Two Unique Approaches To Music Composition

How you approach your music may dramatically alter the outcome.

Can your approach to music composition change the finished product? Of course it can, but let me offer two approaches that may be beneficial.

1. Creating a complex musical construct that sounds simple, and

2. Creating a simple musical construct that sounds complex

Complex construction that sounds simple

Sometimes composers mistake complexity for superiority. There's nothing wrong with complexity, unless it is used as a crutch to cover up mediocrity.

I often use the analogy of a computer programmer who uses programming languages and a long list of technical commands in order to allow a user to execute certain functions.

The object is to make the execution of those functions simple and intuitive for the user.

Now, if the user was asked to perform those functions apart from an accessible and intuitive interface, the computer would cease to be useful.

Music composition could be viewed in a similar fashion. A composer is very much like the computer programmer in my analogy.

They use their expertise to create a complex array of pitches, harmonies, and rhythms that is easily accessible for an audience when performed.

If the composition is only accessible to the composer and other equally skilled composers, it isn't quite as useful.

Simple, triadic harmony, for instance, resonates in concert halls as well as with audiences. If the composer uses certain voice leading techniques, however, he/she could add a layer of complexity to the music.

If the composer is aware of the impact of techniques such as atonality or aleatory, and how they function within a greater context of traditional tonality, those techniques can be used to great effect as well.

Simple construction that sounds complex

The other approach to composition is taking a simple concept and making it sound complex.

As I mentioned earlier, it can be easy to mistake complexity for proficiency.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

The Einstein quote is relevant here for obvious reasons. A skilled composer can take something simple and make it appear complex and make that complexity resonate aurally.

Randomness, for example, can sound very complex, but can be achieved by most anyone.

Polyrhythms, on the other hand, are a way in which something simple can sound complex.

There are many other ways that this can be accomplished, but my point is clear. If the same effect can be achieved in a simpler way, then it's better to simplify.


So, where does this leave us? These approaches are two effective ways to approach a music composition.

They can be used separately or together, but I believe the two approaches can be helpful during the composition process.

What do you think? Do you see the benefit of this kind of thinking? Let me know in the comments section!