Most of the material that I've created using my DAW of choice (Reason) has been 'composed' by ear. I either play or program the parts using my various input devices (keyboards, guitars, microphones, etc...) All of these parts are assembled one by one, layering and intertwining each one into what is hopefully an aesthetically pleasing whole. Basically, I have been composing and performing at the same time.
Recently, I've taken on the notion of composing on the written page prior to letting loose on my equipment. I've designed score paper with 12 staves in MSPublisher and each time I start a project I print out 5 or so sheets and use just my ear (as much as possible) to come up with the parts.
I find that this way of doing things does take more time but there are benefits, here's some of them:
- The 'zen' of composing by ear puts me in a state where I come up with ideas that I wouldn't have otherwise.
- I find that the flow of the music I come up with is more 'agile' - that sections can change from one to another more adroitly.
- By analyzing the relationship of the parts, I can come up with more intriguing interplay between them.
- I come up with a more polished product quicker, that doesn't require as much editing in-session.
I still think there's a place for spontaneous generation of parts - there are ideas that can only come from that way of doing things, but revisiting the process of using standard notation for all of the parts is an arrow that I will keep in my quiver for the foreseeable future.
Here's a couple examples of some tunes that I wrote by writing them out.