Music Composition 101 - Introduction

Updated: Sep 23

Welcome to the wonderful world of music composition!

Andrew Gavin composing
 

So you want to learn to write music? Well, you've come to the right place!


Music is all around us and every song you hear had to be written by a composer. Composition is the first stage in a song's life cycle and is an integral part of the music industry. Anyone can learn the skills to be a composer and be on their way to becoming the next Mozart.


I've never done anything with music before. I never even knew it existed until yesterday. Where do I even start?

"Let's start at the very beginning/A very good place to start"


What is music composition?

Simply put, music composition is the creation of a musical work. The definition has evolved over time as increasing technology has changed how we approach all aspects of music, including its genesis. The term has always had a classical/jazz bent to it, however if you create any form of music from scratch it could be argued that you are a composer.


What skills do I need?

Music is an aural activity, meaning that at the end of the day it's what sounds good that's important. Therefore, the utmost important skill you will require is a trained musical ear. It would also be paramount to have a basic fluency in at least one instrument, including voice. There is great debate as to the importance of music theory knowledge, however I feel that you should have at least a baseline understanding. Imagine if you could speak French but couldn't read it. You'd be able to communicate fine, but reading anything would be a major roadblock. It's the same with music. Having the tools and vocabulary necessary will make your job exponentially easier.


What is music theory?

Music theory is basically the shop talk behind the sounds you are hearing. It's the nuts and bolts of what creates the music we listen to on a daily basis. Some buzz words you may hear thrown around would be: notes, scales, key, tempo, rhythm, etc.


How do I learn an instrument?

With ample technology around us, there are countless ways to learn a new skill, including music. Just a simple Google search or scroll through YouTube will bring you thousands of sources to learn music. Instruments are expensive, so be sure to do some research into what you want to play before going out and buying something. You can generally learn theory at the same time as your instrument since you will often require those skills when playing. Consult a local teacher or school to give you lessons if you are serious about improving your craft.


I don't play anything, can I still be a composer?

Yes! The skill of composition is different from playing an instrument and can be developed separately. As mentioned above, it will only be a benefit to learn to play a musical instrument. However, you can compose music without an instrumental component.

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The first example of this would be to sing. Technically, the voice is an instrument and should be treated as such. Meaning, you can work on and develop your technique the same way you would with a violin. However, the special thing about a voice is that everyone is born with one and can generally sing a song with little effort. So long as you can hum a melody, you could learn the skills to turn that into a fully fledged composition.


Alternatively, there are several other methods nowadays that you can use to write music with little to no instrumental skill. DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) such as Logic, Ableton, and ProTools allow you to play with pre-existing musical snippets or rhythms. This is controversial in the music world (and I'll spare you my opinion for now. Maybe that will be another post) but is a valid, modern way to produce music. *The term "music producer" has become mainstream and sort of synonymous with "composer" and often describes people who create music in this fashion. "Songwriters" are composers who generally work in the rock/pop world, but the skill set is the same.*


Note: Music notation software such as Sibelius, Finale, MuseScore, and Noteflight are used primarily as a way to digitize musical scores. However, they all have built-in sound libraries that will play your music back for you in real time. Technically, you can use these to create your music from scratch as well, however since they deal with the actual written notes, you will really need some knowledge of theory before attempting to utilize them.


I don't have any gear or tech. How can I write?

There's nothing like good old pen and paper. This is the most tried and true method and has been around since the invention of paper. Grab yourself a stack of staff paper and get to work. Or, if you're not ready for that yet, get a piece of regular paper and start to write ideas and notes down.


If you're ready to make the leap to notation software, Noteflight is a free online tool to help you get started. Personally, I use Sibelius, however that has more of a learning curve and will cost money to download.


The DAWs I mentioned above may have free online trials or similar tools for your use. However, if you want to progress beyond super basic stuff, expect to pay for pretty much any software.


What's the next step?

If you are interested in learning more about composition, be sure to keep an eye out for more blog posts, such as this