Key Stage 3 Composition GCSE A-Level

Composing at Home 2

A Composition is often discovered through the collection of small ideas. Composing at Home is all about collecting, creating, discovering and recording little ideas. This blog will focus on just that and will pick up on some of the things we discussed in Composing at Home 1.

I want all of these Composing at Home posts to be possible without technology, internet or in this case, instruments. But I am also aware that at times we may need some technology.


We are surrounded by sounds. We are also surrounded by things that make sounds. You might be lucky enough to have an instrument at home, or a piano, drum kit, guitar etc. But you may also not have any instruments at home – there are still things that make sounds.

In this blog we are going to consider the idea of discovering & gathering sounds. I believe that like an artist sketches ideas in a sketchbook, musicians need to gather sounds like audio sketches.

Musique Concrète

I don’t want to spend too much time going through this, but I think its useful concept and genre of music to be aware of. We are looking at ways in which we can create a explore music at home. It is all about the process of composition and what we can learn from it about sound and music. I urge you to research this area further as it will open your eyes to another form of music making and for those studying Petals by Saariaho it may be a useful source for Wider Listening.

Musique Concrète relies on recorded sounds as raw material. These sounds can come from musical instruments, the voice, the environment or any other generated sounds. Compositions that fully the conventions of Musique Concrete don’t rely on the standard rules for melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Metre & Tonality. It is all about realising new sound identities – it is creative, exploratory and entirely possible at home.

Recording at Home

Whilst I am trying to avoid using too much technology, for this Composing at Home task you are going to need something to record onto. I am sure that you will have a phone available to you that you can use to capture ideas. Please do grab something that you can use to record.

Now we are going to start to gather ideas in the style of Musique Concrète. I want you to become aware of the sounds in your house, or the sounds you can hear outside. What discoveries can you make and what sounds might you be able to generate. Start to gather this sounds as audio recordings. Feel free to use instruments, but think outside the box. Sounds could be made that are unconventional – think about John Cage and his Prepared Piano works.

How is this Composing!

hopefully you have now started to gather some sounds as recordings in a phone or recording device. I know what you are thinking, how is this composing. This approach is very different to composing in school music rooms. Where is the manuscript paper, the DAW or the chord progression. Lets unpack this thought a little further and think about what we are doing:

  • Selecting sounds is hugely important for composition – it raises awareness of the soundscape and we can apply this to our choice of instrumentation.
  • Listening to the sounds around us is important for our aural awareness and gets us thinking about what makes something music.
  • The art of gathering ideas is good for the modern music student who all too often relies of computer generated “out of the box” ideas.

What next?

You have now collected sounds and thoughts about what you could do with them. There are now a number of things that you could do. But I want to stress again that just going through this process is a useful compositional task. It does’t matter if you just enjoy the process and learn from it. Composition is as much about thinking through a composting as it is actually making a piece of music.

Using our ideas

But there are some ways that we can take our ideas forward

  1. Create some kind of Graphic Score or plan for a potential piece of music involving the sounds you have gathered.How could each sound could be used, re-used, altered and developed? What is going to be needed in order to create a piece?
  2. Use Audacity, GarageBand, Logic, Cubase or any DAW, to import your sounds and start playing around with them. Obviously you may not have this software available to you, but I do know that a number of things are available on an iPhone, so I am sure you can lay your hands on something. Use your plan and start plotting out a piece of music
  3. If you do have access to a DAW then start to explore how music technology can be used to manipulate sounds. I won’t give an extensive overview, but the various ways in which sounds can be altered with Delay, Reverb, Filtering, Stretching etc. There is a huge amount you can do in Audacity which is an entirely FREE app to download to your computer.
  4. Another extension to this is that you use the sounds you have gathered to create a backing for another piece of music. Imagine using the sounds around your house to create a drum beat for example. This beat could then be used as the basis for another composition.
  5. If you need inspiration then why not make your piece representative of the abstract painting used on this blog post. Get your mind thinking about what music sounds like and what it might be able to represent.

Process Makes Perfect

I fear that we often forget the process. Sometimes we dive into music making, composing, playing & learning without always thinking about the process. Composition is all about process and it isn’t just about ticking boxes. Following this process will get you thinking about the very fabric of sounds and how they can be used and manipulated. Even if these sounds never get used and they are merely ideas in your mind, you will have learnt something. Like the artist who briefly skethces something in a sketchbook that is never used again – everything is teaching us something.

So go and discover sounds, you don’t need an instrument or anything really. You just need a brain that is switched on to the idea that as we gather sounds, and silences, we start to explore what music is really all about.

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