Composing In A Vacuum -- Your Thoughts

Alexis Maquet commented on one of my posts in the My Music forum that it was good that I had live musicians playing the example. As a live musician myself I appreciated that!

It also drove home the fact that I have a great mental block when it comes to “writing in a vacuum”.

  • If I’m writing for a live group, particularly one I’m either involved with or one I know something about, things seem to flow.

  • If I’m writing a piece, say a string quartet, just for the sake of writing a string quartet I have a hard time staying focused on the project, developing the ideas, or simply avoiding the churn.


  • Do you share the same or similar mental block? If so, how does it manifest itself?

  • How do you (or what do you do) to circumvent the situation?

I look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences!

Take care!

Stay well!


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Hi Stan,
Thanks for mentioning me in this interesting topic, and the thing is I have never composed for a live group so I cannot see the difference. And yes, I’ve had some mental blocks, but I guess it is normal for any musicians to have them and are part of the job, they come and go. I personally do not write my music and play it with my keyboard myself on my DAW (FL Studio) so this might affect this. I already tried to use Musescore to compose but I must say it was hard because I couldn’t quite hear if it was that pleasing as the MIDI instruments were low quality.

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Thanks, Alexis! And thanks, too, for prompting these thoughts about my own process!

I can’t recall which arranging theory book it was in (I believe it was Dick Grove’s “Arranging Concepts”) but the concept of writing what was to be played before considering who will be playing the music was stressed. Content before delivery method was the message or perhaps a way to separate composition from orchestration.

I don’t know if it’s my limited keyboard skills (euphonium and trombonist here) but I find a) I tend to get distracted by exploring musical colors and the orchestration when keying directly into a DAW or Finale, and, b) I am able to go places with the pen / pencil / ear that I wouldn’t be able to play on the keyboard. As I mentioned my keyboard skills are limited and therefore I’ve found my writing is limited by using the keyboard as an input mechanism.

How has your keyboard playing influenced your writing and vice versa?

Again, thanks for the note, Alexis!