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Compositional Process: Maroon


The compositional process is usually different from piece to piece for us composer/musicians. Sometimes we start with a bass line, other-times the harmony. Sometimes we have a melody stuck in our head or even an idea for a drum groove/feel. Also, the time it takes to write a piece may vary. For example, I've dreamt a whole tune and woke up at 3 AM to write it all down. Other times it takes months to complete a tune. The composition that is the topic of this blog, a piece called "Maroon", is an example of the latter. It took me a few months to complete the piece despite its minimal musical material.

The process

I began writing this composition in a way I haven't written one before; taking musical material from a previous composition and using it as a seed for a new one. I thought this was an interesting concept because it creates a thread that connects my compositions. I took a chord from my previous piece entitled "Crest". The chord is a B major Triad over Db (B/Db). I liked the sound of the chord so I played around with possible melody notes on the piano and came up with the first melody in "Maroon". I had the first melody line and nothing more for around a month until I came up with the remaining melody. Once I had that, I needed a section with a different vibe. The beginning uses higher notes and is majestic sounding so for this new section I used low notes to make it less majestic and more darker sounding. Also, it happens to be in a different time signature which helps create a different vibe than the beginning. I was watching a tv show at the time in which the central concept was about opposites (ying and yang) and how they balance each other. So this concept naturally found its way into the composition by having these different sections/moods.

The rest of the piece came by rehearsing it with my bandmates and getting ideas from playing it with them. While playing it with them I felt that it needed another section to end the piece. I trusted this feeling and I came up with the ending as a way to return to the mood in the beginning. The ending is just the beginning melody but descending instead of ascending like in the beginning. Conceptually, this made sense as the descending melody represents the Yang to the beginning melody, and with the gradual slowdown it signifies the end.

At first, I was afraid there wouldn't be enough written material for it to sound like a complete song. There isn't any written chords, just bass notes and melody, and the middle section was just an ostinato. However, this quickly changed once we rehearsed. By playing it with other musicians I noticed how the music I wrote gives just enough direction while also leaving room for our own creative input. The minimal material gives us freedom and creative energy and allows us to focus more on the arc of the whole piece and telling a story through our improvisation. Watch the video below to hear Peter Rushing, Carter Vames, and I play it with the sheet music!


I've learned that there isn't one process for composing and that being patient will allow ideas to develop over time. It took me months after I wrote the first melody line to find the remaining melody. I've also learned to greatly value the input of my peer musicians. They help me find what the tune needs by playing it and critiquing it. They took the piece to a whole new level and showed me that improvisation can really carry and transform a piece. All you need is one idea and with creativity and patience it can develop into a complete composition. I am always inspired from learning about the different ways people compose. Comment below your thoughts and share how you compose!

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