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6 Tips for Beginning Music Composers

Do you ever wake up with original ditties flitting through your head? Does an inspiring piece of poetry or a great quote from a book immediately inspire a melodic line or two? If so, it sounds like you’re a budding composer. It might be time to get your musical compositions down in paper and/or digital form.

Composing music is much like learning to play an instrument. While you may be born with an innate gift or talent for composition, you still need to learn, practice, and hone your craft.

1. Resolve to be a music theory sponge

Before you can become a great composer, you will need a firm grasp on the ins-and-outs of music theory (notes, rhythm, key signatures, etc.). While it's true that digital programs can do a much of this technical work for you (more on that later), they are not 100% accurate. Most composers have to go back and use their composition software to make manual corrections or to re-work complicated measures or sections.

If you’re not a big fan of music theory and the technical aspects of music, use your desire to compose as the inspiration to study hard and learn all you can.

2. Become a proficient musician in your own right

Yes, there are examples of famous composers who are known for their lack of instrumental musicianship (Berlioz, Elgar, and Wagner, to name a few). However, comments that they didn’t play instruments typically means the composer wasn’t a concert-level musician. The large majority of composers play at least one instrument and have a high-level command of musical performance even if they aren’t professional performers.

Getting to the advanced level on your instrument of choice will go a long way toward deepening your musical awareness and your ability to write music that is approachable for the musicians who will play it.

3. Expand your musical awareness

Great composers may have a singular style, but they also pay attention to music from all genres, which they use as inspiration. That’s the reason string instruments are featured in rock music, or why famous bands such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and others frequently showcased instruments and music from other cultures in their works.

4. Use the array of digital tools available to you

We mentioned getting your compositions down via paper or digital formats. The 21st century is a composer’s dream era — rich with an array of digital tools available for both notating and recording your compositions. If you’re less adept at notating music on paper, the best software or online programs allow you to play/record your original work, while the software translates your playing into musical notation. Some will even print out sheet music of your compositions.

Visit our post, Coolest New Apps for Composition for a list of digital apps that will boost the professional quality of your original music.

5. Continue working on improvisational skills

Composing is improvisational by nature. It is “of the moment” and typically inspired by the sounds, words, or feelings that surround you. By getting more comfortable with musical improvisation, and building confidence “off book,” your ability to compose with a free mind and spirit will continue to develop. This makes for more creative, interesting, and original music.

6. Find a trusted friend or two to sample your works

Do you have one, two, or a few friends who will share their valuable, honest feedback? Are you prepared for it? Sometimes, the music we hear in our head doesn’t sound as compelling in real life. Or it might not work as well as you thought it would when played by bona fide musicians. It’s not easy to receive constructive criticism and honest feedback, but your willingness to learn, grow, and take honest critique to heart will improve your work.

That said, if the feedback doesn’t resonate and you’re confident in what you’ve written, stand firm and keep doing the good work. Successful composers have always straddled the boundaries of personal passion and inspiration with public acceptance and positive reviews.

Music composition is the gift that keeps on giving. The more you do it, the better you get, and the more marketable your music will be.