You’ve gotta love social media. The perfect place to post current events, vent about current events, vent about people who vent about current events, post pictures of food or cats or children, vent about people who post about food or cats or children, vent about the people who vent about people posting about food or cats or children, etc.

But that’s not all! You can be invited to events you never intend on going to, share events your friends have no intention of going to, add people to self-promotional groups they immediately turn off the updates to, gripe about getting added to yet another self-promotional group that you need to hide the updates to, etc.

Or even better… you can tag people in embarrassing photos, hide the tags to your own embarrassing photos, post “fun” links on other people’s walls, hide the “fun” links that other people post on your walls, eagerly post fun life events in your Stories, ignore the flagrant self-flouting in other people’s stories, get in arguments with friends of friends who are Wrong About Everything™ in the comment sections, lose your cool when they arrogantly assume you’re the one who’s Wrong About Everything™…

Can you tell I have a very complicated relationship with social media?



That said, social media—Facebook in particular—does have its perks! One of the perks I’ve recently embraced is the cropping of various Facebook Groups where you can seek the (free!) advice of experts in the field. There are four Facebook groups in particular that I have found to be particularly useful for composers, arrangers, and theory students. I think these four are worth sharing if you want to develop at your own pace or rehash some skills you feel like are neglected in your own program.

But again… complicated relationship with social media. The danger of this free advice is that sometimes you get exactly what you pay for. You need to screen everything you see. And more than once you’ll want to just hide the group notifications or remove yourself from the group entirely. So for each group, I’ll give my advice on how to get the best out of joining these groups. Hopefully you can use these to grow on your own, and perhaps (if you’re lucky) help others to grow as well!


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1. Music Engraving Tips

See the group by clicking here.


Why is it useful?

One of the most neglected skills of every composer’s education is proper engraving. If you don’t know what that means… engraving is the art of properly formatting your score so that it is clearly notated, properly formatted, and readily publishable. And it involves a lot more than sticking to the defaults of MuseScore, Dorico, Finale, or Sibelius.

Actually… many composers don’t know the first thing about making a presentable score. 75% of my portfolio needed some desperate engraving and formatting attention as late as starting my doctorate, and I’d like to think I received a solid education. It’s just not the biggest priority for most composers. They’re too busy making sure that the music sounds good to pay much attention to whether or not the score looks good.

Something that most people (even composers) don’t always realize is that engraving scores is a full-time job in and of itself. Publishers employ professional engravers whose entire job is to make sure composers’ work is properly presentable. But in this day and age, not every composer has the money or time to seek out a professional engraver, so they need to learn as much as possible about the craft for themselves. Luckily, Music Engraving Tips has some top-notch professionals from respectable publishing companies who are more than happy to offer their advice free of charge, no matter how basic or complex the issue. Sometimes they even post videos showcaing their craft, which is always a treat!


Why should I be careful?

The group is mostly composers seeking help. And like I said, many composers don’t know the first thing about proper engraving. That doesn’t stop them from trying to give advice on issues that they think they know more about than they actually do. I myself have been guilty of this in the past.

The group itself can also be frustrating. Here’s a synopsis of many of their posts…

OPENING POST: “Hey, here’s a very rough draft of something I’m trying to do. I want my musicians to do a thing, but I’m not sure how to notate it. Any suggestions?”
C1: “Why do you want your musicians to do a thing? You should have them do another thing instead.”
OP: “Um, no, that’s not an option. They really need to do the first thing. Any idea how I could notate it?”
C1: “Okay, then you might try this [blatantly wrong way]!”
C2: “Commenter 1, that’s wrong for [insert reasons here].”
C3: “No, that’s stupid and you’re stupid and we should get into an almost completely irrelevant argument now.”
OP: “Okay, well, now I’m even more confused?”
C4: “I just wanted to drop by to tell you that your spacing is off and your font choices are pretty bad. Good luck getting an answer to your question!”
OP: “Thanks, I think? I did say this was still a very rough draft, right?”
C1: “Hey, I’m back and I notated the other thing I suggested you try!”
OP: “But I already told you that wasn’t an option!”
C3: “Commenter 1, that’s stupid and you’re stupid and we should get into an almost completely irrelevant argument now.”
C5: “Sorry OP, I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking here. Can you clarify?”
OP: “What is there to clarify? I have musicians. They need to do a thing. How do I make it clear that they need to do a thing?”
C5: “Okay, I think I get it now… maybe you could try this? Here’s an extended list of all its pros and cons. Only thing is, the industry standards disagree with me.”
OP: “But… I WANT to agree with the industry standards!!”
C1: “Hey, notation’s an art, right? There’s no one right way to do things!”
C2: “That’s… that’s not how it works…”
EXPERT: “Oh for crying out loud… [inserts picture of industry standard for notating the thing]”
C5: “That just looks odd to me.”
C4: “That’s not how this one obscure edition did it.”
OP: [sighs] “Thanks, Expert! That looks great, I’ll go with that.”
C3: “That’s stupid and you’re all stupid and we should get into an almost completely irrelevant argument now.”

Doesn’t really sound like how you want to spend your time on social media, does it? Luckily, there are ways to sidestep it…


How do I get the most out of it?

First things first: Turn off notifications! You’ll get notifications left and right if you don’t. The group is very, very active. However, you can turn off notifications while still making sure that the posts show up on your Newsfeed, so you can still feel in the loop on discussions—which can be very enlightening in more ways than one.

You’ll learn very quickly who the most qualified engravers are. Several of them are admins or moderators (look for a little shield next to their name in their posts and comments). If what you’re reading looks like an argument from people who don’t have shields next to their names… skip it and move on! Look specifically for the people who actually know the most about what they’re talking about.

Some of the commenters will respond by posting sample images of how to properly notate something tricky. One of the admins is known for this simply because it’s easier for him to just engrave the example than to try and explain how to go about it. You can learn a lot from just looking at a well-engraved measure.

Last and arguably most important… the professionals in the group are constantly mentioning a very specific engraving manual you should have on your Kindle or bookshelf: Behind Bars by Elaine Gould. Buy it. Read it. Study it. Trust it. If you have that as your reference, you’ll quickly spot bad advice. The Gould (as it’s frequently called) is considered the Bible of music notation, and if the advice flies in the face of the Gould, disregard it and move on!


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2. Harmony – Analysis and Questions

See the group by clicking here.


Why is it useful?

Ever needed help with a theory assignment? Ever needed your part-writing double-checked? See a tricky passage in a musical example you have to write a paper for? This is the perfect place to get answers! Simple as that. And like Music Engraving Tips, you’ll see the occasional video series by a group admin diving into some good topics (they’re doing a series about species counterpoint right now that I think is a fantastic resource for students).

Donning my professor hat for a moment: You might be thinking that using a group like this for an assignment is “cheating.” My stance is this: if you’ve asked them to look over an assignment you’ve honestly tried, more power to you! That’s basically a form of online tutoring, which I’ll encourage any student to take. But don’t go to a group like this and expect them to do the assignment for you. Spoiler alert… they won’t. Most of the members are professional composers and teachers themselves, and they will hold you to the proper standard a student should be held to. But if you’re wanting to take your assignments from solid to stellar on your own time, this is a handy resource to have at your disposal.


Why should I be careful?

Have you ever seen two theorists/theory teachers argue? It’s vicious. It makes politics look like a friendly conversation over coffee. And even worse, we tend to argue over things that seem completely irrelevant to everyone else. It’s quite mind-numbing.

Also, depending on your music theory skill level… several discussions will fly completely over your head. A lot of the activity on the page involves people diving into the really nuanced details of interesting pieces that make it shine. So if you’re struggling with theory and don’t readily geek out over this stuff… well, prepare for the occasional glossy-eyed stare.


How can I get the most out of it?

Unless you geek out over theory as much as your teacher does, or want to make an honest effort to learn as much as you can about music theory, go ahead and turn off notifications and hide the posts from your news feed. Only visit the page when you have a question you need answering. You’ll save yourself a few headaches.

If an argument breaks out on your post, do a quick “Facebook stalk” and check the credentials of who’s doing the arguing. Is it an argument between theory teachers? A grad student and an undergraduate? Deceptively important: an American and a European (their approach to Roman numeral analysis is somewhat different from each other)? What books are they citing, and are they the textbooks you’re currently using? All this and more can help you decide whose advice you trust the most for the situation you’re in.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to push back a little! This group likes questions for the most part. If you don’t understand something or don’t feel like it’s the right approach for the assignment and what you want to do, then say so… and why! You’ll get some tweaking and/or a better explanation for your particular situation.


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3. Orchestration Online

See the group by clicking here.


Why is it useful?

Orchestration is an art form. It can make the difference between a richly colorful work and another blasé student piece. You’ll learn the ins and outs of instruments you don’t talk about nearly enough in your regular instrumentation classes (the joys of bass clarinet, anyone?), and encounter common problems you might have writing for the instrument. Also, if you’re wanting to try something “different”, you can hop over to the group and say so, asking for tips and pointers. More often than not, you’ll be pointed to a piece that uses something similar, which you can examine at your own leisure.

One of my favorite things about this group is how I sometimes get exposed to pieces I may not have encountered before, or ones worth revisiting. So sometimes the literature exposure is all the treat you need!


Why should I be careful?

This group isn’t exactly great at staying relevant. You’ll encounter the occasional self-promotion of a mediocre project, more than a handful of memes, and the at times frustrating “sh*t-posting” of someone else’s work. There aren’t many well-established orchestration “experts,” so the group can at times feel like a silly fan page.

That said, this group is relatively harmless overall. You won’t really be at the risk for “bad advice.” So that’s a plus.


How can I get the most out of it?

Like the Harmony group, go ahead and hide notifications and newsfeed posts if you want. Hop over there specifically to ask any questions you might have and wait for the comments. I get the impression that there are people in the group who eagerly look forward to the more serious posts and jump at the opportunity to partake in them.

Also, this group has its own independent website outside of Facebook: I haven’t ventured there yet, but I’ve heard only good things. So if memes and sh*t-posting isn’t for you, you might be better to head straight there. Downside: there’s no forum, so you’re limited to the content that they choose to post. It’s all great stuff, though!


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4. Is It Playable?

See the group by clicking here.


Why is it useful?

If you were to ask me what the most useful group on Facebook for young composer was, I would immediately and without hesitation say this group. This group’s entire reason for existing is for composers to post excerpts from their works for the sole purpose of asking players, “Hey, is this playable?”

So go there, post your excerpt, provide any critical details (“this is for high school honor band”, “professional players, but they only have three weeks to learn it!”, “I need this to be sightreadable”, etc.), and wait for someone to respond. Occasionally, you’ll even encounter a player who posts a video of themselves playing what you wrote so you can hear it in context and see for yourself what’s feasible and/or tricky about it.

One of my favorite things about this group is that on the occasion that someone needs to respond with, “No, that’s not playable,” they don’t leave it at that. They explain specifically what makes the line impractical (“you can write that, but it won’t be in tune in that register”, “those double-stops don’t exist on the instrument”, “trombone slides can’t really move that fast”, etc.) and usually offer solutions (“you can voice that double-stop with this note on the bottom for the exact same effect”, “can you exchange the line between two horn players?”, “If the flute can switch to piccolo, they’ll have an easier time”, etc.). If you’re writing for an instrument you don’t know that well, drop off the part at this group and let them nitpick it. You’ll be very thankful in the long run!


Why should I be careful?

Honestly, there isn’t a lot to be careful about in this group! People know their areas of expertise and almost never offer bad advice. My one complaint about this group is that it doesn’t always have enough instrumentalists, so if you’re needing an answer in a hurry for a more obscure instrument (for example, contrabassoon), you might be better off showing the part to a university friend or local private teacher. Aside from that, this group is gold.


How can I get the most out of it?

The one suggestion I have would be to recruit instrumentalist friends whom you trust to give exceptional advice! The more trustworthy performers who can post in the group, the more efficient the feedback you need can be.

Aside from that, rely on this group for certain instrument families in particular. At present, you’ll get very quick advice on keyboard instruments and strings. Conventional woodwinds (excluding double reeds) and brass are also pretty timely. Vocal advice is usually pretty solid—albeit tricky, considering how nuanced proper writing for voice can be. More modern instruments like guitar and drumset you don’t see many posts about, so I can’t attest to them.


Hopefully, knowing about these groups can up your professional game and make you more aware of your own techniques as a composer, arranger, or theory analyst. Not everything on Facebook needs to fall into your own personal definition of terrible. So go check these out and see what new things you can learn this summer!

I promise the cute cat pictures and crazy political uncles will be waiting for you once you’re done.