June 28, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 3: The Equipment You Need

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:01 am

Finally! Enough talking about music, it’s time to compose a song! Let’s get out our equipment and compose!

Wait… what equipment do you need to compose, you ask? Good question… I suppose it would help to go through that first. Here’s what I’d suggest as the necessary equipment to be a composer:


There are many modern composers who don’t use a computer for composing. In fact, the soundtrack for Disney’s The Incredibles was recorded entirely without computer assistance. However, if you are trying to compose on your own as “an orchestra of one”, a computer is essential.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

June 21, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 2. The Types of Instruments

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

Now that we know what music is, the next step is to find out what artistic tools we have at our disposal. Just as a painter has a variety of paints and canvases, composers have a variety of instruments available. Anything that makes a sound is an instrument, and most all of them can fit into a few broad categories.


Percussion instruments are simply objects that can make a sound when they’re hit, shaken, scraped, or otherwise set into vibration. Due to their simplicity, most of the oldest known instruments are percussion.

Now, of course, you have your classic drums and cymbals, along with slightly less common instruments – xylophones, marimbas, steel drums, for instance – but it goes much further than that. Anything that makes a sound when you hit it has the potential to be a percussion instrument. A pot, a plate, a door, a chain link fence, a rock, a suspension bridge – they all can be percussion, a fact that bands like Stomp use to their advantage.
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June 17, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 1b. What is NOT music?

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 9:04 am

I wasn’t originally going to do this, but there has been some good discussion about the definition of music from my last post, so I wanted to address it. The main thing that people seem to be commenting on is my statement that for something to be music, it has to be arranged with some intelligence behind it. In my definition of music – a sequence of sounds, arranged so that a listener may appreciate the sounds themselves – a random series of sounds like those made by a rushing waterfall or wind chimes are not music. However, many people have argued that, yes, they are music.

Now, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. It’s not a big deal which way you believe on this… and considering that people have been debating the definition of “art” for centuries, I don’t think this question will get solved any time soon.

But, let’s say for a moment that all of these random sounds that have not been arranged are, in fact, music. It creates a bit of a problem for me, because I’m trying to write blog articles about how to compose music, and if music can be composed by throwing a trash can off of a second-story window, then composing music becomes too easy. Literally any sound you hear becomes music, and while that sounds like a fun, all-inclusive definition, it’s not a very useful one for composers. I’ll admit that any sound might be able to be used in a piece of music, but not every sound is music by itself.

Here’s an example: try searching online for “Dot Matrix Printer Symphony”. You will find a few examples of people who’ve taken the clicks and hums of an old printer and turned them into music. In my mind, if those people had just printed a document, the printer’s noises would not have been music, but because there was thought behind what the end result of the printer’s sounds would be, those sounds become music.

I’m probably going a bit too far into this. In any case, my definition for music is the one that I’m going to be using for the rest of my blog articles about music.

Next: Chapter 2: The Types of Instruments

June 14, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 1. What is Music?

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

I have a challenge for you… define “music”.

No, you may not go to any dictionary and have them define it for you. This is just between you and me, and I’m giving you two minutes to come up with a definition for music.

It’s deceptively hard to do; to come up with a definition of music that applies to all music being made throughout the world in all of history. And yet, if I’m going to be giving out tips for how to compose music, I have no choice but to begin by answering this question.

(click to read the rest of this post…)

June 10, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Introduction

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 3:37 pm

Learning how to compose music is hard.

OK, not as hard as, say, rocket science, or brain surgery, or folding a soft taco so that half the contents don’t spill on your plate. But still, it’s a hard art to learn.

Traditionally, the only way you could learn was through apprenticeship. You’d find a master composer, you’d become his apprentice. You’d learn how a composer thinks and learn how music can be arranged to tell a story. You’d learn his ways, working side by side as his apprentice for years until you finally became a master and defeated Darth Vader… or something like that.

I am not a master composer, nor am I a composer’s apprentice… but I am a good listener. I’ve learned by listening to the masters at work; in concerts, in movies, in recordings, and in video games. I have used the knowledge I’ve learned to make a lot of songs, enough that people have come to me sometimes for advice of how to compose music.

So, starting next Tuesday, I’m starting a series of blog posts called “An Orchestra of One”. They will be tips, tricks, insights, or whatever comes to mind. Those of you who want to compose music yourselves will hopefully get a lot out of it, and those of you who have no desire to compose music will hopefully still find it interesting to learn how a composer thinks.

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