Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Keeping a Composer's Journal

I've written about this before. Keeping a composer's journal is a great idea. Why? Because you get to notate and remember original inspiration.

Here's how I do it. You can use a small journal book (like the one in the picture) or just carry a sheet of paper and a pen around - what I do. When you get home, you can transfer it to your journal.

So, you have your piece of paper or journal and suddenly ... you hear something in your head. A whiff of melody perhaps or some kind of textural idea. Now what? What I do is simply jot down the note values - and this for just 2-bars.

For example, it might be something like this: [bar 1 - half note, half note] [bar 2 - quarter note, quarter note, half note] This is for something in 4/4 time but hopefully, you get the idea.

I find it infinitely easier to write out the note values. Then, when I get home, I go to the piano and allow for what's to come. And what usually comes is a beautiful piece of music!


  1. Sam Rutherford6:33 PM

    Hi Edward. I am always hearing melodies and so need to capture via the 5 bar treble staff....was wondering how you can remember a melody with your way of just note values ? Sam

  2. Hi Sam,

    You must have perfect pitch to do that. I hear note values as well but since I don't have perfect pitch, I just jot down the rhythm.

    It's amazing how quickly the original melody heard in the head comes back when the rhythm is played on the piano.

    I also sometimes use a line (going up or down) to approximate the note qualities.

  3. mi bemol9:14 AM

    hi guys,
    I carry in my purse a tiny MP3 and each time I hear a musical line, or one of many muses touches me I sing. Usually it happens while driving. I record it immediately and then at home write it down, or go directly to one of my keyboards (piano, synth, clavinova etc.) and begin to sketch – improvise. It takes several stages till I bring that idea to desirable completion. Many times the ideas just remain written for years.

    Of course with the nowadays technology when the texture gets complex I use Finale or Cubase to write down the piece. I just LOOOOOOOVE the days we live in.


  4. Andy Merrett12:50 PM

    Hi Sam,

    Though it's true you need perfect pitch to capture a melody exactly onto a treble staff, if you have good knowledge of intervals you could always capture those, from the first note which you treat as root. For example [root, major 3rd, perfect 5th, octave].

    Or, write the notes on the stave as if they were in, say, C major, then when you get to a keyboard, if the overall pitch is wrong, transpose the whole melody to the correct key.

    Or, if you need constant reference pitch, maybe carry a tuning fork or an electronic equivalent (one that won't go out of tune, of course) so you have a reference. Tuning forks are often "A".

    Just a few suggestions that might help.