Hi, Anna here.
There we are, this is my very first blog post about becoming a professional composer for Big Band and large jazz ensemble.
As I am writing these first lines, with a terrible toothache to divert my mind from the purpose of this blog, I am struggling to find the words or knowing what to talk about-
- C’mon Anna don’t be silly; you can always find something to discuss with your fellow readers-
-Yeah right, if anybody is even reading this post. -
-Why don’t you talk about leadership of an ensemble, finding the people to play with, creating a network, advertising your work, fees, management, entrepreneurship, scales, chords, instruments, methodology, number of instruments, type of ensembles, types of musicians, improvisation, no improvisation, jazz perf-
-Ok ok ok I got it-
Give a wrench to the mechanic, a pan to the chef, a brush and a duster to the cleaner, but to the composer do you give pen and paper? A piano perhaps?
To better understand what follows I am going to refer to composing as a two-part process: coming up with musical ideas and actually writing them down.
Ever since jazz school I have always been using the piano to come up with my motifs and a notation program to write my arrangements, but recently after following the work of other professional composers I discovered a new compositional tool, which is a digital audio work station or DAW.
Many composers, especially film composers, who often have to score for full symphony orchestra, utilize a DAW as it allows them to have a full orchestra at their finger tips with highly developed and technologically advanced MIDI VSTs (virtual instruments); it speeds up their workflow immensely, and they can immediately hear a realistic version of their composition and orchestration, complete with articulations and all of the nuances that are typical of real musicians playing a piece of music.
-Imagine having to write a full orchestral score with pen, paper and a piano, yes your hearing skills and compositional skills would greatly develop but oh, the amount of time that you would be spending on just a few bars when the ideas could just flow and you could just play them and record them-
SO!, the little composer from Northern Italy has now found out that she can just play some things into a program and the program will sound amazing!
-ohhhhh Anna, it’s not that simple-
I bought the DAW. I specifically bought CUBASE PRO 10.5 I installed it on my computer, I opened it and I didn’t know how to do anything, exactly like a civilian who is put in the place of a pilot and told to push some buttons and sure the plane will fly. I quickly find out that these DAWs aren’t as easy to use as they look, there is a little bit of a learning curve.
-Agreed: you finally manage to load a VST and make it sound like it, you create a track like the YouTube tutorial told you too, and shock horror you see three tracks appearing on the screen, and you ask yourself what the hell you did wrong. Then, several video tutorials later you find out that one is the audio output of the track, one is the instrument engine provider and one is the actual instrument track, but oh wait, was it a track or a rack instrument? The curve is steep Anna. –
Frustrations aside it is a lot of fun! (millennial alert). It’s so much fun to just play some notes on a keyboard and make the magic happen, even though it sounds terrible, because you don’t know what automation is and what the modulation wheel does. It’s fun to see little squares on a screen, you think it’s fun that they are different colours because you don’t yet know that those indicate velocity.
Even if I still have so much to learn about midi channels and audio interfaces and effects tracks marker tracks, track and rack, midi editing, logical editors and other fun things, I believe my working process will speed up and I will be able to compose for a larger ensemble just as easily as I would compose for quartet or trio.
-Anna, you just forgot about the jazz aspect, didn’t you? The jazz instruments and the voicings, it’s not like playing triads!!!!-
What I am missing in this process,
-it’s part of the learning curve, STAY CALM-
Is how to go from DAW to score. I know that people do it and really well, but how do they manage to make the score look good and not like horrible gibberish that not even a mixture of hieroglyphics scribbles and my brother’ s hand-writing can beat for worst looks. Will it be different or not advisable to use for Big band since you have a rhythm section composed of individual different instruments and the woodwind section that is also composed of individual different instruments with different ranges and timbres, I guess you could pass with trumpets and trombones but will it be too much of a hassle?
This is what I plan to find out during my journey as a composer for big band.
Right now, I am sticking to my usual way of composing and then I am transferring it to the DAW just by inserting Midi information into a template I created. But will I ever be able to just sit at the computer and create with it?
Will it change the music itself?
I guess I will keep you posted about that.
-Was that so hard Anna? good job, you finally wrote words on paper, and words that hopefully will resonate with a lot of people’s personal experiences. –
-This tooth of mine hurts like I just got punched in the face by Connor McGregor drunk on a Saturday Night. Good bye-
Pssst! It’s Anna again.
Back with another blog post.
You will be happy to know that things with the DAW are going great and I am managing to produce a song entirely with VST instruments. I said I would be learning it and I am.
SO.. what am I going to write about today?
Well, as a guitar player brought up in a jazz school, where there were a lot, and when I say a lot I mean LOADS of guitar students, I started noticing in the staff, but also in the guitar students themselves a general sentiment of dislike when it came to having more than one guitarist in a group.
- Anna, for God’s sake, they were absolutely right about that, it was impossible to learn anything with so many people trying to play the same thing, teachers telling you that “guys you shouldn’t all play the same thing”, and then one of us would be playing the melody, the other the chords, the other one a crappy guide tone line and the other some improvised fills. The result was shambles.-
Still, the general idea of guitarists was just that, there was way too many of us, therefore we ended up crying out loud: WHY the hell don’t we have more piano players in our class!?!?! When it was the time to prepaire the final performances, WHY OH WHY are ALL the 5 Piano players in our schools busy? I need a Piano in my band, I need it!!! When it came to ear training, WHY the hell don’t I play piano? It would be so much easier to play those voicings, When it came to composing, WHY OOOOOOHHH WHY didn’t I choose the piano? I would be playing this motif instantly rather than trying it ten thousend times.
- Anna, Don’t you remember you got the DAW? you don’t have that problem anymore-
-Yes yes… Anyway-
That general sentiment of dislike was also reflected into my upbringing as a composer. It was never advised to use the guitar as a means for composing, and when anybody would write something “guitaristic” it would be immediately labeld as “too little comunicative”, “too little interactive with the other instruments”, in other words, something guitaristic is something ultra dense with
arpeggios and notes so, it doesn’t leave much space for the other instruments to interact.
- yeah, especially when you have a piano there as well hehehehe.-
All jokes aside, why was I so driven away from guitar music?
I have come to realise, that the reason is that, the jazz I was brought up playing was NOT made for guitarists! not up until the last year of studies were we had a little module of guitar music in guitar class.
- Are you forgetting to talk about the point?-
Even though I am fully aware of these concepts, I am still struggling to fit the guitar into a larger ensemble with lots of horns, and rhythm section.
-Yes, the horns have a super powerful sustain ability that can make any melody stand out, the piano has a way larger harmonic ability than the guitar has, bass and drums take care of the groove.-
SO…. where do I fit?
My goal in my next pieces is to try to incorporate the guitar, doing guitaristic things.
-I have been trying to learn some finger picking, typical of country music.-
I won’t try to be ultra technical in my music, I still want the full support of the horns, and I want their power to sort of overcome the guitar at times; the problem now will be the piano. Where the hell will I put the piano?
- you will find something Anna, don’t worry-
Let’s actually try to come up with something right here, right now, on the blog!!!
There is already a few possibilities on my mind.
- The guitar is playing an arpeggiated pattern that is steady rhythmically and/or harmonically while the piano can complement it with the superimposition of another pattern maybe rhythmically less complex but harmonically more complex: the goal is to make them oppose but work together at the same time. Result=really busy sound-
-The guitar is playing an aroeggiated pattern, it is steady, the piano just plays in the left hand, or just in the upper register, could play chords, could play melody.-
The guitar is playing power chords, the piano can take care of the harmonic enrichment of the chords to support the horns who most likely have to understate some kind of tonality or (don’t be stupid) maybe no tonality at all!!!-
The truth is that there is plenty of techniques and arrangements that can be done, but the important thing is that, the guitar is not only there to support the horns doubling the piano ala Freddy Green, but it has also a variety of sound and nuance, that is indeed GUITARISTIC!!
-I DECIDED: guitaristic is no longer a bad word or a bad thing to do to music and whoever doesn’t agree can leave the blog-
-Hey hey hey hey Calm down now!! you need people to stay and to like you Anna, at least one person and you can say that you did a good job.-
-OK. In the mean time for the people who are wondering about my teeth they are fine. Now there is Corona virus to worry about. OH WELL, GREAT.
A study on why the Piano is such a central instrument in Jazz music and a comparison between the training of the ear utilizing a keyboard instrument versus the guitar.
these are only a few of the examples
If you really like any of my works and want to commision me a piece for your ensemble, I'd be delighted to work with you!
I'd be able to write for small as well as to large jazz ensemble including string quartet
If you already have a composition and wish me to arrange it, I'd be very happy to contribute to your art.
I can arrange in multiple styles from jazz to soul and rock.
please send in your enquiry
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