The Compositional Triangle

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my own philosophy on music and approach to composition. As a musician, I have seen this “diamond of mastery” many times over the years, and I’m sure many reading this have as well (or something similar):

 The "Diamond of Mastery"

The "Diamond of Mastery"

Inspired by this graphic, I have developed my own “compositional triangle” of what I believe are the three key facets of being a great composer:

 The "Compositional Triangle"

The "Compositional Triangle"

The difference here, is that I focus on developing my skills in all three areas and believe that each complement each other, in addition to contributing overall to the craft of composition.

  1. Musicianship – Being a musician has by far had the most profound impact on me as a composer, and I think of it as a prerequisite must for anyone who wants to write music. There are plenty of composers who are not musicians, and still write great music; John Mackey is one of my favorite composers and he does not play an instrument. However, I feel that being a musician has made me a better composer because in addition to the unequivocal knowledge it provides you on your particular instrument (more on that in orchestration), it gives you a unique perspective and understanding that you otherwise would not get. Music is not dots on a page, it is a process involving human beings and much, much more; It is in our best interest to understand all parts of music making.

  2. Orchestration – While being a musician gives you vast knowledge about a particular instrument, as a composer you should have an equivalent level of knowledge of every instrument in whatever genre you typically compose for, whether it is orchestra, concert band, jazz band, choir, etc. Even if you yourself cannot play these instruments, you should have an intricate understanding of how the instrument functions, how players produce the sounds, what is possible and not possible. Even further, you should know whether a part is well written for the instrument. Possibility, difficulty, and quality of writing are mutually exclusive attributes of music. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it is well written. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it is necessarily poorly written. We’ve all been there being handed music that either cannot be played or is unessecarily difficult

  3. Conducting - This one is perhaps the most subjective, but I still believe in the importance of mastering the entire musical creation process. Hopefully, this involves the final step of having your music performed by musicians, and therefore as a composer, you should be able to execute the performance of your work should it be required. Again, if you mostly write chamber music where there is no conductor, then this isn’t as important compared to someone who writes for large ensembles, musical theater, or film.

There you have it, the “compositional triangle”. While it may be a bit early for me to be creating stuff like this, I believe that it’s important to develop your own personalized approach to creating music, and I just wanted to share mine.