4 steps to composing a MazurkaRead Now
Do you have a favorite Mazurka?
Two of my favorites are Mazurka Appasionta by Agustin Barrios and Adelita by Francisco Tarrega.
I recently performed 16 new Mazurkas that were composed over the past few months by members of my online school. They were all inspired by Adelita, but all turned out very different. A clip of one Mazurka from the program is below.
Next livestream: Wednesday September 29th, 7pm AEST
How to compose a Mazurka in 4 steps
You might be wondering, how were so many people able to compose a Mazurka? Here are the steps they used!
Step 1: Plan
Probably the most important step was to have a plan. A plan gives your composition structure and cohesion and helps focus your creativity.
If you've tried composing before, you might have experienced stumbling blocks like:
- Not knowing where/how to start
- Not knowing how to extend beyond your initial ideas
- Not understanding about the underpinnings of music
Having a plan addresses all of those points!
What did the Mazurka plan that composers featured in tonight's livestream look like? Check it out below:
Step 2: Melody
Think about what the most defining feature of a piece is.
Most of the time, it's melody. A melody is something you can connect with, because it's something you can sing (or hum, or whistle if you prefer).
I like to say that melody is the heart of a song.
Melody also contains crucial structural elements and helps to organize your composition. For example,. the term 'Parallel Period' in the plan above is referring to a key melodic structure that's used in many melodies.
Below is a melody that was based on another Mazurka, Maria Luisa. This was written by Trisha, whose Mazurka 'Between the Tides' is recorded above.
Step 3: Harmony
Now that you've got a solid structure and beautiful melody, time to add chords in!
You might be thinking, "but there are so many chords to choose from!!"
Good news: you can just choose from three chords, called the primary chords (I, IV and V).
Below is Trisha's melody from above, now with the addition of primary chords.
Step 4: Edit and Refine
Now you've got some really solid material to start refining and editing.
Some of the considerations you want to think about:
Here's an example below, where Joe drastically altered the texture to make his piece much more playable. Notice the other details that were added too, such as dynamics, articulations, harmonics and a fermata.
I hope this has inspired you and given you encouragement to compose.
Many of the composers featured in the concert recording are very new to composition, but that hasn't stopped them from writing some incredibly beautiful music.
If you can play something on guitar, then you can compose something, no matter your ability or experience.
Follow the 4 step process and see what emerges!
If you want further guidance, check out my online composition course here - you can take it at your own pace.
Clinton composed his first piece just last year while taking my online composition course. Since then, he has composed many more works, all inspired by Bible verses and dedicated to the glory of God.
This Prelude symbolizes the journey of a Pilgrim, whose quest was to find out the meaning of Paul's words from 1 Thessalonians 5:17 - 'Pray constantly'. During his travels, the Pilgrim learns the Jesus Prayer: 'Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!'.
'Anyone who becomes accustomed to this prayer will experience great comfort as well as the need to say it continuously. He will become accustomed to it to such a degree that he will not be able to do without it and eventually the Prayer will of itself flow in him...' (pg. 9 from 'The Way of a Pilgrim', trans. H. Bacovcin).
The Pilgrim is represented by a repeated descending musical figuration and his pilgrimage is painted through the use of frequent key changes. Compositional devices such as divisions, tonicizations and the Rule of the Octave have been used to wonderful effect by Clinton.
Clinton has continued his studies with me and he never fails to amaze and inspire my own musical and spiritual development.
You can take the same course that sparked Clinton's creative journey at: https://daniel-s-school-9a66.thinkific.com/courses/compose-your-dream-piece-in-just-4-steps
Or, join a vibrant community of creative classical guitarists and gain access to the composition course, plus many other resources, live events and and much more: https://daniel-nistico.mn.co
Take away all those hours of wasted labor, moving bar by bar and note by note. Seeing chords is the secret to reading music fluently.
Watch the video to learn the secret to how you can learn chords very quickly on guitar. It's practical and relevant to guitar music - in the full course, each chord type comes with examples directly from guitar pieces! See below for some examples.
The full course gives you simple logic and practical exercises to understand chords and unlock the secret to reading music fluently, also giving you tools for composing, arranging and improvising.
Learn more by clicking the banner below, or clicking here.
What's the standard approach to sight reading a new piece?
We usually just start by diving in and reading the notes one by one. That's how I used to read music on guitar and it was agonizing!
This approach means that we don't see the forest for the trees. And just like in language, individual notes in music combine to form words and sentences. If you're not seeing those, then you'll be forever stuck reading the individual 'letters' of music.
My boy is 3 now and can read individual letters quite well. But if he were forever stuck in this phase, then reading fluently would never happen. Just like we do when we're young, we must transition from seeing individual notes to understanding the larger structures of music. This is the trap that I see many guitarists facing and I hope this checklist will help you get started in seeing the larger structures in music.
Click to download
Use this checklist before sight reading or learning a new piece
Here is the checklist applied to Gavotte by Shand
(click to download)
Learn more about sight reading and follow a proven path that helps you become a fluent reader
Is reading rhythm something that's held you back from playing a piece you love?
I've got a great story about reading rhythm - maybe you can relate to it.
My nightmare story about reading rhythm:
When I was about 16, I met a flautist who wanted to play a duet. They gave me the guitar part, I took it home and tried to learn it. I think it was a duet by Carulli.
After days of struggling to read the music, we had our first rehearsal.
Little did I know that this flute player's dad would be watching us and guess what - he was a violinist in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra!
We started playing together for about a bar when suddenly I realized that I had no idea how my part fitted together with the flute. "You have to COUNT!", yelled the flute player's dad right into my ear.
So I tried counting, but it didn't help at all - it probably made things worse! That was our rehearsal... and we never played together again...
But fast forward many years later and I started playing all sorts of crazy rhythms in many ensembles. Listen to the video below where my wife and I play 'From the Dreaming' by Australian composer Phillip Houghton (you can read a Q&A I did with Phillip here).
How did I manage to start reading and learning rhythms?
By using the method outlined here. This is from my eBook series on sight reading: click to find out more
Rhythms can be formed into groups - this is the secret to reading them quickly and effectively! Once you start to group rhythms, you learn that there aren't that many groups used in music.
In fact, within one piece you'll often find just a handful (or less) of rhythms being used.
How much easier will reading rhythms be when you start to see the groups?!
More than you can imagine.
Not seeing groups vs. seeing groups
Using the charts above helps reveal that there are just 3 different rhythm groups in the example below!
There are loads more methods to help you sight read fluently in my eBooks
5 Allemandes Composed in 2021Read Now
These Allemandes were composed by following a detailed plan, which was based on Bach's Allemande from Suite BWV 996. Here's the program:
Allemande 1: Trisha Budd
Allemande 2: Ian Pollard
Allemande 3: Ilay Kenes
Allemande 4: Paula Child
Allemande 5: Brittany Lum
This method of writing music, called model composition, was widely used by composers like Bach and many others from past centuries.
The plan is below - have a go at composing your very own Allemande!
For more tools and methods to help you compose, check out The Creative Classical Guitarist at: https://daniel-nistico.mn.co
Productivity starts with clear goal setting and taking small, consistent steps of action.
CCG has a 7 step plan that helps you become productive and creative:
The first two steps can be completed quickly and will help you establish your goals and produce a plan to put your goals into action. You can read an article from Jim Rohn's website (acclaimed personal development coach) at: https://www.jimrohn.com/4-tips-for-setting-powerful-goals/
The Creative Classical Guitarist (CCG) is an online school that began in January 2021. Each day there are new pieces, arrangements, recordings and resources posted by CCG members - I'm constantly in awe of the incredible work that people are regularly uploading!
If you've ever wanted to compose, arrange or improvise on guitar, CCG gives you the exact steps and methods to do so, even if you've never tried before. Hundreds of guitarists have composed their first ever composition by following the methods found on CCG. There are 3 live sessions each week, giving members a platform to play and study together.
There are also in-depth online courses that guide you through topics like Sight Reading, Practicing, Technique, Composition, Harmonization and more. It's the equivalent of a university education online for a fraction of the price and time commitment. You can give it a try free for one week at: https://daniel-nistico.mn.co
I was inspired by CCG member Jamal, who just played this Vals for our weekly masterclass.
We also heard an Australian piece by Richard Charlton and an arrangement of Schubert's 'Standchen'.
Each masterclass never fails to inspire me. CCG members will often play their own pieces or arrangements.
People often ask what the best solution is to help with performance nerves. Answer: perform a lot! CCG gives you a chance to perform regularly, with 2 masterclasses every week.
You can join the CCG community at: https://daniel-nistico.mn.co/
Music has the power to evoke imagery. Without some sort of story or imagery behind your interpretation, the music can lack meaning.
Leave a comment - what imagery can you use in a piece you're playing?
Download Sor's Studies, op.31 book 2 - this is study #20: https://www.danielnistico.net/uploads/3/9/9/1/39910899/sor_studies_op.31_part_2.pdf
Check out my online school to learn more about music, interpretation, harmony, composition and more: https://daniel-nistico.mn.co/
A gorgeous piece composed last year by Gillian Robinson, who is based in the UK. It reflects how Gillian imagined Melbourne to be like during November as she was composing the piece during that month. Gillian took my composition courses late last year and has since written over 30 pieces for the guitar.
Want to learn how to get started composing? Watch this free tutorial that helps give you the power to start composing and has helped hundreds of other guitarists: click here
After just months of experience composing, Gillian's works are now published by Bergmann Edition: https://bergmann-edition.com/collections/robinson-gillian
Gillian is a testament to what can happen when a guitarist's creativity is unleashed. Join her and many other creative classical guitarists from around the world and learn to compose beautiful pieces, even if you're starting from scratch: http://daniel-nistico.mn.co
"Gillian Robinson’s childhood experience, aged 7, of being taken to see Andres Segovia in concert, kindled a lifelong passion for classical guitar which has never waned. Mostly self-taught, after several years of playing she enrolled in evening classes with John Balmer, one of the founders of Southampton Classical Guitar Society of which she is a long-term member. Since then, she has seized opportunities to learn from professional guitarists in workshops, ensembles and festivals. Her career has been in the visual arts as painter, illustrator and sculptor, but music and guitar have always been a powerful influence and inspiration. It is only recently, after many years of playing and study, that she has begun to experiment with writing pieces for classical guitar, and is deeply grateful to Australian classical guitarist and teacher, Daniel Nistico, for his encouragement and for unlocking a door into the realm of creative musical expression."
Dr. Daniel Nistico is a passionate performer, author and educator who specializes in the performance practice of 18th and 19th century guitar music. Daniel's teaching and research aims to revitalize the concept of being a well-rounded musician, with emphasis on topics like harmony that can lead to deeper musical understanding and provide tools for composing and improvising.