Composers - Writers block ???

Having been composing for a number of years now, and currently doing a diploma in "Composition for the Media", how do the number of composers on TMP get over writers block? Thankfully it hasn't happened that often to me (except at the moment :? !) but when it does, it can be one of the most flustrating things going! I can sit at a keyboard for hours on end and still come up with nothing. Other times you can be sat in the pub and a tune just hits you (these usually being the best ones :wink: )

So, what do other composers do when having a "writers block" ?

James McFadyen

New Member
Well done, man! I've always wanted to write music for film and stuff!

I've had writers block for over 8 years now! :wink:

Gershwin once said that he couldn't believe the music he wrote, he was astonished it sounded like real music coz when he was writing he wasn't doing any 'hard work'

This is something, I think all composers can relate to at one point or another, but for us humans, it's always hard work! It always seems to work out alright in the end, though!

Sorry I can't tell you how to get over writers block, apart from just keep at it, do something everyday, even if it's just to throw it away - Debbie Wiseman said that! Of course she's one of the most sucessful British Film/Media Composers around!



The worst thing you can do is worry about it! "Fear of impotence is a very potent thing! (Reginald Perrin)". I find that if you narrow your focus to a specific idea it is a lot better than just trying to write something. When I do a lot of composing I find it quite refreshing to work on some arranging and allow the subconcious to work it's miracle. We all go through this I imagine several times in our careers (not just in music) but eventually the floodgates open and voila!!!!!! It is a terrible feeling, I know, but isn't it lovely when it goes away! :wink:
I have been working on a piece for a while and got stuck a month or so ago. I couldnt find inspiration- until last monday when i listened to an act from Wagners Ring- that really got me going again and i've written loads since!

Try listening to some good music, not necessarily brass band, in fact, particularly not brass band- music within genres you like but dont know, and its quite likely something will hit you, maybe an element of scoring or a particular chord......

maybe i'm just odd, but i practically ran out of my Wagner lecture and spent the next 6 or so hours composing!

James McFadyen

New Member
No, I don't think it's odd at all! :wink: You need a good run at it, it's no good composing for an hour here and an hour there, I think you tend to find it gets a bit easier as the session gets along - for me, like many, it's starting it that can be the tricky bit! :wink:


Its true an hour here and there is no good currently had a block halfway through a piece can't seem to just get it quite right because of trying to do it a bit at a time when time allows. Not to worry sure it will come eventually sometimes find working on some arranging can clear the mists of despair.


Active Member
flashbarry said:
but eventually the floodgates open and voila!!!!

Oops - I misread that as 'viola'!

Two bits of advice, Gavin, for what it's worth:

1) never sit with an empty sheet of paper/computer screen in front of you. Its a killer, and if you don't have any ideas you're wasting your time. Go for a walk/beer/sleep.

2) always carry a pocket-sized manuscript pad around with you, (or a screwed up sheet of m/s paper, as I have done since Panopus packed up) so that when the ideas do come to you, you can quickly jot them down.

Darrol's advice to narrow down your parameters is spot-on, whether structurally, instrumentally, or whatever, and try to develop a clear idea of what you're trying to say with your piece.



Active Member
Oh and another thing: always stop while it's going well. Then it's much easier to start again the next day and you can keep going fluently. If you stop when you hit a problem it may be harder to pick up the threads .'. lead to writer's block.



Naomi McFadyen

New Member
Carrying manuscript around with me is something I must do more often, because some of the decent ideas I seem to come up have been lost because I got them when I've been out and about!

I thought I'd try something a bit new (to me) the other day...
I was wanting to write a March... hadn't written one for aaaaaages... I didn't have any ideas spring to mind at the time... so, got out a sheet of manuscript, and wrote rhythms of what could be a potential compositional idea...
6/8 time... not taking any account of key signature or notes, just wrote random rhythms, with rough 'up and down' pitches for a rough melody (don't have perfect pitch so this was the next best thing in my eyes)...
I managed to get a page of "music" and started putting this into Sibelius; by which time I decided on a nice bander friendly key to work with, and a tune was coming to match with the rough sketches I had come up with...

just thought I'd share that with you :)
It's an individual thing. Some things work for some people that don't for others, and vice-versa.

However, one thing that gets you through is technique-you can always write if you have that - it may not be what you are after, but writing bvreeds confidence, which breeds writing, etc....

I suffered a lot from it during my time at college, but I think this has put me in good stead to cope with it should it arise at any further point of my career (And it will, like for any composer).

My own personnel way of dealing with it, is to dig my heels in, and write a short small piece. Get it played and the confidence starts coming. Sometimes you have to 'write blind' - just go out on a limb and do it!!! You can always sack it off later.

Good luck!

James McFadyen

New Member
I must admit I never carry manuscript around with me. mmmmm.

I never seem to get any ideas :cry:

At the beginning stages I think what Darrol said about narrowing it all down can help ease the pain quite bit, although I have only used used this technique a few times it does yield good results!

I agree with Pete! I think sometimes u have to work blind and just put yourself out there!

I think if most composers are honest it's not usually a shortage of ideas, more an abundance of ideas and we just can't settle on what to use, using what Pete said about putting yourself out on a limb and what Darrol said about giving yourself some limitations could be a good way to see the wood from the trees.


Active Member
After doing a week of rehearsals with Peter Graham in the summer, I learned the background behind his major SA work 'Blazon'.

The ISBs centenary was in 1991 and as Peter Graham was working for the SA at the time, he was basically asked/expected to write a work for them to commemorate it. He said he was suffering from a compositional crisis at the time after pouring his efforts into 'Essence of Time' for the 1990 European set work but was told in the end that it was required of him. He went and wrote 'Blazon' which has an unbelievable likeness to 'Essence' - there are all sorts of bars, phrases and ideas which are identical - much more so than the obvious similarities between his other works.

I was reminded of this when I heard the Hendon SA Band (Steve Cobb) tackled 'Essence with 50 players in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. An impressive performance of a piece concieved for just over half that number, although any group with David Daws and the Cobb brothers in the front line has a head start :wink:



Well-Known Member
'Course, I think sometimes "writer's block" might be a form of quality control. I can think of some composers whose output might have benefited from a good deal more writer's block. :wink:



Don't worry about writer's block, it happens to us all. I was once asked by the Sop player from St. Austell (Championship Section) to write him a solo.
I went totally blank for about 2 months, but then at the least expected moment the melody suddenly came into my head.
I have learnt to not think about anything when asked to write a piece of music, the more you think, the worse the block will become.
Darrol has some really good advise on here as well.
Can I just say.
If you are writing or arranging a piece of music, listen to compositions and arrangements from people such as Darrol, Goff Richards, Alan Fernie, Steve Sykes, Gornden Langford etc.
Listen to what they have done with the piece/song, you will learn that each person has there own style, and from picking on what they have done with the pieces/songs etc. You will develop your own style.
Good Luck.
Well, i've already been told i have my own style (whether thats good or bad i'm not sure yet! :? !) I know what you mean about the melody's just "popping" into your head at the least suspected moment. I'm currently in the middle of writing a solo for YBS Bass Trombonest Toby Bannan, however i've been stuck on the 3rd movement for nearly 2 months now. Hopefully that flash of inspiration isnt far away. Time to take some advice and stop thinking about it :D

James McFadyen

New Member
Having your own style and sound is always good - it is thing thing that all composers strive for! Our own unqiue compositional voice!

I wouldn't wait on inspiration, it usually comes at the wrong and unexpected time. :wink:

Also, don't always revolve your music around a tune, think about ostinato's or chord sequencies or even bass lines. In my expeience too many people wait for a tune - The testpiece I've just finished, Partita is one such piece of musical ideas using minamalist technqiues and 20th century techniques like Iso Rythms (sorry for the spelling of rythms - one word I keep forgetting how to spell)

Iso Rythms are great devices!!! and often solve the dasterdly problems of sustaining ideas.

The important thing is not too have too many idea, but only a few basic ones that you can develop into a full piece of music. Think of Bethovens Fifths Symphony - simple idea but what Beethoven does to it to develop it in a full piece of music is genius! :wink:

Devices and styles like Fugue's, Passacaglia's and Chaconne's can help give you a solid base for the construction of ur piece instead of just working blind.

Devices like Repetiton, Sequence, Retrograde, Inversion, Modulation, etc can all be useful devices to develop the music further.

It is a good idea to limit yourself to what u write in a single piece of music, having a theme or a plot for your music can often help in some cases.

Sometimes the sheer size of the Brass Band is too much sometimes and it can be easy to load too much on, sometimes it's better to write a four-part harmony score or skelton score just to gain a little more perspective on the actual music and that might take some weight off ur brain since u won't have to worry about problem solving in score writing. Although this is only a suggestion and not nessesarily the most time (and hence cost) effective method.

Try and compose everyday (I may have said that already at the beginning of the thread???) keep the mind active.

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