• Keith Pray

Composing Music Part 1

What is it that allows us to create? This is a question that many have tried to answer for generations. Some feel it is self-expression, others directly oppose that view point. Others thing it is a divine gift or tapping into something greater than our selves. No one knows for sure. To me it is just something that I have done almost as long as I can remember.

I wrote my first piece of music in 7th grade in general music class. I can still remember (and probably still have it somewhere) that it was for 4 percussionists and I called it Megawatts (yes I am a heavy metal child at heart). The fact that I created the thing, put it on paper and was going to be able to hear it played by other people activated a part of my soul that I didn't realize was there. Only know reflecting on that moment do I realize who important that experience was for me.


Next in 8th grade after being exposed to the minimalistic music of Phillip Glass by my older cousin, I decided to write a piece for piano using the same concept. I dabbled at the piano but really didn't know what I was doing. I had learned the basics of music notation in music class but really didn't know how to read the music. Somehow though it made enough sense for me to write down what composed (and fairly accurately). This piece "Always Changing" was my first real composition (and I do still have that one!).


I never had a desire to be a composer, I just sort of started doing it. I just was fascinated by everything to do with music and it needed to come out in what every I could get it to come out. By my 11th grade year after playing in the Jazz Ensemble for a couple of years, I 'needed' to write a big band tune. I knew nothing about that process (almost 20 instruments) but it needed to be done. I wrote my first blues tune and orchestrated it for the band (very basic I might add). Again the desire to hear my creation led me to its completion and my band director was kind enough to not only play it but put it on the concert! There was problem, I had no name for it. He asked and I said " I don't Know Yet". That was now its name. Senior year another couple of big band tunes and then off to college.


Attending music school exposed me to a universe of music that influenced me down to my DNA. Classical music, world music, jazz, R&B, you name it. I immediately started trying to write like my favorite composers, sometimes interesting sometimes not but writing music all the same. At this time I also joined a rock band (Caged Monkey) and began writing for that group as well as my own jazz combo. I occasionally (rarely) set out to write something and when I did it was hit and miss. It was always the random moment that an idea struck that the music was more convincing. sometimes walking and idea would pop into my head, sometimes while I was sleeping I would wake up and have to write an idea down so I wouldn't forget. Either way the best stuff always just happened.


I continued to through college writing and orchestrating music on my own sometimes sacrificing an "A" for a "B" for a composition assignment. I would break some of the rules in the assignment for the sake of making sure the music sounded the way I wanted. The teacher would say something like beautiful composition, but you broke such and such a rule. I was always ok with that as to me the music was more important.

Over the years I have tried to set a side regularly scheduled time to write, sat down with the sole purpose of writing etc but that never has yielded the results I have gotten with my tried and true method. Just do it when it comes.


It can come from anywhere at anytime and usually unexpected. To be sure it is always influenced by life and the music I have heard but the ideas come when they come. Sometimes I have walked by a piano and just hit a couple of keys and then had the need to sit and soon a composition was born from it. Other times goofing around I have improvised a love song for my with and the song just came out almost complete and within 5 minutes I had it down on paper. Sometimes driving or hiking, you name it, I am not in control of when it happens.


To this day over 30 years later it still happens best when I don't force it. I haven't counted but I am quite confident that I have over 1000 songs or compositions. Where does it come from? I have no idea. I don't even try to find out why. The great pianist Lee Shaw once told me "Keith, we don't choose music, music chooses us". I think she may be right!

#jazzlifezen #musiccomposition #creativity #create



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