Composing Music According to Trends

It doesn’t require an expert in music theory or composition to judge an effective work from an ineffective work. If music is to fulfill a purpose for humans, then it follows that all listeners have the right to listen and judge a musical work. A highly trained musician may have developed a palette for musical construction, but this doesn’t mean that the trained opinion is of more value than the audience member who has come to enjoy the concert. People are very good at recognizing patterns and able to identify what is artificial or an imitation. Dolls are a perfectly scary example of this. The more lifelike the doll, the creepier it becomes. The human mind recognizes that the doll is an imitation. 

When a composer creates music according to trends without an understanding of the fundamental nature of music, they run the risk of writing music that fulfills the needs of the moment while failing to write music that feels truly new. A composer could follow the guidelines of counterpoint to the letter, and still fail to understand the spirit of counterpoint and extract the principles that make counterpoint a successful technique. After all, it takes more than a mere understanding of rules and theories to create a successful work. If the teaching of composition was just about teaching theories and rules, then every musician could learn to compose works that are genuine.

Composers who want to study composition have an arsenal of music theory and technique books at their disposal. Theories can be created to understand the basic premises behind all styles of music, but theories by themselves do not teach a composer how a musical work is composed. Theories tend to focus only on what a musical work does. 

The composer who wants to study music composition at a deep level and create truly original works needs a way to get to the root of their own music. Formal study and training in the style of music that appeals to the composer are essential, but it’s only the first step. The real craft of music composition comes from knowing how that germ of an idea — the motive, melody, rhythm, harmony, or texture — affects the overall presentation of a piece. If a composer could create coherence and comprehensibility from a single motive, they would create music that avoids the thoughtless spinning of notes or consists of sheer imitation.

Many composers have the ability to create a musical idea, but compositions often fail to present an idea in the form that it requires to flourish. A composer who sets out to write a sonata cannot do so unless the ideas are willing to be constrained within an established musical form. This is the part of music that is not often taught. A composer must be taught to have judgment, which does not have to be based on the trends of a particular style or genre of music. Composing music according to trends requires no taste, even if it does require a great deal of skill.

Judgment is highly individual and a composer cannot learn to be like another composer. It’s telling that western composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and others did not write treatises on music composition. A composer cannot teach on a mass-scale the art of musical composition. Every pupil will be different, have unique needs, and require an individual process. The composition instructor must be able to help the student find their own way rather than following the path of another composer’s music. Following a previously walked path results in imitation; albeit with minor alterations. Forging a new path requires work and the ability to know how best to navigate the terrain that is set before the student, and it reduces the compulsion towards composing music according to trends.

Leave a Reply