Making it Stick

This week as I was thinking about music composition I thought about a book called “Made to Stick – Why some ideas survive and others die.”


I was wondering how these concepts could be applied to our work as music composers. I would like to share with you two points from the first two chapters.

Having a plan: In Made to Stick the authors speak about the importance of having a plan. However they also state “in any battle the first casualty is always a plan”.

Once you are in engaged in you composition your plan may indeed be the first thing you throw out the window. But the benefit of the plan is from the preparation and mindset it creates even if you decide to abandon it. Planning is closely related to sketching. Sketching allows you to develop raw materials for a new work, and can be very useful for finding sources of inspiration. Additionally you may discover a great new compositional idea that is foreign to the work you are composing, and become tempted to toss it in simply because you like it. The plan will serve as a guide on wether  to include the idea into the composition or capture in the sketchbook for later use . Which brings us to chapter 2

Getting to the core of your idea:  If you are the CEO of Southwest Airlines, and you know that the core of your business is to be the cheapest airline your decision making process now becomes a whole lot easier. If someone comes to you and says “I think we should offer caesar salads on our flights. We did market research and people like caesar salads.”  Knowing that the core idea of your business is to be the lowest cost airline and when faced with a tempting decision (to add an item that would add 6 dollars to every plane ticket) the correct answer becomes painfully obvious. NO CEASAR SALADS. I think there is something to be said about this for music composition. What is the core idea of your piece ? Is it melody, texture, harmony? In general compositions that focus on fewer ideas and explores them thoroughly are often more successful than compositions that have many ideas less fully developed.


I am very excited to share with you that one of my arrangements for composer Victoria Bond will be performed at Alice Tully hall in Lincoln Center on Monday May 7th.

The original piece was for piano flute and violin, and needed to be expanded to include Pipa, Erhu, Dizi, and Chinese percussion. A learning curve for me to be sure. However the reports from the musicians have all been very positive and for me to have one of my works performed in Lincoln Center is a real honor.

Wishing you much musical inspiration this week


Posted on April 30, 2012 in Music Composition

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About the Author

An award-winning composer, accomplished musician and sonic storyteller, Douglas Gibson resides in New York City, where he composes and gives music composition lessons locally and online worldwide.
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