I admit the idea of sitting at my desk and looking through a bunch of orchestral scores studying voicing, chord structure, harmonic progressions sounds nowhere near as fun as starting a new composition. The very idea of all that work seems extremely tedious and perhaps even a little boring, and I know there’s lots of composers who would cringe at the thought of me even saying such a thing. When watching interviews with famous composers they seem to enjoy reading, studying, and all that historical research, I wonder at times what’s wrong with me because I don’t. So how important is research anyway? How much research is really necessary?
If given a choice of studying an orchestration or starting one of my own I’d rather start one of my own every time. Having said that, if I didn’t study the works of other composers my own compositions would become stagnant. It’s only through seeing how others approach problem solving, that I can better learn how to problem solve on my own. Boris Blatcher’s variable rhythm technique was born out of Boris Blatcher studying Arnold Schoenberg’s concept of atonality. Boris Blatcher wanted to treat rhythm in the same way Arnold Schoenberg treated tonality, resulting in music which departed from a focus on a particular key or time signature. So how important is research anyway? Very important. The techniques we learn from other composers becomes the foundation from which we start experimenting and building our own unique artistic voice.
So how much research is really necessary? I’m not suggesting locking yourself in a room with a stack of scores and studying for days, unless that’s your thing. I suggest listening to a variety of music from different composers and when you come across a composition that you enjoy, study that score. Pay close attention to the melody, harmony, chord structure, instrument voicing, rhythm, and other techniques used in their composition. The idea is to understand how the composer used the building blocks of music to create their composition. Once you understand how another composer has built their composition, you can use the same process to re-create those elements in your own compositions. Remember of course we’re are talking about learning the techniques used by other composers and not about directly copying their music which of course is not allowed.
In the end, the more we study the more we know, the more we know the more we grow as composers. Learning new concepts changes the way we perceive music and brings rise to the discovery of new and innovative ideas. It’s important to realize the importance that research plays in the development of our own style. Many people have said, art and creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens when we’re exposed to new ideas and engage with the world around us, learning and developing new ideas in response to the ideas of others who came before us.