The Art Of Pre-Composition, Part 1

Expressing one's self through the art of music is a unique bond that the artist can share with his/her audience. Not to mention, that composing music that truly delivers one's message is personally satisfying; and I have a belief that all true musicians will take the necessary actions to learn as many different musical tools as they can, so they can fully express themselves in their compositions.

Theory and technique are two of these tools and happen to me the most common topics of discussion when speaking of music, but composition now a day seems to be in the backseat of a world focused on the craft, rather than the art. It use to be that pre-composition, or compositional techniques similar to it, were widely known and used by classical composers from every era before popular music like blues, jazz, and rock started to dominate the mainstream. I'm not trying to infer that any of these popular musical styles or their composition techniques, are inferior to classical ones, just different. So I have decided to take the task of reintroducing this lesser known art back into the 'public eye' and discuss its function and importance in the composition process.

Pre-Composition - A compositional technique that involves writing down and charting specific details of the things the composer wishes to express, before picking up an instrument or notating the actual music.

I was first introduced to the concept of pre-composition through my mentor, virtuoso guitarist Tom Hess. Ever since then, I have explored this technique and applied it to most of my compositions. I believe that this compositional technique is very useful for any serious musician who wants to express themselves fully in their music. With this technique, any artist will be able to create a 'blueprint' of their composition before they even touch an instrument and begin to write the any notes down on paper. However, I am not trying to claim that this technique is beneficial to every musician and for every composition. This is especially true for someone who is strictly an improvisational player and decides to leave out certain details in his/her composition, because they prefer the musical spontaneity of improvisation. That is why I said most of my compositions use this technique, but not all of them do. It should be understood that in some cases improvisation, collaboration between musicians, playing the guitar and writing down what ever you play, or other compositional techniques are a better choice for writing your music. However, I know that even if you won't use this compositional technique, it is still greatly beneficial to learn it and expose yourself to a new way of thinking.

Now that we have established that pre-composition is a very useful tool for writing music I will explain its importance. I like to think of pre-composition as a sculptor does with his stone or an architect does his blueprints. Think about it, when an architect builds a house or building, he always has finely detailed blueprints so that he already knows before hand what will happen and how the building will turn out. Every flaw is recognized and taken care of in this stage, before anyone even picks up a hammer. Also, all of the artistic elements and gestures that you wish to include in your music are now focused on and implanted into the blueprints along with structure, dimensions and other layers. Most people don't even think about any of this before they pick up the guitar, so many vital gestures or details that you would like to express, do not get the musical attention they deserve.

Most of my explanation on the Pre-Composition technique and how to use it will be in my second article. However, I will demonstrate in a short example, the usage of a single element in the Pre-Composition technique (emotion in this case).


As you can tell, the pre-composition technique uses a chart format and every word and line from the chart, symbolizes something. I will explain the purpose of this technique and go into depth on the function of each element and why those lines are drawn as they are, in my next article. Until then, I want you to think about this example and try to understand what everything means or could possibly symbolize. Good luck fellow artists, I will see you soon!

Kole is currently studying music composition and classical guitar at Indiana University; and will be transferring to GIT, in the fall of 2007. He also is completing his debut album "Exile" through Empire Records and teaches many students for guitar and songwriting.

He has also just finished co-authoring a great new instructional e-book for guitar titled "The Next Step: Serious Improvement for the Developing Guitarist," which can be found and purchased at