Please note that not all instrumentalists can offer instruction on music notation.
I guess, I'd like to see you create a healthy mix of tools and skills. One of the main purposes of this article is to motivate you to seek greater skill...to help you avoid the pitfalls of trying to replace skill with software. I'm making a case for increasing one's own expressive musical ability before purchasing software.
If you can't write a lead sheet with pencil and paper, then I don't recommend you do so with software. If you can't create a legible score by hand, then, most likely, you do not understand the written language of music well enough to create good notation with a computer. Yes, there are exceptions.
Think about using a word-processor without having any idea about the rules of grammar...no idea how to spell words...in some cases, even lack of recognition of letters...well, you'd be totally lost. You might speak very eloquently, you might be able to dictate to a person...possibly even to a machine, yet you'd need to admit that you are unable to spell...at least to yourself.
So, why buy a word processor, if you don't know the alphabet? What about words? What about grammar?
Yes, even stars are functionally illiterate, and you know what...that's OK...if you're here to improve, you'll do so. I'm not saying I find it OK to stay "functionally illiterate," but actually, I leave that decision to you. I highly recommend musical literacy. It's literally one of the funnest, most liberating skills I can think of...but you are free to make your own choices.
Which brings me to something incredible that music offers. One can actually create without "knowing," one can "create" without "knowledge" or "skill." Many, many songwriters do this; they focus solely on the act of creation even without understanding...and they can produce beautiful musical results...sometimes they draw on skilled, educated assistance, and sometimes, they don't.
Also, the group dynamic is incredible where synergy exists, as some musical groups and bands are able to allow each member's best skills to come to the surface...maybe there is only one musically educated person in the group...but that musical education informs the entire output of the group...fantastic. Maybe there are no musically educated people in the group/band, yet their collective energy gives them more than they need to create a fantastic musical result...but I'd say, in that case, they will often need musically educated assistance, or they might find themselves with unnecessary stumbling blocks.
At any rate, where there is synergy, 1+1 = Infinity. I also believe that:
I've heard that there are some professional songwriters/"composers" who simply refuse to become musically literate. They feel that becoming musically literate will impinge on their creativity. The only way I can see attaining musical literacy as impinging on one's creativity is if:
Regarding accepting, internalizing, or negative assimilation of "bad or one-track minded" teaching, I'm referring to schools of "right" and "wrong" in music. It's very helpful to look at historical "rights" and "wrongs" in music, and how those "rules" have changed and developed over time. It can even be very helpful to assimilate very "one-track-minded" teaching, for example, when studying counterpoint...yet negative or uncreative assimilation of such teaching can be severely detrimental to your compositional output.