Guide Me, O Thou Great Idiot

Guide Me, O Thou Great Idiot

The Complete Idiot's Guide To Music Composition

There may be nothing as un-sexy as the oxymoronic appellative “contemporary classical” when referring to a particular breed of music. As for the term new music: fugetaboudit. It’s meaningless at this stage. Besides the namelessness that plagues our purportedly indescribable art form, there’s also the problem of elitism running rampant in our midst, most likely inherited from our classical counterparts (rather hilariously summed up by this blog entry). But worry not friends, the author Michael Miller has set out to level the playing field between laymen and the cognoscenti with his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide® To Music Composition.

I’ve always been a big believer that anyone can be a composer, and now with the tools of technology, and tomes like the aforementioned, it looks like we’ve finally arrived. Admittedly, I haven’t read Miller’s book, but I think it’s a great idea to sum up broad concepts that many a graduate student wastes way too many brain cells dwelling on—maybe universities should consider this book in place of Straus’s Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory and Forte’s The Structure of Atonal Music. Seriously, do composers need to know that much set theory? Sure, hexachords are cute for a while, but ruminating on the subject may cause severe creative fatigue for certain artists. I say Idiot’s Guides for all!

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5 thoughts on “Guide Me, O Thou Great Idiot

  1. Sarble The Eye

    is set theory really all that hard?
    Compared to, say, Baroque counterpoint? Don’t throw the technical but sometimes handy baby out with the pedagogically poorly written bathwater.

  2. bvlasak

    I’m not convinced that the problem with “elitist” music is an informed composer. I rather believe that the problem rests with the incestuous nepotism that exists within the composition establishment, wherein students submit for big time awards which are judged by their teachers (and teachers friends). Of course, said student wins.

    Leo Tolstoy and Mark Rothko warned us about “art for artists” more than 100 and 50 years ago, respectively. Perhaps we should listen. Is it that we’re too well-informed or have we just gotten comfortable with the same-old regurgitation of teacher-to-student in the elitist institution that is composition?

    — Brian

  3. philmusic

    My own “free” music composition lesson page which I started in 1998, and was based on Rossini’s composition techniques, is being closed by AOL. They are shutting down their entire member space.

    I have 28 days to relocate if I can-So till then I guess you have to buy that book


    Phil Fried

  4. jbunch

    Yeah…I think sometimes we are attacking red herrings when you talk about Grad students pouring over Allen Forte and Joseph Straus texts. The aforementioned books are fantastic tools to entering into a certain continent in the world of modern/contemporary/new music. Why not get to know some of it? However, none of the Grad students I know are toiling over those books (mainly because once you read it you’ve read it). They are busy reading Cole Gagne, and John Cage, and Trevor Wishart…and David Foster Wallace, and Alex Ross, and Tolkien, and Mayan prophetic literature, and examining scores by Wolf, Lang, Birtwisle, Berio, Sciarrino, Lachenmann, Glass, Beethoven, Chopin, Philipp DeVitry, and listening to everything under the sun. If composition is stagnating in a pool of atonal neo-conservativism, it’s not for lack of unorthodox input!

    In reality, at least as far as the grad school that I attend, students here value coming into contact with a vast array of activities (improvisation, workshopping pieces, performing, conducting, playing in world-music ensembles, cross-disciplinary study in musicology, technology, mathematics,). Sure, grad students are still nerds-supreme, but thank goodness for that.

    The idiots guide to composition book is definitely entertaining – and I hate to post a serious response to an anecdotal post (if I take it correctly) – but in the same way that idiots guide to rocket science hasn’t produced a new Werner Von Braun, I doubt the idiots guide to music composition is going to produce a new Morton Feldman…

  5. TimR-J

    Definitely. People need to spend less time thinking about difficult stuff. Particularly people in universities.

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