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40 Bits of Advice

(or, "What I Learned in Eleven Years of Studying Composition") (or, "Things My Teachers Said") 1. Write quickly. 2. Write slowly. 3. Plan, chart, and diagram the work's structure. 4. Write organically, without preconceptions of form. 5. Put the performers first. 6. Put the audience first. 7. Put the Idea first. 8. Use the piano to compose. 9. Compose away from the piano. 10. Use the computer to make things faster. 11. Do not use a computer for anything but engraving. 12. Create something profoundly new and distinct unto itself; do not retreat into history. 13. You are free to draw upon any style, school, or aesthetic creed as you wish; they are all equally valid. 14. Write music that moves the listener at the risk of sedation. 15. Write music that challenges the listener to the point of confusion. 16. Write music that pushes the performers to the brink of exhaustion. 17. Find your own path. 18. Take whatever path attracts you, even if it's well worn. 19. Your first idea is the best. 20. Your first idea is (almost) never the best. 21. Trust your instincts. 22. Dig deeper. 23. Composing should feel easy and natural. 24. Composing is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do apart from the everyday demands and trials of life, and it will stake a claim on those as well. 25. Poetic expressive markings can be highly suggestive and useful in conveying your intent to the performer in ways that the notation cannot. 26. Use only literal, specific, and unambiguous technical directions or the performer won't know what it is you're talking about. 27. Consider your own music in its cultural context. 28. Consider only the music; let the rest fall where it may. 29. Do what you're good at. 30. Work on your weaknesses. 31. Be a businessperson and promoter: you are your own marketing department. 32. If you write it (well), they will come. 33. Be practical. 34. Dream big. 35. Improvise in order to generate ideas. 36. Improvisation ≠ composition. 37. Try something totally new in every piece. 38. Find your shtick and stick with it. 39. Embrace disorder, incongruity, ambiguity. 40. Everything in balance.


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