A Peek into Composing with Daniel Barkley

Peek into Composing with Daniel Barkley

I’m excited to introduce Daniel Barkley today!

Daniel is a pianist and composer from the UK; his pieces have been performed all over the world, from Portugal to the USA. He’ll be pursuing his MA in music composition at QUB.

Daniel shares his influences and creative habits for composing and he gives us a glimpse of his thoughts below.

Daniel’s Biggest Influence

As a composer, the things that influence me most directly are composers who came before (and their music), current composers (not as much, since composition is very specialised these days – everyone does their own thing), and inspiring art works from other disciplines, such as novels, films, paintings, etc.

As a pianist, something that inspires me to, for example, work harder, aim higher, practice more efficiently, is following sportspeople.

It was inspiring, a few weeks ago, to see Roger Federer win his 17th grand slam and return to world number one. Now he’s at the Olympics trying to win gold, after a break of only a few weeks.

This is a great example of motivation and desire to succeed, and can inspire anybody.

Daniel’s Creative Habits

Sleeping well, getting up early, exercising regularly, doing stimulating things, spending time with friends. These all help creativity for me. Sometimes staying up late works too, despite being bad for your schedule/health etc.

On specific habits that enhance creativity

Anything specific? I don’t think so. I don’t think you can force creativity or say “today, I will be inspired and write something!” It’s more listening to yourself, knowing when you’re feeling creative, and capitalising on those periods.

“[Creativity], like practising piano,… [is] all about managing your own state of mind.”

For me, a deadline usually motivates me, and that’s usually a good thing. (But if the project was never going to click, then a deadline will make it feel worse if things aren’t going to plan.)

I get writer’s block quite a lot recently, I even did a few blog posts about it (here’s the first post of three).

The best thing, I find, is to have something positive to work towards.

If you can get the ball rolling, with an idea or theme that you like, or excites you, then you can usually keep the ball rolling.

Might not mean you’re really inspired, but a little theme that sparks interest can be enough to fuel a whole piece. And I find the best way to find those little themes is to improvise at the piano, and see if anything pops up. Usually works!

“Knowing when to push hard, and when not to overdo it.”

Interesting topic… I think, like practising piano, it’s all about managing your own state of mind. Knowing when to push hard, and when not to overdo it. I think it’s pretty easy to wear yourself out by overworking… which then results in a total lack of motivation and inspiration.

A Pianist’s Most Important Quality

“Raw technique is always less impressive than true musicianship.”

The utmost quality that a pianist needs to be really good is musicianship.

That’s a broad term, but it basically comes down to approaching everything with the right mindset.

You must have a good ear for tuning, a sense of rhythm, ability to play and blend well with other musicians.

In a group setting, musicianship is a kind of diplomacy, a give and take, and any good musician will have this. Raw technique is always less impressive than true musicianship.


This post is part of a series of expert mini interviews:

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