Monday, April 4, 2016

Elveteka Music: Improving Writing Speed

I need to improve my writing speed.

My old process: listen to what I've written. Analyze where music needs to go next. Theorize if proposed solution will work. Try proposed solution. If solution doesn't work, analyze why. Update theory of music. Repeat until solution found.

This is a great way to learn authentic music theory and a terrible way to meet a deadline.

My new process: Try whatever comes to mind. If it's slightly better than what you had, keep it. Never theorize. Just try and evaluate. If random tinkering works for medical research, it certainly works for music.

When learning the trumpet I was taught to be aware of my body while playing. I never heard of composers being taught to pay attention to their thought patterns while composing. I'm trying to root out bad habits:

  • Get off social media. Turn off the phone. Exit blogs and news sites. (Just keep email open.)

  • Don't listen to music over and over again. Listen once, think of something to change.

  • If stuck, try something at random. Anything at all. Learn by engaging, not thinking.

  • If I'm having a hard time evaluating a proposed change, it could be because I'm putting too much effort into playing it while also evaluating it. Enter it into the DAW and evaluate.

  • Don't write everything on paper. Just write what's helpful to see on paper. Put the rest into the DAW. You can can see, compared to what you will hear, what I wrote on paper was pretty minimal.

In addition to these mental habits, I employed various tricks to speed up the process:

  • Keep in mind counterpoint shortcuts. In my case that means all moves all valid except similar / parallel octaves and parallel 5th's.

  • Trust experience. For example: I realized I was writing a lot of a parallel 5th's early on into the process, but realized that since the melody is based on 5th's, that's OK. Actually that's where much of the characteristic sound comes from.

  • Tried all my old tricks first. I built the form around putting the melody in different registers, used pedal points, and employed tried-and-true textures like staccato strings over legato French horns.

  • Used template from previous project. That's about 50 instruments that I didn't have to search for. For instruments I don't use very often, this saves me a lot of time.

  • Stick to triadic harmony instead of counterpoint, and keep counterlines to a minimum.

  • Hopefully I can this template for the entire project. I may even compose all my tracks in the same project to reuse the same mix settings from one track to the next.

  • Certain thematic passages may be repeated in other tracks.

  • Simplified mixing process: grouped 28 tracks into 8 submixes, five sections. mixed start to finish. Didn't mix from scratch but began with the levels I had set while composing. It helps that I set my levels intelligently from the get-go.

Along the way I had a few happy accidents. These were solutions I would never have reached through analysis but did reach through random tinkering:

  • Choir parts alternating between big unisons and fully voiced chords.

  • The chord substitution in the 9th measure. I simply replaced Bb with B natural and it's a great sound, whatever the proper name may be for the resulting sonority.

This is the final result. I may do another mix pass before the game is released, but I'm happy to put my name to this. Two minutes of music in about two weeks. I need to double my speed, but this is a good start.

Here, enjoy some random tinkering:


  1. Many of your tips/practices can be applied to other areas of mental labor as well, especially the "Get off social media" part. I've found that a browser with 20 open tabs is the enemy of all concentration.

    Excellent song. Can't wait to see it in the game.

  2. Music gives a very heroic and inspiring vibe, perfect for a monster slaying adventure! Amazing work.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. When I'm a badass, game-making-machine, you're on my short list for musicians.

  5. Thanks - but why wait until then? The rest of my portfolio is here:

  6. Because hiring musicians requires money.