Stop the Musical Confusion!

If you did a google search on “what is the definition of confusion?”, you’ll get these results:

1) uncertainty about what is happening, intended, or required
2) the state of being bewildered or unclear in one’s mind about something

Everybody gets confused from time to time. There is no cure against it! According to the definition above, confusion equals having no control at the moment. So the question becomes “how can we regain control and stop the confusion“? Confusion happens when your point of view does not allow to see the next possible step to the resolution. Usually, this happens when we lose sight of our goal. Problems get bigger, and we have fewer ideas to shift our focus in the right direction. We just entered the vicious circle, see? I want to put this all into an artistic context because this is what happened to me often. Let me give you some examples of what I mean with musical confusion and also how you can overcome it!

I’ve worked for many hours and don’t see any real progress

Spending many hours without seeing results is probably the most common problem. Usually, this happens when you compose, orchestrate, edit, mix, and develop at the same time. The number of tasks that fight for your attention is merely overwhelming and won’t let you move forward. Instead, split up those tasks into separate processes and focus on them sequentially as this will get you to (better) results even quicker! At M.I.T.A., we refer to this as “Gathering, Sketching and, Developing.” Your attention remains undivided and, you will see results quicker! Almost every lesson from the Composition Course connects to those concepts so, you have enough opportunity to practice and get better on those steps.

The parts in my compositions don’t seem to be connected

A usual problem of aspiring and young composers is that they use way too many musical ideas in a short amount of time; hence, they don’t create a good storyline with the music they write. Think of any movie that you enjoyed watching recently and tell me how many characters were essential to the story. I bet it was not more than 4-6 actors, right? Compare this to the world of music. It’s enough to have 4-6 different musical ideas or themes if you want to write 60 minutes if music. So, the question shifts to “how can I create 60 minutes of music out of 4-6 musical ideas?” Here’s some good news for you. It’s the technique and the skill set of the composer that enables her/him to create lots of variations of the same musical idea. Take those big movies like “Star Wars,” “Pirates of the Carribean,” or “Titanic.” See how much music is in there and how this all connects to just a few musical ideas/themes? So, if you are having this problem, I encourage you to start writing longer pieces which maintain the initial artistic impression but move it to different emotions, colors, dynamics, registers, and so on. That is where interval theory comes in very handy. You can use things like the Horizontal Formula, Root Cycles, String Theory, or even Negative Harmony to create variations of your starting ideas. This process falls into Gathering but can also be very helpful for Sketching.

“You want to ride your musical theme as long as possible!” – Mike Post

I like my Sketch, but the Orchestration is overwhelming

I don’t believe that most of the literature about Orchestration out there is very practical and easy to understand. To me, it’s not helpful to read 300 pages about how I can use the strings and what the articulations are but don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that this literature is not good. It only didn’t help me putting concepts of Orchestration into action when I stared at 64 empty bars in my notation program. For that reason, Orchestration has to be practical so that it helps you bring your ideas down to paper. It’s a tool that enables you to shape your musical story in more detail. Orchestration is very much like architecture that takes care of your various musical elements like melody, side-lines, harmony, motors, decoration and, even effects. Once you start seeing these functions, you will want to bring in contrast to your composition because your ear likes that! These are also subjects that M.I.T.A. covers.

I want to compose, but I’m not creatively gifted

The biggest problem of people who complain about not having a creative talent is they never start taking action. They spend more time suffering then focusing on getting out of this state of mind. If they even start, they want to compose the perfect masterpiece, and they realize very quickly that this is not possible without the necessary steps in between. All successful scripts, screenplays, books, or musical pieces are the result of an initial idea that got developed over time. You might want to add another character that will become important later in the story, or you realize over time that some details and side information are not important at all to follow the story and you remove them. Those people have to understand that they are about to start a journey which takes a bit of time and writing music or tapping into the Creative Pool (how we say) is like training a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it will get. You have to start using it! Write a little bit of music every day, no matter how you feel, no matter how the weather is, no matter how much other work you have to do. That’s one of the most overseen secrets to becoming a great composer.

There are probably more points of confusion that we could talk about, but for now, let’s stick to these four examples.

To end this article, please let me invite you to join “M.I.T.A. Magazine” (our free email newsletter) so that we can stop your confusion and help you grow as an artist. Let’s find out together how our Academy can give you the most value.

Thanks for your time and best always,


About the Author

Frank Herrlinger

Frank Herrlinger

Frank is the co-founder of Music Interval Theory Academy (M.I.T.A.) and a professional composer working in the industry for over 10 years. He wrote music for numerous video games published for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. His music is also constantly heard on German television (RTL, Pro7, VOX, etc.), in commercials, and trailers.

Furthermore, he gives live training sessions in composition and how to use interval theory inside the membership every month.

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