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Compose Yourself, Part 4: Finish with Finesse

In my Compose Yourself series of posts this summer, you've read about (or can check out here) how to craft effective melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic schemes. And maybe you've even begun writing down a composition.

Here is my encouragement, in this final post of the series, to either start a composition, or finish with finesse the one you've already begun!

Once you've got your piece written down, what is left to do? The fun details that put the icing on the cake. :-)


If you've named your composition already, great! But, if not, no worries.

Do you get a picture in mind when you play your piece? Perhaps a nature scene, or a childhood activity, a favorite food, or an earlier era?

What adjectives characterize the mood or "personality" of your music? Serene? Quirky? Mysterious?

Let your title come from the image that forms as you play your piece, or the feelings it evokes.

Alternatively, if no picture or descriptive words pop into your head, play your piece for others and ask them what they are reminded of when they hear it.

Knowing your title at this point will help you with the following finishing details.

Tempo Indication

You probably already have a speed in mind at which to play your piece. But try varying the tempo. Play it slower than you think it should go; faster than you think it should; then at a speed that seems good for the title and mood of your piece.

Do you get a different picture in your mind at different tempi? That's okay. You might decide you want to change your title (or it may give you inspiration if you don't have one yet). Nothing is set in stone.

Write your tempo above the first measure (and any other good places for tempo changes), and then you're ready to move on to the finishing touches with the music itself.

Articulation, Phrasing, and Pedaling

Here is where having a firm idea of your title and mood of your piece is important: the title will guide you in determining length of phrases (if any at all), kind of touch (staccato, legato, portato, and the like), and whether to include accents or various stresses.

Does your piece sing or bounce? Does it tiptoe or glide? Does one hand flow while the other lightly taps and releases quickly?

Will subtle pedaling enhance? Will using no pedal give you the crisp clarity you might want?

Maybe long stretches of unbroken pedaling are needed to blend multiple tone colors together?

Decide how you want to express your notes and add the appropriate phrase, articulation, and pedal marks to season your music with the flavor you want.


Ah, expression! So much of the beauty lies right here --- in the dynamic shading you use in your composition.

How loud or soft will you indicate the notes to be played? Will your changes in volume be sudden or gradual?

Which tones will you voice more prominently? Where will you linger a tiny bit longer to allow the tone to die away to a greater degree than elsewhere in your piece?

Where will the pedal sustain longer or release sooner than expected, to add a subtle or distinct element of surprise?

Finishing with Finesse

You can see that many of these finishing elements overlap each other. Expressive interpretation melds a variety of pedaling and playing techniques in a composer's work. The elements fit together, none dominating any another, and the whole becomes greater than the parts.

It's your turn now: sit down at your piano, experiment freely, then write your thoughts down.

Give us your memorable melody, your revved-up (or restful) rhythm, your harmony from the heart, and, finally, the finesse in your finishing touches.

Compose yourself, and enjoy. :-)

Would you like to share your composing process with other readers? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section about how you've put together your composition!

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