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Composing Music: A New Approach
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106 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on 9 January 2003
I am relatively musically untrained. I got to grade 5 on piano and have done occasional basic composition as a hobby (some pop, some "classical", some "modern classical") by ear and fingers over the years on the piano. I really wanted to get back into composing so I bought this book.
I have been using it and I'm already learning a lot. And I don't just mean from a theory point of view. It's also training my ear, and teaching me to work with sheet music, and sing from sheet music, something I've never tried to do much before.
The author's method of limiting the notes, keys and rhythms that you can use works really well to make me focus on the principle being taught. Also having empty staves under the exercises in the book helps to motivate.
This is very much a "hands on" book. To use it as part of a hobby, you'll need to put aside time every couple of days or so for working on it. I worked on it for an hour or two almost every day for 2 weeks and found it very rewarding.
Although I'm no expert, it doesn't seem to have a bias towards any particular style. I have a tendency to write stuff with a lot of "out of key" chords which modulates alot. This book seems to be suitable for learning in that vein, but also in the more traditional vein. I am looking forward to getting to the section on minimalism as well - I'm a fan of Phillip Glass!
I wouldn't say this was totally a beginners book. I would recommend having some theory knowledge first, but grade 5 seems to be easily sufficient for this book.
Anyway, overall if you want to stimulate creativity in pure music then this is a great way to get going.
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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 1998
This is a good tutorial on composition. It deals mainly with small forms (4-16 bars), but larger forms are also treated (up to a few tens of bars).
The text contains many useful exercises. They are fun to work out, too! You'll find yourself writing music without noticing.
Orchestration is not treated in depth, but there are a few elements as well.
The text is utterly unconventional and may be of no use for a traditional curriculum, but is very well thought and I would recommend it especially to people with little theoretical background. I think it can also be useful to people who already write music because of its nonstandard approach: food for thought.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 February 2010
Opportunities for formal musical education passed me by for various reasons in my schooldays. Despite that I've heard music in my head since I was a kid, and the itch to compose has just got stronger as the years have passed. A few years back I got a digital music set up which has gone someway towards satisfying that itch, but I've not been able to avoid feeling a bit of a fraud, because I know that real composers do it with pencil and paper. From time to time I've made efforts to study harmony and to train my inner ear. However, with no real structure to my efforts, I've just ended up with a big heap of scruffy manuscript paper, a vague sense of defeat, and a barely perceptible rate of progress.

I bought this book a year or so ago, briefly fiddled with the opening exercises, and then let it get lost in the scruffy heap. However, a recent email from an Amazon customer regarding one of my reviews enquired as to whether I knew any books that might help in learning composition. That got me thinking and I suddenly remembered this book, which I dug from the heap for another go. And now, after about a fortnight of daily, sustained effort, I can report that it's really working. Things I have been trying to do for years are starting to happen with a growing sense of fluency.

I think the key to this book's success is that it trains your inner ear while it's teaching you to write, and it starts from such a simple place, the C major scale. It builds on this in such gradual increments that development takes place with you scarcely realising it is happening. There is an emphasis on simplicity and on constraints to be used, on the notes, chords, rhythms and time values, and there is a constant focus on expressing what you want to say whilst submitting to those constraints. It's now readily apparent that the main reason for my earlier failures was quite simply attempting to run before I could walk.

I'm now able to look at notes on paper and hear the music they represent in my head. It's still very simple music, but it's happening all the same, and improving day by day. When I put the book down and try to compose freely, the speed and confidence with which I write, and the duration of what I can hold in memory, has increased substantially from just a week or so ago. And when I write, I am hearing as I write it, and I can tap out the chords and melodies I am hearing on the piano with less and less fumbling. I can only wish I had encountered this book many years ago.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2009
Apart from it being very American (I'm British - the jargon is different!) this is an inovative and great way to start to learn about music composition (or to brush up and develop knowledge and skill already gained). Better than a stuffy text book in whch you just read about writing music, this offers, right from the start, practical exercises that help you through - you feel you are composing right from the first page! These practical exercises help you understand what the text is saying - right from the start. Great for us amateur composers but even better for young people at school studying music etc.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2010
This is a really user-friendly book. It assumes that your knowledge of music composition is fairly rudimentary, although I would suggest you get your ABRSM equivalent of Grade 5 Theory (minimum) first, to avoid struggling through the basic musical theory here, and to enjoy the book more. It certainly stirs up your creativity in the subtlest of ways, and then there are some "Wow!" things that really surprise you - like the "Magic Chord" often favoured by Jimi Hendrix. So, there is a broad sweep of musical tastes here, as well as some technical depth. Another instance of "Wow!" things is the section on how to devise your harmony out of your melodies instead of the vice versa practice of over the last few centuries.

It doesn't get you bogged down with heavy theoretical issues - just "Here are some resources (with a smile), wouldn't you just like to sample?"

The exercises are most helpful after each chapter that is full of musical examples and ideas. Not for the composer who already has had a lot of training. But it's a really good book to dip into, when, as a much more confident composer, you might want a few light moments to "doodle" some new ideas, which you could then take to whatever heights you wish.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2012
I bought this book because of the good reviews I read. Unfortunately, I must say I am quite dissapointed with it for several important reasons:

1) The explanations on each topic are very short. In most cases, important concepts are explained in one or two sentences, when it would be necessary one or two pages to do so (I had to consult other books to understand what the author was talking about). In this sense, the book was of little help to gain new knowledge of compositional techniques. Moreover, the style of his writing is very distant and unfriendly -it doesn't motivate or create empathy between the reader and the author.

2) The music examples in the book sound -to me- quite awfull in general. The main reason is because of the scales "imposed" by the author: he restricts the compositions to be made by the reader to -mainly- the Dorian, Phrygian and Pentatonic scales, which are not -in my opinion- the ideal scales to work with when starting to learn composition techniques. All this was quite demotivating for me and didn't encourage new compositional ideas.

3) The beggining of the book is very basic, but a few chapters later, the difficulty rises exponentially. So the book is not clearly for beginners, and an experienced composer will find the first few chapters useless.

After reaching the middle of the book, I realized why I didn't like the music examples and why the author used such unfrequent scales as the Phrygian scale: the author has a clear bias towards Minimalistic music (there are a few chapters dedicated just to this kind of music) and the whole book is written in a minimalistic style (is this what "A New Approach" means?). And this, finally, is the main reason why I didn't like the book: I was looking for a book that would teach me compositional techniques based on CLASSICAL HARMONY, and would explain each concept IN DETAIL, with PLEASING sounding musical examples based on CLASSICAL functional harmony. This is not so in this book.

In conclusion, if you like Minimalistic music and have a good backgroung in Harmony and Composition, you might find this book useful. If you are looking for in depth and clear explanations of compositional techniques, based on classicai harmony, I don't recommend this book at all.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2008
I am a musical novice with some basic theory picked up over the years but no practice, I can't even play an Instrument and have no desire to learn as I have not got the patience.
I do however like music sequencing software on a computer which In my opinion has opened up a whole new world for people like me with an Interest In music but no training, The slow step by step method of entering music and the constant saves allow you to work on a piece at your own pace and without the boring repetition neccessary when playing an Instrument live.
This book seems to me to be Ideally suited to this approach provided you don't mind taking the time to actually do the lessons on your chosen sequencer software, The limited Information approach of the well structured lessons gently guides you Into focusing on the lesson at hand making the learning curve a little less steep In the process.
If the Interest Is there It will go a lot farther with some theory behind It and I don't think you will find a better book to provide It than this.
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on 4 November 2013
Good but doesnt cover more on songwriting/lyrics,and doesnt go into orchestration,otherwise a good if somewhat oversimplified approach to the subject
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on 31 August 2014
Excellent!
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