What is Composing? Why Do It?

When we want to say something vitally important to someone and we want to say it “just right,” we will often write our thoughts down and then work to transform these tangled thoughts into clear, orderly sentences. We may then rewrite those sentences and move them around until they finally manage to say exactly what we want to say.

At that point, we may mail our carefully crafted essay to someone—it becomes a letter. Or we may read it aloud to someone. Or, like an actor, we may memorize the text and speak it aloud to a group. Or we may publish it as an essay for many to read.

That is composing. It is writing musical essays by first carefully recording our thoughts in some way, and then working them over and over until they are “just right.” When we notate music, we transform sounds into sights and tones into notes. We have something before us that we can see and revise. We can work those notes over and over until we don’t feel the need to change them anymore.


The process of composing not only leads to finished products, but it helps us become better speakers and communicators. It makes our thinking sharper, and makes us conscious of what may have been unconscious or nebulous before. Composing makes us better musicians, and much, much better interpreters. We are able to understand the meaning of the compositions of others much more readily. We intuitively understand the thought process and intentions of other composers.

In school, we learned to write our thoughts and shape them into essays. We understand that writing makes us more complete communicators and human beings. Why have we lost this understanding in the field of music? Why have we come to believe that writing down musical thoughts is something that only experts can do? Isn’t it time to do something about this mistaken notion?

In Bach’s time, a composer and a performer were not two people. They co-existed as one person, a person called a musician. A whole musician. That is where the greatest fulfillment comes, when we are whole.


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