Tag Archives: fred hersch

Seven Tips for Composers

9 Jan

Since I’ve been asked about this often, I’ve decided to pile some composing tips and share them with you. I’ve used all of these ideas and they have proven to be very beneficial to my creative process.

1. Repeat.

If you have a good beginning that doesn’t tell you how it wants to proceed, or a complete tune that seems like it can get better and more interesting, try repeating it many times. ‘Many’ can mean 10 or 20, but also a 100 times, until you get what you’re looking for. I’ve done this. The point is to be open for new things to happen every time you repeat the tune. After several times I usually start repeating the music in different keys, meters, tempos, registers, etc. There’s a tape of John Lennon working on Strawberry Fields Forever. It’s startling to hear how loose he is with trying extremely different ways of playing the same song.

Trying other keys is especially effective for finding the continuation of a melody you’re stuck with. Musicians come up with different ideas when playing in different keys, and you will find that the C minor melody that got stuck at bar 8, will miraculously find its next bars when played in Eb minor ,for example.

2. Set an alarm.

Fred Hersch told me he sometimes just picks a pitch (Db, G# etc.) or two as a starting point, sets an alarm for 45 minutes, and writes a tune. The goal is to have something coherent, with a beginning, middle and an ending, by the time the alarm sounds. Then you can come back to the tune in the next days and fix what needs fixing. If you don’t like it you can always throw it away; but it’s a good way to get the creative juices flowing.

3. Have some other music in mind.

I’ve done this with Neila, which is based on an old Jewish ‘Piyut’ (sacred song); with Abutbul, which, being an homage to my friend and great composer Omer Avital, hints at some of his tunes; and with other compositions. It can be a nice starting point.

4. Avoid your instrument.

I compose at the piano a lot, for sure. But some of my music was composed away from it, and I believe it gives it freshness. España was composed on Guitar and voice. Yemen was just sung. The Wedding Song was composed by drumming and singing. Malchut was composed on a keyboard, toying with the (fake plastic) organ sound, which must have inspired the song’s atmosphere.

5. Record a free improvisation and find parts in it you want to develop into compositions.

This is a great method, especially if you are happier with your improvisation skills than you are with your composition abilities. It’s been said that composition is slowed down improvisation, and it’s partly true. But the downside in the process of composing is the fact that you have to stop whenever you hear something that you really like, from fear of forgetting it. Pushing the record button and just going at it for a while does that double trick; It allows you to go on without stopping, while the best moments are being captured for you.

6. Imagine an instrument.

It can be highly beneficial to imagine a specific instrument with a distinct sound playing the melody while you’re composing it. Of course you’ll do that if you’re actually composing for that instrument, but that’s not what I mean; my point is that imagining the sound of a certain instrument can sometimes inspire your melodic writing and send you in new directions. I wrote Oud Song from Introducing Omer Klein while imagining an Oud playing it, and ended up recording it on piano; but I wouldn’t have composed it otherwise.

7. Imagine specific musicians playing with you.

I’ve often composed with people like Omer Avital,  Ziv Ravitz or Haggai Cohen Milo in mind. I really hear the person’s playing in my mind and it immediately gives me a better sense of what the tune can be like and where it could go. I’ve also imagined players I’ve never played with. When I sat down to compose Shalvat Nefesh from Heart Beats, I knew I was going for something a bit more serious and profound. Somehow Charlie Haden and Brian Blade came to my mind. I never played with them but I know their playing very well. I closed my eyes and started playing the song, and their mature presence was just there – as a metaphor, as a guiding force for me to come up with something clean and sincere.

—> I hope this helps!  I would love to hear your input, your experience with these ideas, and other tips. Enjoy making music.


On Blogging, Tennis and Miles Davis

3 Jan

“I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later” – Miles Davis

… and so it happens I’ve decided to welcome the new year with a brand new blog.

It’s not exactly a new year’s resolution (I call them January resolutions since they’re usually only valid until early February), but rather a new writing challenge, which randomly begins with 2011.

Naturally, I’ll write a lot about music in general and Jazz in particular, and will also touch upon some other topics of personal interest like Literature, Art, Food and more.  However, that Miles Davis quote above sums it up the best. Just as if I’m playing a solo, I’ll be moving from note to note, phrase to phrase, or in this case, post to post. Keith Jarrett once said (I’m paraphrasing) that his best performances occur when he knows nothing in advance about what he’s about to play. I feel the same way.

Fred Hersch, one of my most inspiring teachers, often compares Jazz playing to a Tennis match. Meaning, Jazz is not Chess; You can’t calculate your moves in advance. When that yellow ball is rapidly approaching, you can’t busy yourself with thinking three moves ahead, or you’ll end up dropping the ball. Instead, you play the ball that’s in front of you, and keep rolling.

In a jazz solo, that would be playing what comes now, then moving to the next thing, and allow your intuition to create the larger structure. The definition follows the act – “I’ll play it first and tell you what is later.”

If that attitude works for Tennis and Jazz, it should work for my blog as well. I hope you’ll enjoy spending time here! Your comments, ideas and insights are truly welcome.