The Difference Between Amateur and Professional Composers

10:59:00 PM Kevin A. Ure 0 Comments

I've been asked at various points in my life why I compose music. To be honest, I don't really think it's much of a choice. Yes, I can choose to not write anything at all if I want, but ultimately, I still get ideas for new compositions even if I'm not currently in composing mode. It's just something that happens throughout the course of the day.

There are plenty of composers that have more success with their music than I do, but I know that no matter how much or little recognition my music gets, I'll continue to write. I think it's likely that way for a lot of composers out there.

I used to think that anybody could be taught to write music, and I still believe this is true. I can teach anybody the rudimentary mechanics of voice leading, chord progressions, motivic development, and orchestration. They can learn to piece things together, and create a successful composition that sounds good and is playable. Someone with little to no talent could even become an expert on "composing music" without every actually becoming a composer.

Becoming a professional composer requires more than just an inkling to want to put pieces together and create coherent and logical musical patterns. I feel like composing music requires a certain amount of knowledge of the technique, but technique alone isn't enough. You also need to have something to say.

The question of how to "say" something in music isn't really one that I'm going to get into. It's different for everyone. But, if you don't have your own style, and you're just expertly copying what someone else has written, then you're not really composing anything. You're just regurgitating what already exists. That's what a theorist does, and they certainly have their place in music.

I don't care how beautiful that new piece you wrote is. If it's not actually a new piece written in a style that you forged over several years, then it's not really a composed piece. By all means, if you love writing music, continue to do so. But, push yourself to make it your own.

There are several lifestyle components that make a professional composer. If you're doing these things and continually trying to create something new and original, then I would classify you as a professional. Making money from the music you write is only one small aspect, although it's a very important one if you can't support yourself in another way.

A professional composer thinks about a composition every day. They may not always have the time to sit down and write, but you don't need to be a slave to your desk or piano to compose music. If you're working on your compositions in some way each day, then you're making progress and you're going beyond what an amateur would do.

The craft is essential to working in the way a professional composer does. Every composer has some weaknesses. I've known university professors of composition that don't feel comfortable writing for strings. They are still highly accomplished and dedicated composers. But, you should be working to learn about instrumentation, form, theory, and studying other composers' works. If you're not doing this, then you're not improving the way a professional composer would.

Many people argue that a professional composer is someone who puts their work out there for people to hear. I don't think this is necessary. Charles Ives didn't let people hear his music until the end of his life, and he made a living doing other things. Yet, I don't know anyone who would argue about his status as one of the greatest American composers of the last century.

Finishing your compositions is a big one. The amount of work you produce is going to vary depending on you. Edgar Varese composed less than 20 pieces in his life, but he's considered one of the masters. If you take a look at his compositions, you'll see they are all very worked out and articulate. I continue to find new things every time I look at his work "Density 21.5" for flute. The point is that you don't have to put out works like Mozart did, but you do have to finish your compositions and then move on to the next one.

Be serious about your music if you want to be considered a professional. If you're a professional composer and you have the years of "work" experience and knowledge to back it up, then say so. If you're an amateur, then enjoy the hobby for what it is, and enjoy an activity that will last you a lifetime.

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