"Sketching is essential, and you should do it!" If you don't know why you should sketch, this episode is for you. Learn more about the benefits and how sketching can save you a ton of time!
Sketch Your Music - Be Smart!
I came to sketching relatively late after being a pro composer for over ten years. I was not against sketching, but I wasn't aware of it. During my musical education, nobody taught me a transparent methodology about how to sketch. So, I believed it was just another step in the process that I could easily skip and get to the finished music quicker.
Well, now I know that I was so wrong. Every track I wrote almost felt a little bit like a gamble to me. I struggled quite a bit with keeping just one emotion going for some time, and in the end, some tracks turned out completely different. So, long story short, I lacked control and also the confidence to create intentional music. While that's not wrong at all, you shouldn't base your career on luck.
So, that's why I want to give you seven reasons why you should sketch your music, and honestly, I wished I had known those years ago. This would have saved me a lot of headaches. But better later than never. So, let's get to it.
1 - Sketching helps you focus on the core idea
This is probably one of the most common problems for young composers. There are usually too many ideas you want to focus on, and honestly, I fully understand and can relate to that. I've been there a lot of times.
So, the sketch takes care of your core elements and how to present them to your audience. It helps you stay on track with your musical storytelling. For the process of composition, this is huge! Think about it; a sketch prevents you from stepping into a lot of traps that music creators constantly complain about, like:
If that is you, I'm betting you don't sketch. And if you do, maybe you don't do it efficiently.
Maybe you don't focus on your core elements and add a lot of clutter to your sketch. At this stage, there's absolutely no need to focus on decoration, side-lines, or how you can make the orchestration more impactful. It's about writing the story of the main character. It's that simple, so please don't get lost in the details. Those details should come in later when the story is clear and you know WHAT the story is about.
2- Sketching helps you build to complexity
Since we start with simple ideas and just a few of them, we build a strong foundation. Let's add complexity later and in an organized way. There's a hierarchy to the elements you bring in, and the sketch keeps track of that. So, you may increase the complexity step-wise with a lot of control without changing your core idea.
That control is crucial for motific work and even repeating passages. Again, don't get lost in details way too early in the process. That only creates overwhelm and frustration.
3 - Sketching shows you opportunities of what to do next
Once you've finished your 4-bar idea, you'll run into the question "what to do next"? That's a critical dead-end for many composers, and sketching can save you from running into that problem in the first place. Here's the best advice that I've picked up over the years to overcome that problem.
Repetition and new information mixed together!
By following this guideline, you continue the story and give your audience something new to chew on. The sketch is the most puristic form of your musical idea, and it offers many opportunities to bridge to new elements, such as melodies, side-lines, harmony, or motors. Let the story continue and take this concept as your base of thinking: Repetition and new information mixed together!
4 - Sketching lets you follow a timeline more easily
Working to the moving picture or a given story is all about following the timeline. So, film and media composers, this is for you! You get hired to make a given storyline better by adding an emotional layer that closely follows the story you are given. It's about timing and catching the story's hit points with the music.
At first glance, this is a technical task. You want to pick your tempos, time signatures, and bar numbers so that they fall on the hit points while keeping up the musical flow. So, at that stage, it's not even about the actual music but setting up the canvas first. Get the timing right first, and then go into the music. That's more efficient than the other way around.
5 - Sketching is non-committed
Only because you put something into your sketch doesn't mean that you have to use it and stick to it.
"If you don't like to eat a boiled egg for breakfast, don't order a boiled egg but something else! It's actually that simple!"
Don't forget that you are the author, and you have full permission to change things, remove whole passages, re-write the elements and adjust everything to your liking. A sketch is only your roadmap to bring you safely from A to B. There's nothing wrong with adding or removing things along the way.
6 - Sketching becomes an infinite source of inspiration and creativity
You can repurpose all the elements, modify them, or re-use them in other works. You can even use the same sketch and turn it into different pieces by changing the orchestration, moving things around and into different registers, changing the tempo, and so on. The options are infinite, and you will never hit a musical dead-end ever again.
Members of the Academy also get access to participate in orchestration challenges. Everybody gets access to the same sketch, and then we all orchestrate it accordingly to our unique taste. The results are stunning, and the pieces are very different from each other. So, please don't believe that a sketch is a one-time product! It's not.
7 - Sketching is quick
Although it may take a few attempts to get familiar with sketching, it doesn't take long. As you focus on your core elements only, a 2-minutes-composition can be sketched out in less than 30 minutes. And having a sketch in place also makes the following steps more manageable, like the overall orchestration.
So, please don't treat a sketch as an expense. It's an investment that will save you lots of hours in the later process, and you should not ignore it!
And here's your takeaway in a nutshell. By now, you know that sketching offers many benefits:
So, if you've never sketched before, I encourage you to try it. Honestly, I hope that this episode alone will make your musical life better. It surely simplified my life a lot!
This was Frank, and I hope to see you back in the next episode!
Before adding too many details to your next composition, sit back and think about your core elements first. Decide on what's important and what you want the listener to follow. Then, add complexity around it.
Author: Frank Herrlinger