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Hannes Minnaar: The Path to Becoming a Concert Pianist

In part two of the three-part special on building a career as a professional pianist, Piano Street's guest writer Alexander Buskermolen spoke with Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar about his education, vision on personal musical development, and the challenges he faces as an international performer. Read more >>

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esoteric
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« on: September 30, 2017, 03:11:41 PM »

Here is a link to some of my compositions: https://soundcloud.com/chanti-roi-cooper

If you like them, please share them. If you have any suggestions for improvement, please let me know Smiley
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klavieronin
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« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2017, 03:24:12 AM »

I won’t tell you what I think of your music because I didn't listen to more than a few seconds but I do have some general advice;

1. Don’t ask the internet how you can improve your music. It’s your music your and your motivation should never be to please other people. If you’re serious about improving you should probably get a teacher.

2. Don’t think in terms of chords. Think linearly; melody, counterpoint, etc.

3. Use dissonance, texture, register, and so on, to create the effects you are looking for and build your compositions around a small number of ideas, or preferably just one; a melodic fragment, a rhythmic motif, etc.

4. Listen to a lot of music and not just the music you like. Listen to a broad range of styles and periods. Listen to music of other cultures. Challenge yourself, and always be discovering something new.

5. Practice composition in the same way you would a musical instrument.

6. Don’t try to imitate another composer’s style. Don’t think “I want to write music that sounds like this”. Write your own music and experiment with different sounds and ideas.

7. Finally, read Arnold Schoenberg’s Fundamentals of Musical Composition.
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esoteric
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« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2017, 08:13:09 PM »

Thank you klavieronin!
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chopinlover01
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« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2017, 01:26:53 AM »

I won’t tell you what I think of your music because I didn't listen to more than a few seconds but I do have some general advice;

6. Don’t try to imitate another composer’s style. Don’t think “I want to write music that sounds like this”. Write your own music and experiment with different sounds and ideas.

7. Finally, read Arnold Schoenberg’s Fundamentals of Musical Composition.

I'm not sure what the point is in avoiding bias (which is impossible to begin with, originality doesn't really exist in the way that you're describing) is if you're going to then say that it's essential that you study Schoenberg's writing about music composition.

Learning composition out of books, while not without worth, is still an intellectual approach to a creative art form. Would you expect to be able to speak eloquently by studying the dictionary or a grammar text, or to paint beautiful pictures just by reading a book about art? If it were that simple, everyone would be an amazing composer.

I also take issue with your second point; writing by chords is just as valid as writing melody/counterpoint. If you don't believe me, check out Blue in Green by Bill Evans/Miles Davis. An incredibly lyrical piece of musical art, and it was created by Bill Evans being given a lead sheet with a G minor 9th chord to A7 (#9).
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klavieronin
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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2017, 04:10:11 AM »

chopinlover01,

Maybe I should have explained myself better because I actually agree with everything you said. My advice is based on my own personal experience of things that have helped me. I'll try to clarify the points you took issue with.

Firstly, when I said not to try to imitate other composers, the emphasis was on the trying. Obviously you can't avoid influence and I wasn't suggesting that aspiring composers should only write unique music. I can't remember who said it but it has been suggested the there is difference between originality and uniqueness. Unique means there is nothing else like it. Original means it comes from you. If your natural style happens to be similar to Rachmaninoff then there should be no shame in that. If, on the other hand, you are trying deliberately to imitate Rachmaninoff, I'd say the odds of doing so convincingly are small and the music would suffer as a result.

If you have read Schoenberg's book you will know that there is virtually nothing in it about the artistic or stylistic side of composition. It's all about the craft. There are chapters on what constitutes a motif, types of accompaniment, the structure of various common music forms like Rondo and Sonata form, with lots of examples mainly from the classical and romantic period. There are lots of examples of different ways in which a theme or motif can be varied and developed too. It really is an excellent book and not at all opinionated.

Your second point about learning from books seems to have ignored the 5th point in my original post: Practice composition in the same way you would a musical instrument. This really is the only way to improve. I suggested that esoteric read Schoenberg's book because it gives a great insight into the craft of composition. If you were learning to model clay and thought you could only use your hands, reading a book describing the various tools used by professionals, and what they are good for, would be time well spent I'm sure you would agree.

And your last point about writing by chords. Again, I think I didn't explain myself well. I said don't think in terms of chords. I certainly wasn't suggesting that harmony isn't important, but how you move from one chord to the next is absolutely vital. I've seen too many people write music for the piano using root position triads all the way through. If there is a chord progression that you like you must think about how you are going to get from one chord to the next. Listen to the bass line in the opening of Blue in Green and how it interacts with the melody. Notice how the bass and melody move in contrary motion and how the inner voices stay relatively static. Notice the chromatic descent from D to A embedded in the bass line from bars 3-6 (in the score that I found, at least). That is how to write chord progression. And I guarantee you that when Bill Evans wrote it he was thinking linearly, not vertically. My point is that thinking melodically and counterpointally (is that a word?) will produce a much better result even if you are working from predetermined harmonies.
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klavieronin
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2017, 04:51:57 AM »

esoteric,

If you like you can send me the midi files of some of your compositions I can produce a much more realistic piano sound for them. I actually quite liked some of them but I think you are loosing a lot of the effect with that midi piano sound.
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esoteric
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2017, 09:19:21 AM »

esoteric,

If you like you can send me the midi files of some of your compositions I can produce a much more realistic piano sound for them. I actually quite liked some of them but I think you are loosing a lot of the effect with that midi piano sound.

Thanks klavieronin, that would be great. I was actually using .wav files, but I will send you the midis. How do you want them sent to you, via email?
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klavieronin
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« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2017, 10:28:30 AM »

Yeah, send them to me via email. I just sent you a private message with my email address.
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chopinlover01
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« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2017, 03:35:17 PM »



Firstly, when I said not to try to imitate other composers, the emphasis was on the trying. Obviously you can't avoid influence and I wasn't suggesting that aspiring composers should only write unique music. I can't remember who said it but it has been suggested the there is difference between originality and uniqueness. Unique means there is nothing else like it. Original means it comes from you. If your natural style happens to be similar to Rachmaninoff then there should be no shame in that. If, on the other hand, you are trying deliberately to imitate Rachmaninoff, I'd say the odds of doing so convincingly are small and the music would suffer as a result.

Still going to have to disagree. There's nothing wrong with intentionally trying to get the sounds from Rachmaninoff that you like. What you're describing as a "natural style" is in reality a synthesis of everything you've already heard and liked. The difference is that you're only synthesizing what you're hearing, and not analyzing it. Your natural synthesis is going to be only intuitive, and not truly thought out.
Quote
If you have read Schoenberg's book you will know that there is virtually nothing in it about the artistic or stylistic side of composition. It's all about the craft. There are chapters on what constitutes a motif, types of accompaniment, the structure of various common music forms like Rondo and Sonata form, with lots of examples mainly from the classical and romantic period. There are lots of examples of different ways in which a theme or motif can be varied and developed too. It really is an excellent book and not at all opinionated.

The information is already available on the internet; the advantage to the book is having it taught by Schoenberg. I'm all for theoretical knowledge (I've taught theory before as a teacher's assistant, which meant teaching 4 part chorale writing to students), but learning these concepts in a vacuum is only the first step. The step that you've missed, which is still why your 5th point is wrong, is that you have to use the works that you want to steal from as your textbooks. I'm a huge fan of Rachmaninoff; were I to start writing orchestral music, I would definitely steal over and over again from him. You have to steal in order to be good at composing, there's no way around it. Trying and trying to be "original" (which again, does not exist) is a fruitless effort; our composing is always a reflection of all of the musical knowledge and ideas we have absorbed. If you listen to western classical music, this will be what you absorb.
Quote
Your second point about learning from books seems to have ignored the 5th point in my original post: Practice composition in the same way you would a musical instrument. This really is the only way to improve. I suggested that esoteric read Schoenberg's book because it gives a great insight into the craft of composition. If you were learning to model clay and thought you could only use your hands, reading a book describing the various tools used by professionals, and what they are good for, would be time well spent I'm sure you would agree.
Again, I'm not disputing having good technical knowledge, but in the analogy of clay (which is a bit removed from music to begin with), you'll still have to learn from the greats in order to really improve. In the same way that someone doesn't really learn to interpret a Chopin melody without a teacher (their primary "great" influence) or by listening to masters like Rubinstein, Zimmerman, etc,
And your last point about writing by chords. Again, I think I didn't explain myself well. I said don't think in terms of chords. I certainly wasn't suggesting that harmony isn't important, but how you move from one chord to the next is absolutely vital. I've seen too many people write music for the piano using root position triads all the way through. If there is a chord progression that you like you must think about how you are going to get from one chord to the next. Listen to the bass line in the opening of Blue in Green and how it interacts with the melody. Notice how the bass and melody move in contrary motion and how the inner voices stay relatively static. Notice the chromatic descent from D to A embedded in the bass line from bars 3-6 (in the score that I found, at least). That is how to write chord progression. And I guarantee you that when Bill Evans wrote it he was thinking linearly, not vertically. My point is that thinking melodically and counterpointally (is that a word?) will produce a much better result even if you are working from predetermined harmonies.
[/quote]
I think you mean contrapuntally. In any case, linear thinking is not the same thing as good voice leading, which I'm pretty sure is what you're talking about (which we completely agree on).
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klavieronin
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« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2017, 03:04:24 AM »

There's nothing wrong with intentionally trying to get the sounds from Rachmaninoff that you like.

If you can pull it off then no problem. And I take your point about stealing from good composers. That's fair enough.

What I was trying to get at was somewhat more practical than I think you assume. As a beginner, it's really difficult to write good music and when I started out I was trying to imitate composer's like Liszt, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, etc. and was never satisfied with the results and actually found it kind of debilitating. It made it harder to want to write more music. It was only when I started to trust my own musical intuition that I began writing music that I was pleased with and nowadays I tend to write music very unlike Liszt & Rachmaninoff. You are absolutely right when you say "a 'natural style' is in reality a synthesis of everything you've already heard and liked" and that has absolutely been my experience but it is a process you have to let happen naturally (or at least, I did) and over time you discover that there are certain things you do well and others you do less well and it can often be unexpected as to which is which, but my feeling is that you should pursue the things you do well, if only for purely practical reason - there are only so many hours in the day and so many days in a lifetime.

The step that you've missed, which is still why your 5th point is wrong…

I think you misinterpreted my point. How do you practice an instrument? You set aside one or two hours per day (or more) and dedicate that time to developing your skills. If you're trying to tell me that is the wrong way to get better at composition then I don't know what you are talking about.

linear thinking is not the same thing as good voice leading, which I'm pretty sure is what you're talking about (which we completely agree on).

Yes, I think we agree there too but I would say that you can't write good voice leading without thinking linearly.

I'm going to concede to your point about thinking in terms of chords. I made that point because it was an adjustment to my own thinking about writing music that I personally found helpful. In fact, all my advice was based things I personally found helpful, including reading Schoenberg book, not in a vacuum, but as a part of the process. I genuinely found it useful. Obviously you are free to disagree and no doubt you have had your own experience with composition which well may differ from mine. I'm certainly no expert but over the years I have learnt a thing or two and just wanted to pass that on to a fellow composer.
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