Composing Music: Getting Started

Musical composition is a rewarding and developmental process that not enough music students get to participate in. Not only is composition an obvious gateway to creativity; it is a musical teaching tool in which students may learn theory and history faster than just by practicing their instrument alone!

1. Melody: Every great piece of music starts with a melody. Can you hum or play on your instrument a few notes of what you hear in your head? Form a “phrase”, or a string of notes that create a musical sentence. Your phrase should have a “climax”, or a high point. This makes the phrase interesting for the listener. If you can notate a simple rhythm you’re well on your way to the next step...

2. Form: Most melodies are organized into four or eight bar phrases (musical sentences). These phrases can then be repeated or not. It’s up to you to decide how many phrases and where their repetitions should occur! Call one of your phrases “A” and the other “B” (add more letters if you have different phrases). Organize the A and B phrases into any combination you think sounds good!

3. Harmony: After you’ve sketched out a coherent melody, see if you can put some chords to support the notes you’ve just written. Use you ears and try to find chords that have similar notes as your melody. Not all chords have to contain a melody note; this is known as dissonance, and can be a very thrilling and useful technique.

4. Text: Are there words to go with your melody? Write them in.

5. Dynamics: Write in how loud or soft to play. Note where the climax is in all of your phrases and score dynamics appropriately. And remember, if all else fails...

6. Use your ears: Duke Ellington once wrote; “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” In other words, if it doesn’t sound good to you, then it doesn’t sound good! The composition process for beginners can involve a lot of guesswork in trying to figure out what may work, so have patience! The more you write the better and easier your compositions will be. Good luck!

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