On improvising and composing, part 1


For those of you who started composing or improvising recently, there might be lots of questions and potential roads & crossroads to choose from, before achieving your very own identity as a composer and musician.
At least this is common at the level that you might be aiming for in the long run.

Even if not knowing you personally, who read this, I think my advice in this post and upcoming parts truly can offer something valuable to musicians and composers of most kinds genres, even if only parts are applicable on your own style of musicianship and aims.

On letting go of limitations from a single kind of influence.

A while ago, I was asked by an aspiring young talented composer for pointers about tracks and composers for educative inspiration.

My advice would rather be to also look elsewhere for more diverse and more personal creativity, and to keep studying music theory as suggested below.

In the long run, you’ll become more diverse, and will be able to express yourself and your thoughts through music in a much more free thinking way.

You’ll be able to express not only personal emotions, but to express many different things in different contexts. Even being able to express your personal view on things as well


Realizing the priceless creative use of music theory

Study music theory more, and aim to understand how it will help you to reach the next level!

I could bash you over the head with examples, but for now let’s just say I believe it with offer a much more effortless kind of creativity for any specific aims that you might have or will have later on. Best thing might be if you’ll notice it on your own.
It also can serve as the intuitive kind of inspiration for high level improvising.


Recently, I learned about the blog posts (and other posts) by Chris Boardman, a very high level orchestrator. He speaks of similar things, to have a plan to help your creativity, and to prevent getting stuck.

I hope you’ll stick around for my own slant on the matter too.
He writes universally about creativity there. In these blog post parts, I write about music related creativity mainly.

But here it is:
(note: blogspot.com uses your country’s domain. For me, it turns into blogspot.se)

I learned that he did some of my favorite modern orchestrations, working with Michael Kamen, David Foster, and on many Hollywood movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon movies. Orchestrating the S&M concert with Metallica too, if I recall correctly.


Back to my own thoughts now.

For many years, I’ve been saying similar things to my music students,
that knowing music theory offers more conscious and deliberate choices while creating. (as opposed to seeking/waiting for divine inspiration only)

The latter might work right now or so far for you, but sooner or later I bet you’d be stuck and without fresh ideas that work. Without a sense of direction and inspiration.
That rarely strikes me, whenever I spend time with composing or improvising. Take a listen to my music if you haven’t already.

Listen (from this website)

Listen (with the Links section on my website)


To me, the fundamentals along with individualistic mind set is one of the most important combination for the initial blueprint to creativity, at least on a professional musician & composing level.

So for periods of time, I’d suggest spending less time listening to composers, and instead focus your time more on implementing the use of different scales (one at the time) / rhythm & chords patterns / intervals etc.

And don’t forget to actually listen to the different characteristics and moods of all the above while practicing it.


Hope you could take something from this blog post. If you wish to address any specific detail of this text, please let me know!

Link to Part 2


PS. I only allow comments from people I know are genuinely interested in the subject I write about.
To prevent spam comments etc. to slip through, I’m asking you to contact me personally whenever you’d commented. A PM will work fine, and you should know how to find me by now.


5 thoughts on “On improvising and composing, part 1

  1. Pingback: On improvising and composing, part 2 |

  2. I’m very interested in what you’ve expressed in this first post. I must admit, I’ve tried to avoid learning music theory in lieu of experimentation, listening critically to the work of others, etc. I’m very new at all of this, and am emotional about what it is I want to compose – in other words, without some kind of emotional inspiration, I can’t do anything useful. So I try to compose out of that emotion, and find “sounds” and combinations that help me express those emotions. Quoting Kathryn Tickell, “….but tunes sometimes have a habit of having their own mind about where they want to go and what they want to be…” – that’s kind of how I approach composing. But then, like I say, I’m very new at this.

    • Yes, expressing and exploring emotions is perhaps the most important aspect of the music that interests me the most.
      But regarding music theory and performing techniques on the instrument, one doesn’t rule out the other. They complete each other in a way.
      At least the way I see it.
      It’s easy to create the desired mood by simply choose the corresponding scale, rhythmic patterns, chord progressions and so on.
      Sometimes it can come natural even without knowing the theory behind the music, but knowledge about music theory can always offer new perspectives and impulses that would otherwise be unavailable. And perhaps more importantly, the desired emotion and mood could be increased even further.

      Thanks a lot for your thoughts, David!

  3. I agree, that an aspiring composer should study music-theory. It’s the historical language of music and even if you ignore the rules later you know then, why you are ignoring them and you do it consciously. Breaking the rules consciously and controlled can also be used to create an unique own style or a specific mood.

    • Well said, Dirk! You beat me to the punch too…
      I will quote Maurice Ravel in an upcoming post. Ravel, most likely the highest regarded orchestrator of all time said that too. I’ll find the English translation of his French quote later.

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