General approaches to staying focused and productive

Creativity never follows a predictable path. Still, there are general strategies you can pursue to stay focussed and not get distracted by too many possibilities. The following sections outline different approaches.

Collect And Arrange

The most convenient strategy is to assemble music from phrases and parameters you have already at hand in the form of libraries or previously composed arrangements. This requires a bit of preparation.
  1. You begin with collecting phrases and progressions according to your personal preferences. Keep everything you like, for whatever reason, even if it is unlikely to be used anytime soon.

  2. Once you have filled a few libraries, look for phrases that inspire you most for a new song.

  3. Drop phrases on a new arrangement to add instruments, extend phrases, change harmony, etc.

  4. Develop the arrangement following your intuition.

Tip: You should do the collecting on a different day than the arranging. Collecting phrases is more routine and repetitive, while arranging is chaotic and intuitive. Both states of mind do not go together well.

Import And Rebuild

You may have a number of DAW projects or MIDI files at hand that you want to harvest for musical expressions that worked well. This strategy is about reusing some of your previous work to create new music.
  1. Export previous work as Standard MIDI Files.

  2. Import these files, preferably as static pitches to speedup the process. Make sure every track with a tonal instrument is included with the estimation of Harmony.

  3. In the imported arrangement, skim every Take for interesting fragments. Select them with the Span tool and collect a phrase into the embedded library with ⌘E Control-E or Phrase > New Phrase From Selection. This is explained in more detail here.

  4. Save the embedded library as a file with Library > Save As ....

  5. Open the library on the sidebar of a new arrangement and use it to build the parts of a new composition.

  6. Develop the arrangement following your intuition.

You can also import directly into a library using the standalone Library App.

CAUTION: Be sure you understand the limitations of MIDI file import before you attempt to faithfully recreate previous work. This strategy is about rebuilding music from individual elements. You will almost certainly come up with a variation and reinterpretation of the original.

Concept And Execution

The crucial part of this strategy is to start with a general idea that intrigues you and take that as a motivation to build something unique. Here are a few examples.
  • The idea to have a song based on a single chord only with varying extensions.

  • The idea to compose a modal ambient piece with slowly evolving phrases.

  • The idea to use excessive ostinato (same note over and over).

  • The idea to use chords from a chromatic palette and forget about traditional harmony.

  • The idea to make excessive use of parameters together with extremely short figures.

  • The idea to change time signature in the chorus.

  • The idea to continuously move from beginning to end without any repetitions, in a single big chain of evolving counterpoint figures and rhythms, with a dramatic build-up towards a climax and a final resolution.

Whatever idea you come up with, the key to this strategy is a deep understanding of Synfire. It's definitely not for beginners, but will reward power users with unparalleled results.

Tip: No matter how extreme or harsh an idea may sound at first, if you listen to the results a few days later, you will notice that it actually isn't that radical but quite refreshing. The key to great stuff is to be not afraid of extremes.