I received a very nice comment from a Carlton who asked about where does a composer get ideas and how does he/she develop them. Composers have many different ways of going about this and this is a very common question from developing composers as well as from audiences. My blog addresses these questions through my discussions of the pieces I am creating, but I have also written a book, "A Composer's Guide to Understanding Music" to help composers develop their technique. But this book also helps listeners learn how to listen to music and it also helps performers and conductors with interpreting music. To answer the part of Carlton's question dealing with getting ideas, I have reproduced below the chapter from this book on inspiration. The rest of the book would help Carlton learn how to develop his ideas.
The book is available from http://www.lulu.com/content/446374 as either a printed hard copy or as a download. There is also a free download of the musical examples that accompany the book and purchase of the book entitles the reader to join a free discussion group about the ideas presented in the text.
Here is the chapter on Inspiration:
One of the most frequently asked questions of composers is “where do you get your ideas?” Inspiration can come from many sources, both musical and extra-musical. The concept that a composition comes to a composer in a moment of divine inspiration is true only on rare occasions. Most of the time, composing is a laborious process where initial ideas come slowly and much time is spent developing and reworking the ideas until a finished product is achieved.
Any of the components of music that were discussed in previous chapters can be the source of an idea. For example, timbre was the source of inspiration in my composition “Echoes” for double euphonium choir. Faced with the challenge of creating timbral variety when writing for a group consisting of the same instruments, I thought of the possibility of dividing the group into two choirs and placing them on opposite sides of the stage. This would enable the timbres to have spatial variety with one choir imitating the other in the manner of double choir compositions from the Renaissance. I then expanded upon the imitation by having imitation occur within each choir as well as between choirs. This gave rise to the idea of echoes, which is imitation, that gradual gets softer through the course of several repetitions. The challenge of creating variety with homogeneous timbres enabled me to come up with a title as well as a blueprint for developing the musical material.
Literature, art, poetry, national causes, and environment can provide some of the extra-musical inspirations for composers. The challenge for composers working with extra-musical inspiration is to find a method of allowing the music to convey extra-musical ideas while at the same time, remaining cohesive from the purely musical perspective. Program notes, visuals, narration, and sung text can assist in conveying the extra-musical idea. Because music emphasizes repetition (unity) and drama emphasizes development (variety), the composer is faced with reconciling the different characteristics of the two art forms. Richard Wagner’s concept of leit motifs is an effective solution that composers still use today. The leit motif is a short musical idea that represents a person, event, place, or emotion. As these extra-musical elements develop, the leit motif also develops, therefore creating musical unity and variety without interfering with the plot development.
In my “Scenes from a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” for brass quintet, Mark Twain’s social satire was the source of inspiration. The piece contains detailed program notes to help the listener understand the relationship between the story and the music. The piece can also be performed with a narrator in order for the musical representations of the story to coincide. When working with large literary works as a source of inspiration, an additional challenge is deciding what to include and exclude. Much of the detail of literature does not translate well into music. Length is also an issue that must be addressed.
Inspiration does not always occur in the order that it appears in the finished product. A composer’s initial idea, while having potential, may not be best for the beginning of the piece. It is important for composers to save all ideas, as they may be used later in the piece or even in another composition. An example would be my inspiration for my “Celebration Overture”. This piece was composed as an entry in a composition competition sponsored by WITF-FM to celebrate their 25th anniversary. The competition gave rise to the title and general nature of the piece. The first section I composed was something I really liked, but I had difficulty moving on from that point. After stepping back for a short period of time, I realized that what I had written was too complex for the beginning of the piece, but was perfect for the end. I then created a simpler version of the material and the remainder of the piece developed more easily. “In my end is my beginning” said T.S. Eliot. That is exactly what happened when composing my “Celebration Overture”.