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UCA music technology lecturer highlights top techniques to combat ‘blank page syndrome’

“’Blank page syndrome’ is something that many artists from all kinds of disciplines experience,” explains Dr Harry Whalley, course leader in BA/BSc (Hons) Music Composition & Technology.

“Whether in music, writing, design, or a completely different field altogether, knowing where to start, how to push boundaries, and whether to give up or keep going, is something that many creatives experience throughout their careers. It’s something particularly prevalent in music composition, when it’s often the case that students or artists who have come from backgrounds – such as A-levels – where they are used to a rigid or pre-formed style find it challenging to create something totally new from scratch and consider their own voice as composers.

“But there are inventive ways to combat this – both high tech and low tech – and we encourage students to make use of these techniques to overcome any initial trepidations.

“Picking a scale, rhythm or defined aspect as a starting point which can then be built on and developed is a good way of establishing a beginning. It encourages early on creativity without having to worry about where to start. Once this initial barrier has broken down, ideas and direction tend to follow.

“Live composition in group often works well for classes too. Creating a live piece with the input of a class, helps to create confidence in the piece through peer approval. Individually, you can often feel like you aren’t happy with what you are working on, or you aren’t sure whether you should continue to pursue the piece you have created. Perseverance in group can really help.

“A lack of confidence can lead individuals to give up on compositions too soon – writing can be incredibly daunting. Students in particular need to push these boundaries to uncover their own style and voice as composers and these group activities allow students to bounce ideas off each other and to improvise without the constraint or pressure of having the perfect finished piece within a given timeframe. 

“For smaller groups, technical equipment such as synthesizers and specialist music software can be used to encourage improvisation. Playing with sound, mixing different sounds together and having fun are the best ways to curate ideas and to unlock that initial sense of composer identity.”

Dr Harry Whalley delivered a workshop on techniques to start a composition to 150 delegates at the Music and Drama Education Expo in London, along with Dr Carla Rees from the Open College of the Arts (OCA), UCA’s online and distance learning provider.

The BA/BSc (Hons) Music Composition & Technology offers a route into many different roles, enabling students to develop a global understanding of music, sound design, and technology by having the freedom to work in their own individual areas of interest. The degree can be either BA or BSC, with the BA exploring music composition and sound design for linear forms, particularly in relation to film and animation; and the BSc emphasising the demonstration of technical knowledge and understanding.