Eric Whitacre’s short composition exercise

Last night I thought I’d try a short composition challenge that composer Eric Whitacre mentions in a video interview titled ‘It’s Not a Failure, It’s An Invitation’. In it, he says that the requirements for this exercise are to write a piece that is:
– Less than 60 seconds long
– Contains only 4 tones (in my case Eb, F, Gb and Bb)
– It must be finished in one night
And what came out was this short tale of woe on the piano.

It’s an unusual task, as simple as it seems, and can force an ephemeral mood or thought to be presented in a confident and complete manner. I remember doing tasks such as these during my education, but I recommend all musicians of all ages and levels to regularly try such exercises that push one’s creativity into a tiny little box. I can reflect on the minutiae of the piece – where it goes wrong and where it goes right – and learn something about my abilities that I might not have otherwise. Good things can come in small packages.

Taking The Plunge: Going ‘pro’ + the EFP

(Originally posted on 20th January 2014)

In August 2013, a couple of months after I graduated university, I decided to commit myself to becoming a full time musician. After nearly 7 years of being a dedicated hobbyist alongside my education, it felt like it was now or never. I’ve decided to give you an update on how it’s going and write about a few things I’ve learnt along the way.

The first thing was to establish myself as a professional and get the right mindset – we become what we think on a daily basis. Initially, I tried to whip myself into a self-motivated fervour, watching videos and writing little messages to myself, but it didn’t really stick. I had lofty goals, but not quite enough discipline to get anywhere near completion. And this impacted more than just the music, so I changed strategy to focus on some basics first. I started meditating daily to help clear my mind of anxieties and did as much reading as I could. If you’re interested in writing music for a living, two books I’d definitely recommend are The War of Art (not the Sun-Tzu one) and The Emerging Film Composer. Day by day, I felt more confident in my ability to put in the hours, even if I wasn’t yet at the level I yearned for in my mind.

You don’t become a full time musician simply by sitting in your studio from dawn till dusk, trust me I’ve tried.

Then, in November, I registered as a business and right up to the end of the year started attending workshops and speaking to business advisers. It slowly dawned on me that there was no way I could make enough money to survive off my music just by sitting in my studio and writing – I needed to know what it took to be a real working business, I needed to network and contribute in the creative community. I was bombarded by talk of plans, financials, marketing…this was scary at first and more than once I felt overwhelmed by all the necessary steps ahead of me. I didn’t want to relapse into my earlier mistake. Psh, I’m a musician not a business, I work on my craft, people will discover me and want to work with me ’cause I’m really good, right? Wrong. I care a lot about the music I create and how it projects itself amongst the rest of the current musical landscape, but that’s not all one must do to make headway. I’m also not ashamed to admit my mistakes in places – I’m young and have a way to go, but I know I will always put the work in to learn and grow. I remembered what I’d read and practised and continued on…..

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