Sometimes, if I’m a little stumped as to how to proceed when composing music for any sort of media, I realise the reason is that I’ve too many options. I’m stood at a fork in the road, only it’s not a simple, 2- or 3-pronged fork: there are at least 20 different musical paths open to me and I simply can’t decide. To help me out, I impose restrictions on my options.
I love writing to picture. When I have a film in front of me, those restrictions are already in place: the duration of the film, sync(hronisation) points between picture and music that must be hit, emotion and tone, silences in the musical score around dialogue and sound effects that are already in place.
These restrictions give me something to to push against, to reduce my options to all but the most effective choices that will accomplish the particular task, and to give me immediate feedback as to whether my choice is the better one. At the very least, having the decision made for me means I’ll stop procrastinating and just get on and write – and that music may lead to new ideas that will become the actual final score.
But what if there’s no picture? What if there’s no pre-ordained structure to ‘hang’ the music on?
Impose arbitrary restrictions.
Say to yourself, “this piece will be 30 seconds long, the tone will be sad, it will build up to 10 seconds when there’s a defined event, the music remains dramatic to 20 seconds, when it will start to tail off to the end, feeling resigned.” Or, create a story: “the composer sits down at the piano, the blank manuscript before her. She scratches her head and frowns, tentatively tries a few chords in progression, pauses, is suddenly hit with inspiration and begins to scribble furiously her next concerto as the music builds to a powerful crescendo in her mind!”
Hey, I know, I’m no scriptwriter. I think I’ll just stick the tunes
Imposing restrictions on your creative vision may sound like a harsh method, but it actually gives you something really concrete to push against, to bounce your ideas off, to filter and refine your options to reveal a clear creative, musical path down which it’s really a no-brainer to proceed. If the brief you’re working too doesn’t give you enough specificity, get specific. And, perhaps, if you’ve maybe been a little too restrictive with your ideas, you can always modify or completely change them, they’re not set in stone – you created them yourself, after all.
I hope this helps you get started writing again if you’re feeling a little creatively blocked. What methods do you use when faced with that ‘fork in the road’?