A real workout: Reps within reps

I’ve written a lot here in Composing Kitchen about something not terribly flattering: self-doubt. I always just put it out there on the table because I figure if you’re reading this, you’re probably considering (or already) re-engineering your life, and let’s face it: That is scary stuff. You might feel like the proverbial 98-pound-weakling facing one of those sweaty WWF guys.

Me against myself

From the outset, self-doubt has been my most well-muscled opponent. And to hit my goal of a new piece of music every day, I’ve had to wrestle it down every day. I’m happy to say I’ve bulked up pretty well.

Sure, I still get butterflies when I enter my studio: What will I write? Will I perform the parts well? Will I record and produce it well? But over time, I’ve built up much more confidence — faith, maybe —  that I will, eventually and ultimately, come up with something worthwhile.

I think that has to do with reps: just doing it, over and over again.

It’s clear that the types of writing I’ve done the most come pretty easily now. Song form, with repeated sections, causes just about zero jitters. But for the last month or two I’ve been creating the soundtrack to a really sweet indie film called Roswell FM, and although many scenes work well with (and the director prefers) song-style backdrops, other scenes require through-composed music, meaning it has no recurring sections but instead changes moment to moment to support the action/dialogue. Not as easy.

Even so, my work on Roswell FM has been like a mini-study of how this reps thing works. Scene by scene, I gained a little more confidence about each phase of the work: Interpret the director’s comments and my own gut to determine what the scene needs; choose the right musical feel to achieve that; and then compose, perform and produce it pretty close to how I hear it in my head.

Each one of those steps is huge! The nice thing is, though, that in between film jobs I’ve done that last chunk so many times that I’m faster and more skilled with it than ever. And experience leads me to trust that the others — the interpretation part, and the more demanding skill of through-composing to a scene — will also get easier with repetition.

So what’s the lesson here? I think it’s twofold: First — and this one isn’t news — take that big, daunting project that you have in mind and break it down into sub-steps. But then figure out the specific skills required for each step. Are there some skills that you can boost outside of the “big project” context by doing, doing and doing some more, to the point that they get scratched off the list of worries? If you’ve got a screenplay in mind, are you writing something to sharpen your dialogue ear every day? If your goal is a photo exhibit, are you shooting and shooting every chance you get?

Break it down and say, “Bring it on! More reps! The more the better! Grrrr!” And pose like a WWF guy.

Grrrrr.

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About CK Barlow

I'm a composer and music-technology instructor. In the summer of 2011, I decided it was time to give full-time music-making a shot, so I left my corporate job (I've always had one). That's part of what inspired Composing Kitchen, the blog I publish with my incredible spouse, Karen Milling. View all posts by CK Barlow

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