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Time Trial: The 1 Minute in 1 Hour Challenge

A simple Time Trial exercise that can help get you out of a rut, quickly produce some musical material to work with, and get your creativity flowing.

Jaimie Lynn Hensley, Blogger

January 15, 2016

4 Min Read

Time-constraint challenges have been done before and in many ways. I find them useful when stuck in a rut, fighting writer's block, or when other priorities do not allow for larger-scale personal projects. What I find especially satisfying about the Time Trial I'm going to share with you is that you may end up with a nice little finished product. You may end up with something that you polish and expand into something brilliant. Or maybe you slice it up and use it for scrap or end up with a motif you can revisit later. But there's really no complete failure short of not giving it a go!


Time Trial: Complete One Minute of Music in One Hour

An hour goes by quickly in the creative process! Here is how I managed a completed miniature in the allotted time.

1) Decisive Instrumentation

Even a well-organized sample library can eat up tons of time if you're sound shopping. I chose an 8-bit/chiptune theme, and used a free little plugin called the Magical 8bit Plugin. It has presets of pulse 25%, pulse 50%, triangle, and noise. No frills! You could also set up the oscillator synth of your choice if you go this route. This gives you a cohesive sound, and a limited set of instruments to work with.

Another good option would be the string quartet, or a small chamber ensemble. Anything's on the table, but the less time you spend shopping and setting up your tracks, the more time you have to compose this thing!

2) Form and Tempo

I decided I wanted a definite form to make the piece memorable. I decided on an ABA' form, with percussion (produced from white noise, in this case) and different instrumentations spicing up the A' section. The B section would have a somewhat different tone, and a different "star" instrument.

Tempo is another big consideration. I chose a fast tempo to make more happen in 60 seconds. I recorded at a slower tempo, and then doubled it for playback.

3) GO!

What if you allowed yourself to just be creative, without judgment? Easier said than done, but I'll throw you some ideas.  You have less than an hour at this point!

Maybe you just play part of a scale, or a steady ostinato of intervals. Maybe you write something that sounds melodic and figure out the harmony from there.

I found it liberating to press record, and then just start playing. Really emphasizing the play. This is difficult for me. "Record" makes it a performance, after all. Not this time! Once I had something i liked, I sliced it out, threw a bunch of midi into a muted "Garbage" track, and worked from there. I found that a harmony line I played in a different instrument transitioned nicely to a bass line for my B section.

Your music theory will help you immensely. What would harmony in thirds sound like? Descending bassline? An inversion of the motif? Maybe the same pitches, with a new rhythm? Try out a few things in your arsenal if you find yourself getting stuck.

4) Cleanup!

How much time do you want to set aside for cleanup? I used a hard quantize which fit the chiptune style I was writing in. I also put in a few glissandos and corrected a few velocity errors I made, and that was it for my humanization and expression. If you're writing for acoustic instruments (even if only midi-realized at this point), maybe you need to run back and add some vibrato and other expression parameters. In my example, dynamics were quite weak--basically, there is one dynamic. That may not work for your piece. I'd suggest around 10-15 minutes to do some cleaning up, depending on how seriously you are sticking to the challenge, what instruments/sounds you chose, and how polished you'd like your finished piece to be.

5) Bounce Time

Save your project, and bounce it out! Take a good hard listen, and then put it aside. Congratulate yourself! You wrote a whole minute of music, and while it may not seem like much, you did it start-to-finish in a relatively short time! Come back to it in a day or two. Listen objectively. What is strong in your Time Trial? What could you do to make an even shinier version 2?


Do you have a challenge or Time Trial of your own? I'd love to see them here. To get the ball rolling, here is my Time Trial from this blog.


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