Sunday, July 17, 2011

And It Was Good - Composer Intent

I took a play-by-ear hiatus and visited Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.  It took Mr. Gutzon 14 years to blast out the rock and chisel the faces.  Then, they were done.

Just think about the day he made that final decision.  Realizing finality-of-task, he looked at his work and, in His best image as a mortal man he declared it was good. 

“Yeah, that’s good.”  he said.

Knowing When You’re Done

It's the same with musical composition.  The same song can be written with any time signature at least a dozen different ways.  Some ways are easy to count and follow and others are not.  Some do not capture the feel of the song at all.  The same song written in 2/2, 4/4 or 6/8 may say the same thing but some time signatures don’t express obviousness as well as others.  It’s a judgement call.

The composer has to find the happy medium that discloses -in the most obvious manner-  how the song goes.  There are dozens of variables in composition that conflict with each other and the composer has to be the referee.  It’s a tougher call than you might think.

Any Time Signature Can Be Used
To Write Any Song.

How can that be?  It just is.  Music is in-motion in space and time where a series of  4 triple-beats (in 12/8) is equal to 4 beats (in 4/4).  A beat is a beat.  This is another way that music is infinite.  It's the hidden universe where any time signature can be used to write any song.  

When you see something numerically opposing or confusing, ask yourself what the composer is trying to say.  You’ve got to learn to look for intent but first you’ve got to be aware that intent always exists. Intent is just somebody’s opinion.  Now, consider the dozens of ways a song might have otherwise been written. 

This is what Chopin is talking 
about when he says 

“Simplicity is the highest goal . . . achievable when you have overcome all difficulties.”   

 It’s the challenge a composer wrestles with to lay out his intent in the most obvious manner for all to see.

The goal is to compose in an infinite world of choices, in the ultimate quest to say exactly what you mean.

How Do You Know When You’re Done?

You just know it.  It’s just like the last part of a puzzle that snaps into place.  Once you get all the disciplines to work together in harmony, everything comes together into one defining moment of expression. 

“Yeah, that’s good.” you say.


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc


  1. Great post, Joseph! I often get questions as to why some songs are written in 2/4 as opposed to 4/4, etc. This is a great explanation and one I will come back to.

    God bless!

    TK Goforth

  2. The difference between 2/2 and 4/4 is a whole clinic! Thanks, I appreciate your comment.