10 Tips for Composing Your Own Music
Transforming a thought or emotion into sound might seem like pure magic. And in many ways, it is! But luckily, this isn’t the world of Harry Potter; you don’t have to be born a wizard. You can learn how to compose music with a few tips and a little bit of practice (okay, a lot of practice). If you’re ready to start creating musical masterpieces—or just want to advance your skills—here are ten tips for composing your own music.
1. Listen to Other Composers
Nobody can compose music without some inspiration. The first step toward amazing composing is listening to other composers.
When you listen to other musicians, you get an idea of what you like and, just as importantly, what you don’t like. Borrow some of the ideas you like (with your own spin, of course) and avoid the ones you don’t for your own music.
Don’t forget to broaden your horizons and listen to various musical styles. The more music you listen to, the more ideas you’ll have to work with for your own compositions.
2. Learn Music Theory
What do rocket scientists say when something is too hard? Hey, at least it’s not music theory!
Okay, so music theory might not be the easiest subject to learn, but it can really help you as a composer.
Some might argue that learning the “rules” of music kills creativity, but it’s quite the opposite. Learning how and why music works provides you with a solid foundation on which to create. You understand how harmonies and melodies fit overtop chord progressions, and you can use that wealth of information to create more complex and fulfilling compositions.
You can’t build a house without a foundation, so take the time to learn music theory. All your hard work that you've created will pay off in the end.
3. Play an Instrument (or a Few…)
Playing an instrument is a great way to get closer to the music. It can help to train your ears and give you new phrasing ideas for your compositions. For example, some phrases come very naturally on a guitar but might be harder to see on a piano.
It’s also a good way to become more familiar with an instrument. That super-fast 32nd note run might sound really cool for a baritone harmony, but anyone who has played a baritone knows it’s not as easy as it would be on a flute. If you play an instrument, you know the sounds it can make and what it’s capable of, which will help immensely in your compositions.
4. Just Start Writing
Many would-be composers quit before they even start. Creating a musical masterpiece from scratch might seem like climbing Mount Everest. There’s this giant obstacle in front of you, and the easiest solution is to just give up. It’s impossible, so why even start?
What many newbie composers don’t realize is that their next piece doesn’t have to be a masterpiece—or even the one after that. As long as you write something, no matter how terrible it turns out, it helps to build your skills. So just write!
Schedule a specific time to compose. It could be once a day, once a week, or once a month. Whatever schedule you set, stick with it. Even if you’re not “feeling it” that day (which happens all the time), force yourself to put something on the page. The more you write, the better your compositions will become.
5. Write One Part at a Time
Many wise people have said that multitasking is the ability to screw up several things at once. The same idea can be applied to your musical compositions. If you try to write the chords, melodies, and harmonies all at once, there’s a good chance none of them will turn out the way you want.
The best way to write music is to work on each part individually. For most composers, the melody is the first thing they work on. Your melody is what draws listeners in and makes them remember the song. It needs the freedom to move around, unencumbered by chord progressions or following harmonies. Once you have your melody, then start to work on the other parts.
If you create your piece one part at a time, you can be sure that everything fits together without hindering your creativity.
6. Learn All the Ins and Outs of Music Software
While pencil and staff paper are still effective, most music composition today is done on the computer. If you really want to compose music, you’ll likely need two different kinds of software:
Notation software – for writing sheet music (Finale, MuseScore, etc.)
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – for producing sounds, mixing, editing, and mastering tracks (ProTools, Audacity, etc.)
There are tons of software options to choose from, so take your time to find the ones that work best for you. Once you do, learn them inside and out.
The better you are at operating your music software, the more fluidly you can compose. You don’t want to come up with a great idea for a melody, only to be interrupted by having to Google solutions to technical problems or learn how to use specific shortcuts. Every break interrupts your creative flow and makes composing that much harder.
Plus, your software of choice might have unique functions that can add to your composition. If you don’t know they exist, you can’t use them!
7. Create Arrangements of Existing Songs
It’s never easy to create something out of nothing. If you’re struggling to get started on a completely original composition, why not build on what someone else has done?
Creating arrangements of existing songs is a great way to learn about composition without starting from scratch. You can borrow the original composer’s ideas and build upon them with your own unique style.
For example, if there’s a classical full-orchestra piece you like, try to rewrite it for a four-piece rock band. Or, go the other direction and expand a solo voice piece for a full ensemble. This is a great exercise if you’re struggling with some writer’s block.
8. Work with a Partner
While it certainly can be, music composition doesn’t have to be a solo sport. Working with a partner can help you come up with ideas, revise your pieces, or even teach you new things. Afterall, two minds are better than one!
There are plenty of places to find other musicians to work with. You can find writing partners in online communities and forums. Facebook is a great place to find entire communities of music composers who would happily listen to your pieces and offer constructive advice. They can also give you composition challenges to help expand your skills.
9. Find a Teacher
Learning on your own is great, but sometimes it helps to have someone point you in the right direction. Finding a composition teacher is a great way to hone your skills, gain access to materials, and learn new tricks.
A one-on-one learning experience might give you more personalized advice, but there are plenty of inexpensive group and online classes that can help you compose your own music in no time!
10. Don’t Bite Off More than You Can Chew
Just because Mozart was eight when he wrote his first symphony doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Tasking yourself with writing a complete symphony or concerto is a lot. Start with smaller goals first. You know, learn to walk before you run. Writing a few short preludes is much less daunting and will teach you the skills you’ll need for your masterpiece down the road.
Become the Composer You Want to Be
Composing music isn’t easy, and it won’t happen overnight. Just like with anything music-related, the best way to grow your skills is to practice. Keep composing, even if you don’t feel like you have any good ideas. You never know what will spark the inspiration for your next masterpiece!
For information on the 26th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net