Music Composition for Dummies
Scott Jarrett & Holly Day
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2008.
Summary for the Busy Executive: So you wanna be a composer?
I suspect that many classical-music listeners besides me fantasize about
composing mighty symphonies, concerti, and cantatas themselves. For
most of us, however, it remains a fantasy. The sheer amount of technical
information (the lowest note of the bassoon, for example) and the dog-work
skills like simple voice-leading and species counterpoint usually suffice
to daunt and dash our daydreams.
So the book title intrigued me. I could understand a title like Ebay
for Dummies or Databases for Dummies, but this one seemed as far-fetched
as Civil Engineering for Dummies. Would you really want to drive on a
bridge built by a reader who learned exclusively from that book? Still,
the title tells me I'm obviously the target audience for this book, so
checking it out of the Public Library, I gave it a try.
Obviously, once you've gone through its training, you're not going to
be writing anything nearly as good as Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, unless,
of course, you're already nearly as good as Beethoven. As Schoenberg
once said, "Of course, a soul you have to have." In that sense, the
book's a bit of a cheat. Nevertheless, it does possess certain virtues.
The book combines a little bit of first-year theory, some music
appreciation, a couple of classes in counterpoint, and a whole lot of
hand-waving - that is, skipping over the actual hard work involved with
actually putting decent notes on paper. In the chapter on composing for
the standard orchestra, you learn what a transposing instrument is and
the range of several instruments, but not about the break in the French
horn or what are reasonable and effective combinations of instruments.
For those, you probably need to study scores of pieces whose orchestration
you like. Nevertheless, would it kill you to learn what the range of a
horn in B-flat is or how to make sense of a part written for it?
However, all this aside, I really don't know whom this book serves.
You could probably do better - at least acquire a more thorough knowledge
- from a first-year harmony textbook or a counterpoint workbook. You'd
do better with studying scores of real music and with listening to a
wide range of music, to know what's possible. Composition doesn't reduce
to a set of rules. One needs guidance, of course, and rote knowledge
and hard practice, as well as talent. So I'd give this a miss.
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