My personal method of composition
by Bo Schou Jensen, Copenhagen, Denmark

When I began putting notes together, the time signature I ended up working with each time was 3/4. Apparently my head worked that way. Also I could ascertain that, I in fact only made variations of the same melody. Melodies are what I was working on, and what I still am working on. Something needed to be done. Until then, I began a new melody by finding an idea for it on my piano. Now I decided, that I instead should begin with making requirements to a beginning structure.

The beginning structure I defined as a time and as durations of the melody notes in the first bar and in an upbeat, if also I would have such one. For example I could decide to work in the time 4/4 with the first bar melody note durations quarter, 8th, 8th, quarter and quarter and with two 8th melody notes in an upbeat.

Now the problem with only making variations of the same melody was eliminated, but instead I got a new problem. Due to these requirements it was impossible for me to make compositions of an acceptable quality. I simply lacked the necessary skills. In an effort to improve these, I tried to learn from old songs. I examined how they were build up with regard to number of chords per bar, number of melody notes per bar not belonging to the used chord, repetitions of melody notes, jumping or relatively flat development of melody notes, phrase lengths, use of relatively long melody notes inside phrases etc. When I began a new melody, I would also let one particular old song inspire and guide me, having the beginning structure I would work with.

This way of working clearly improved my ability to put notes together, but still the problems were huge, if I tried to make notes for a whole verse. Therefore I decided, that I instead of working on one composition, I should work on about 30 compositions at the same time (about one for each of the days in a month). I also decided, that I should only go for a little progress each time I worked on a composition. My hope was that, between two times of working on the same composition, I would have made some helpful discoveries, and that has emerged to be the case. I can always get a new idea when I return to a composition, and often I make comprehensive changes. It happens that I declare a composition as finished. In such a case I simply begin a new one. I work in the keys B flat, C, D, F and G and make beginning structures in among others the times 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 and 6/8.

A days work on a composition begins with playing its notes on the sheet, which I ended up with last time I worked on it. After playing it a couple of times, I try out possible improvements in perhaps an hour. Often during that time I both make and regret changes in the composition. Changes to be made I describe with a pencil on the sheet. Regretted changes I remove with an eraser.

After having decided which the changes I want to make, I open the composition in Anvil Studio, and make the changes there.

The next step is to play the new version in Anvil Studio. This playing always brings something extra to my judgement, because I can concentrate on just listening. Perhaps after listening, I make a couple of small changes. Now in the left header of the sheet, I describe the situation in the composition. Among the things I write about are what I like, what I donít like, and how improvements perhaps can be made. I also often describe to which extent repetitions are used. Repetitions can work well, but in my case they often indicate a lack of "music calories". To examine my use of repetitions, I use the facility in Anvil Studio's Print window, that allows you to choose a certain number of bars to be displayed in each line.

An example: Here I have selected 4 bars per line Ė which in this case is equal to the duration of one phrase:

It is easy to see, that the upbeat, bar 1 and part of bar 2 are repeated in bar 4, 5 and 6. Also it is easy to see, that the bars 5, 6 and 7 are repeated in the bars 13, 14 and 15.
You can click here to listen to the composition. I think you agree it can still be improved.

After finishing the description, I make adjustments to the print layout and I print a sheet. The work of the day on the composition has come to an end.

To play the piano is something I canít practice too much. Therefore I also play two or three old songs daily. To get my preferred build up of notes in my collection of old songs, I enter the notes for them in Anvil Studio. Recently I added a Danish song from 1933 to my collection. This song has a pattern of different note lengths, which partly or fully are repeated several times. To avoid changing note lengths a big number of times during note entering I decided instead to make use of the good editing facilities in Anvil Studio. First I made these C-chords, which were easy to produce by using Copy and Past operations:

Then I edited them to the following: Now I only had to add a seconda volta bar: After less than 15 minutes I had made this version of the song.
You can click here to listen to the song.