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what great self-taught composers do you know?
Old 27th August 2009
  #1
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what great self-taught composers do you know?

Just curious, do you know any self-taught composers who works in Hollywood or makes music for pop stars, takes first places in charts ..?
Old 28th August 2009
  #2
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at least half of 'em. Self taught is more widespread than trained in modern composition. From Clint Mansell to Danny Elfman to Hans Zimmer.

Songwriters? Nearly ALL of them !!
Old 28th August 2009
  #3
Gear Nut
 

thank you, it's so essential and inspiring for me
btw aphex twin is self taught as well, but here actually i wanted to ask about mainstream culture.
Old 31st August 2009
  #4
Lennon and McCartney
Old 2nd September 2009
  #5
Not to rain on your parade but this IS the moan zone...


Being self-taught isn't some sort of accomplishment. It just means it took you longer to understand aurally what the "trained" composers understand intellectually. I'm not saying Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Aphex Twin, Wes Montgomery et al are bad per se...

What I'm saying is that when you're self taught, you don't know the rules. So you go write something that you think is so friggin innovative and will really revolutionize the way we think about music but in the end, you just used a tritone substitution or modal interchange...

Danny Elfman for example loves the Lydian b7 scale...something that the "trained" music world has known about since about the 1950s. Aphex Twin is a pioneer in an industry where there aren't any teachers...his MUSIC isn't all that interesting, his sound design/synthesis is.

Hans Zimmer is a good example of a guy that sounds like he's trained. That is something that you can learn over time. Training just speeds it up.


Innovation really comes from a LOT of knowledge. Either that's through training or just a whole mess of listening.

Neither method is better, we just shouldn't be sitting around congratulating ourselves one way or the other.

So quit looking for affirmation ahahaha
Old 2nd September 2009
  #6
run, megalodon
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Donsolo illustrates one of the best reasons to teach yourself, or not learn music theory at all (Though I prefer to learn). Intense concentration on the theory can lead one to deconstruct and analyze music according to the theory and not with your ears. Is it true that just because any trained musician knows about the Lydian b7 scale, you can only make boring music with it? There is more to music than being theoretically novel. Donsolo, I'm not necessarily saying you don't know this, just using you to make a point.
Old 2nd September 2009
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donsolo View Post
It just means it took you longer to understand aurally what the "trained" composers understand intellectually.
What utter rubbish.
Old 2nd September 2009
  #8
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narcoman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by musikwerks View Post
What utter rubbish.
not rubbish at all. You go learn the rules {and they're not "rules" in the sense of law} and you get a short cut to a thousand years of musical knowledge. It's one of the reasons why my orchestral director and I are constantly correcting musical grammar in others work.
Old 2nd September 2009
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donsolo View Post

Hans Zimmer is a good example of a guy that sounds like he's trained.
he's a good piano player. That helps.
Old 2nd September 2009
  #10
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Erm

I think every composer is self taught in reality.
Because composition can't really be "taught" in many ways...

All good composition (as opposed to orchestration/instrumentation) teachers can try and do is expand the musical language of the student, and respond as a sounding board to the musical sentences and arguments the student put together; the teacher cannot say "you should make this piece major" as that would be missing the point of teaching composition. Completely.

They can point out whether the listener is likely to receive the musical message that the composer says they are trying to put across, and expand their palette, and show them ways to clarify their intentions if they so request, but reaching over and taking the pen out of the students hand and writing passages themselves is the preserve of a narcissist who teaches solely for the grandeur of it. For example if a piece is minor, and the student composer says "I want this section to sound brighter and happier and evoking xyz" then the teacher can say..."well it's minor there...lots of composers use modulation as a technique to evoke emotions like that, maybe a change of key might be something you could explore".

Self taught is just a term composers/publicists of composers without a bazillion degrees in music use to raise that person on to a more interesting pedestal and get people to take notice. Often to try and raise them above a "'schooled' composer". (rubbish like "they hear it on a deeper level than you" "they didn't get obsessed by the rules, they're free"...

It's marketing, and meaningless at that.

The notion that one appreciates music less because you know what mode or scale it is written in and can describe it with a technical term is utterly fatuous of itself...one can get obsessed with "I must write in this key or using this algorithm (eg boulez)" but it's really kind of rare, and who is to say that viewpoint is unjustified and unbecoming of musical expression>

The rules of music are not rules, but mere guidelines of what has worked and not worked in musical expression over the last 1000 years.

Parallel fifths sound weak in four part harmony because of the way the harmonic series and voice leading work, not just to give music teachers a use for a red pen.
There isn't a music police that removes them, but a good composition teacher would point them out if they were out of stylistic context (ie if a student was written a faux bach chorale for whatever reason) and say...why is that there? It's not necessarily incorrect...just a good composer can usually justify what they write, even if only with "I like how it sounds".

I don't know anybody who's heard a piece of music and gone "that's rubbish"...then on being told the person is self taught, changed their opinion to 'that's great'...
Old 2nd September 2009
  #11
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narcoman's Avatar
 

great post.

in it's very simplest of term s- knowing how to construct a minor chord is just one such shortcut. Trial and error would be pointless when 1000 years of {in this case western} musical development shortcuts you to that point.
Old 2nd September 2009
  #12
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Narco, my comment was directed at the statement that it takes an untrained person 'longer' to understand things than a trained person. Simply not true and totally un-quantifiable.
Old 2nd September 2009
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by musikwerks View Post
Narco, my comment was directed at the statement that it takes an untrained person 'longer' to understand things than a trained person. Simply not true and totally un-quantifiable.
true. It certainly doesn't take longer. Musical theory does enable shortcuts though - it teaches you a whole load of history and reasons why certain things work - rather than the trial and error approach. Self taught is as valid as training though - and self taught takes longer in process - but once you're there, you're there !
Old 3rd September 2009
  #14
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True. A good song is a good song. Training or no.
Old 3rd September 2009
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by donsolo View Post
Not to rain on your parade but this IS the moan zone...


Being self-taught isn't some sort of accomplishment. It just means it took you longer to understand aurally what the "trained" composers understand intellectually. I'm not saying Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Aphex Twin, Wes Montgomery et al are bad per se...

What I'm saying is that when you're self taught, you don't know the rules. So you go write something that you think is so friggin innovative and will really revolutionize the way we think about music but in the end, you just used a tritone substitution or modal interchange...

Danny Elfman for example loves the Lydian b7 scale...something that the "trained" music world has known about since about the 1950s. Aphex Twin is a pioneer in an industry where there aren't any teachers...his MUSIC isn't all that interesting, his sound design/synthesis is.

Hans Zimmer is a good example of a guy that sounds like he's trained. That is something that you can learn over time. Training just speeds it up.


Innovation really comes from a LOT of knowledge. Either that's through training or just a whole mess of listening.

Neither method is better, we just shouldn't be sitting around congratulating ourselves one way or the other.

So quit looking for affirmation ahahaha
This post sounds like a bunch of righteous twaddle to me...

The notion of being trained musically is meaningless...some of the worst musicians I know are "trained"...(just ask a classical musician to improvise!!)

I dont think that anyone would think that using a tritone sub would be innovative (provided they have listened to music at all)..it sounds to me that you post is about letting everyone know that you know some random technical musical terms.

Lydian b7 might have been named in the 50s but it has been used since god knows when...as has every other chord sequence/scale permutation...just listen to any Balkan type music.

Being self-taught IS an accomplisment as is being "trained" (again whatever that means)...being self-taught has a number of positives..i.e your not indoctrinated into what is right/wrong, and really can only rely on your perception/ears....this is why so much pop music that can "move you" is written by people with no musical knowledge (or limited)

Being trained also has positives....doesnt matter either way.

What is important is your output!
Old 3rd September 2009
  #16
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narcoman's Avatar
 

stick you in Abbey Road with three hours to knock out 15 minutes of score and you'll see the advantage!

Improvising is a skill. Composing on the fly. Most are bad at it!!

As i've now said a few times - trained composition is a good thing - but only if you've ot the chops in the first place.

You can { as I have } spend a lifetime teaching yourself. OR you can dip in and out of a 1000 years of knowledge and learn quicker.

A trained musician is a different thing.
Old 3rd September 2009
  #17
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Nobilmente's Avatar
 

Trained or untrained, it doesn't matter.

If you can do it, you can do it, if you can't, you can't.heh
Old 3rd September 2009
  #18
i think there is something to be said for both schools of thought. usually the people who come down on one side are ones who due to experience have been jaded to some degree. I was a music major in college. by the time i started i had already figured out on my own the basics of keys and chord functions, so it was fun to have my inklings confirmed by teaching. then we went to more advanced theory and while it was interesting and much of it usefull, i found that much of it was going beyond the practical applications of composition and more like innovation for innovation's sake. im speaking mostly about avante-garde 20th century stuff from the 40's on. it seemed that at some point, music began to attract people with a psychological predisposition to order or lack thereof, and less about human expression.

THere is something to be said for purely technical advances, but the average person doesnt care. On the other side, though, should we let the lowest common denominator hinder art? of course not.

I am a huge fan of Hans Zimmer. does he pander to the mall crowd sometimes. Yes, and he rips himself off sometimes too, but still nowhere as much as James Horner. I guess what I like about him is that he doesn't hold anything in too high of a regard that it can't be chewed up and spit out in the form of something new. He'll do a score that mixes classical western harmony with japanese influences, then another that brings in slavik sounding scales. its all a big mish-mash of sounds and musical devices that are purely a means to an end, IE the support of the story and human emotion.

i think thats what makes composers like zimmer and elfman so popular and prolific. they have an ear that allows them to pick up new musical ideas then use their intellect to combine them while still envisioning the 'big picture' and not get too hung up on the theory of it all. if it works, it works.

i think the best way is to be self-taught WHILE you're being trained. too many poeople just do one or the other. they spend years learning technique but they never sit down and write. or they spend years writing themselves into hopeless cliches and repetition, never breaking out of their cycles with new knowledge or ideas. You have to do both. Yes rules are not the be-all end-all of music, but there are good and bad ways of breaking the rules, and sometime you have to really know how to follow them before you can break them in the right ways. -Dan
Old 3rd September 2009
  #19
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Silver Sonya's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by donsolo View Post
Not to rain on your parade but this IS the moan zone...


Being self-taught isn't some sort of accomplishment. It just means it took you longer to understand aurally what the "trained" composers understand intellectually. I'm not saying Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Aphex Twin, Wes Montgomery et al are bad per se...

What I'm saying is that when you're self taught, you don't know the rules. So you go write something that you think is so friggin innovative and will really revolutionize the way we think about music but in the end, you just used a tritone substitution or modal interchange...

Danny Elfman for example loves the Lydian b7 scale...something that the "trained" music world has known about since about the 1950s. Aphex Twin is a pioneer in an industry where there aren't any teachers...his MUSIC isn't all that interesting, his sound design/synthesis is.

Hans Zimmer is a good example of a guy that sounds like he's trained. That is something that you can learn over time. Training just speeds it up.


Innovation really comes from a LOT of knowledge. Either that's through training or just a whole mess of listening.

Neither method is better, we just shouldn't be sitting around congratulating ourselves one way or the other.

So quit looking for affirmation ahahaha
The tone, philosophy and text of this post made me wretch.

- c
Old 3rd September 2009
  #20
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narcoman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silver Sonya View Post
The tone, philosophy and text of this post made me wretch.

- c
?? dont see why! He was just saying that training is a great way to garner knowledge quickly but - given a suitably long time - teach yourself. Problem is, of course - that it'd take longer than a lifetime to master it all! Musical training/history/theory helps in a huge way. But it is merely a vocabulary - it won't give you the ideas.... in exactly the same way is writing will not make you Shakespeare....
Old 3rd September 2009
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by narcoman View Post
?? dont see why! He was just saying that training is a great way to garner knowledge quickly but - given a suitably long time - teach yourself. Problem is, of course - that it'd take longer than a lifetime to master it all! Musical training/history/theory helps in a huge way. But it is merely a vocabulary - it won't give you the ideas.... in exactly the same way is writing will not make you Shakespeare....
If the tone had a more innocent, positive, or encouraging "Hey, sometimes a formal education can empower you to do great things in music" vibe, I would have been fine with it.

But the text is dripping with contemptuous insinuations about non-formally trained people and that is a stance I cannot share.

In my experience, there are no generalizations you can make about formally trained people and self-taught people. I don't think all formally trained people are unimaginative hacks --- although I have certainly met a few of these types --- anymore than I feel that all formally trained people are stronger at their job than self-taught people.

The only thing that one can say that is true across the board is that education comes in many forms. And let's just leave it at that, okay?

I spent two days in the studio with Tchad Blake and I gained more empowering knowledge and enlightenment in those two days as I did in the four years I spent at NYU.

Education comes in many forms, and in most circumstances, the strongest experiences don't produce a degree.

Contempt for self-taught people is something I can't abide. I'm no Danny Elfman apologist, but that absurd, insulting statement about his process made me want to punch somebody.

- c
Old 4th September 2009
  #22
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Silver Sonya makes a good point, it is difficult to argue with positive results.
I think one thing we tend to lose sight of is music in the larger context of art. Art is only effective if it "speaks" to the audience or conveys an idea or emotion, or takes you on a journey, or whatever you want to say.
In architecture all buildings have to meet requirements for safety, longevity of the structure, proper insulation, grading, etc, but the most perfectly constructed and designed by the rules box will never rival, in the human mind, the beauty of a well designed sculpture.
Of course it's not an either-or proposition, but I think most of us here get that.
Certainly you want your architect's basic skills to be guided by shared knowledge and not trial and error, but where he/she goes from there is where the artistry lies. Similarly rudimentary musical knowledge is required to get started on music. Picasso, given the training and interest would have likely been an amazing composer of music and Mozart in a different life could have probably painted masterpieces. Artistic expression, no matter the training level involved, cannot be taught or conveyed. It is learned by observing and internalizing. The world is the textbook.
Old 4th September 2009
  #23
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My take on trained versus self-taught is often self-taught composers can tend to have a readily identifiable style born out of them following their instincts.

When you study formally you are forced to work with styles that you might not have chosen to work in yourself, this informs and broadens your capacity to work authentically in different styles.

Self taught composers (and musicians) tend to stick within genres that they find personally pleasing. Their work may appear more personally identifiable because the range of styles they work within is less broad.

I am not saying this is a hard and fast rule- but compare Danny Elfman's style someone like John Williams.

I have no personal preference in terms of which way I feel is 'better', they are just different. I am studying composition and arranging at the moment at university, fwiw.
Old 4th September 2009
  #24
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toneguru's Avatar
Perhaps the question should not be "are you trained or self taught" but do you have great ears and great musical instincts.

Its music not physics.
Old 4th September 2009
  #25
Quote:
Hans Zimmer is a good example of a guy that sounds like he's trained.
Quote:
it is difficult to argue with positive results.
Lets not forget that these composers, like Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, and the other self taught composers surround themselves with highly educated orchestrators and composers that do most of the "filling in" of the score. There is the classic story of Elfman who was overheard in an airport bathroom stall early in his career tape recording himself on a tune, and giving instructions to his score writers to add "that Elfman sound"

I have a degree in composition, and have met several people without formal training that have attempted full orchestral scores and film scores. Not a one has been able to pull it off without a lot of help and a lot of time. You just don't have that kind of time for trial and error in the real world of writing film music. Writing this type of music is as much a craft as it is an art. You need to know the instruments, you need to know how they work together, and you need to know a hundred different ways the phrase can be completed in 12.2 seconds from cue 634. Not guessing, knowing.
Old 4th September 2009
  #26
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Add Irving Berlin to the "untrained" list.

That said, add Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart - and 1000 people you've forgotten about to the "trained". Forget about if you are self-taugh or school-taught, if you don't understand the properties of the materials you work with you will always struggle to have a consistent workflow and to escape the boundaries of the material as it appears before you. Learn and experiment, any way you can.

PS - as far as Elfman goes, I have always found his scores to be a bit stiff, mechanical, and lacking true nuances or flourish. That's my opinion in the moan zone . . . The John Williams Star Wars suite shreds anything that Elfman has ever done.
Old 4th September 2009
  #27
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usefullidiot's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by narcoman View Post
stick you in Abbey Road with three hours to knock out 15 minutes of score and you'll see the advantage!

Improvising is a skill. Composing on the fly. Most are bad at it!!
Agree but this is widgit making, no????Not really "great composing" which is the subject of the OP..

the ability to score out something very quickly with it being all correct is a fantastic skill, but its more like accounting than music making isnt it....i.e formula based, rather than emotion based..

Just my opinion, I do agree with everything you write
Old 4th September 2009
  #28
Gear Addict
 

Did anyone mention Vangelis? I belive that he is self-taught and great.
Old 4th September 2009
  #29
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There seems to be a disconnect between the OP's title and his post. The title asks about great composers, but then the body specifies working in Hollywood. I doubt there are any self-taught composers in the top 20 of all time. When it comes to employment, I think there are probably some, but they're also just as likely to have very well educated support staff around them. Pop songwriters are another category altogether. There are plenty of them who are self-taught (maybe even most), but there are also very, very few who genuinely deserve to be called great composers.
Old 4th September 2009
  #30
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narcoman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kafka View Post
There seems to be a disconnect between the OP's title and his post. The title asks about great composers, but then the body specifies working in Hollywood. I doubt there are any self-taught composers in the top 20 of all time. When it comes to employment, I think there are probably some, but they're also just as likely to have very well educated support staff around them. Pop songwriters are another category altogether. There are plenty of them who are self-taught (maybe eve most), but there are also very, very few who genuinely deserve to be called great composers.
Hans Zimmer is the highest earning composer ever..... at least in calculable earnings. I mean - how do you calculate the worth of a court composer?

Gersh!!!
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