How To Write Music

Without music, life would be a mistake ― Friedrich Nietzsche

First, choose your music

To me, music is intensely personal. Every single person travels on their own journey through music in different directions. Some people never get started, others head off in their own direction. From time to time, we meet up with other people heading down the same road, connections we never thought were there are formed and a little piece of magic occurs when we play together.

So, first step on our journey today is to decide what kind of music we want to write and why.

How Do You Choose?

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. ― Plato

Let’s say you are learning to play keyboard. You want to create a song you can sing to your boyfriend. That’s one point on your journey.

Maybe you have a full size piano. You want to compose a piece to impress your teacher.

Or maybe you have a new computer and you want to pull together some electric beats.

Maybe you’re a guitarist in a band and you want to pitch in with a song of your own.

They are all different starting points and they all require different technical abilities to get underway.

How Do You Learn?

Without wanting to get too deep into individual learning styles, a great place to start for most musicians is to listen to the kind of music you already know and love. Listen carefully to the way your own heroes structure their music and try to build off that. Once you’ve learned their rules and how they operate, their favourite instrument blends, their favourite rhythms and keys, you can use that knowledge to build up your own material.

How Do You Write?

At some point you will need a level of musical theory knowledge to make progress. The exact level is up to you.

If you want to write a piece of music for symphony orchestra, you will need a far deeper understanding of classical music structures to make progress.  If you don’t have immediate access to an orchestra, you can go some way towards the experience by using music notation software on a computer to mimic the

If you want to write a song to accompany yourself on guitar things are a little simpler.

But start wherever is appropriate to you. With the aim that suits you.

But above all, start. There is a good chance that your first piece of music will NOT be excellent. But your next will be better.

Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without. ― Confucius

How Do You Present?

Music is sound. At some point you will have to turn your creation into a sound that someone else can appreciate.

Here’s a simple, free way to generate musical output. We are going to use a piece of free software called MuseScore. We are going to walk through a really simple 8-bar piece. We are going to build up layer by layer to a simple piece. Nothing remarkable, no detailed tuition on using the software, just simple guidelines.

So … if you have it installed, fire up MuseScore. Create a new  Score. Give it a name and then choose the Template for Rock Band. We’ll create it in G Major (1 sharp) and a tempo of 100bpm. Common Time Signature (or 4/4) and ONLY 8 bars. Something like this:

I like to start with a drum track to set the pattern. Our piece will be 2 for bar phrases so the 4th and 8th bar show a little variation. But we have a bass, snare and ride cymbal combo to give us a simple click track:

We’ll build up a simple walking-style bass line across these chords: G G D C G G D C G:

Complement the bass line with some simple um-ching rhythm guitar to lock down the chords:

No let’s add a vocal melody line. We want to introduce a smooth flow that has its own pace and rhythm, breaking up the um-ching a little, sticking with the same chord sequence. We are looking for a little stand out variety across the top of our rhythm section.

Let’s fill that backing vocal line with a series of ooh-aahs that provide nice harmony without stealing the limelight from the lead vocal. And we’ll end on a nice major 3rd harmony.

Lets’ swap that Lead Guitar out for another instrument and create a couple of fragments to complement the melody we already have in place. Fiddles work well with some nice flowing sequences, changing more quickly than our backing vocals. How about this:

And a “finished” product for your delectation and delight.

Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid. ― Frank Zappa

Continue the journey

Whatever you do next and however you do it, just write music. Continue on your road.  Write something, record it, listen to it. But a word of warning from the American author Patrick Rothfuss. “Music sounds different to the one who plays it. It is the musician’s curse.