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7 Tips for Composing Songs

Are you ready to take your musical interests to the next level with composition? Composers have another level of musical understanding of music that continues to develop with each song they write.

The following tips will help you to compose songs that people want to listen to and that are more likely to sell.

1. Compose a little something every day

Most writers have a dedicated writing practice and they write something every day. The same idea holds true for composers. In an interview with classicfm.com, one of the UK’s most famous composers, Debbie Wiseman, offered advice for budding composers. She said, “One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given was from my composition teacher Buxton Orr. He told me to write something every day because it keeps your composition juices flowing and ensures you never run out of ideas.”

You never know when one of the little ditties you compose to “keep the juices flowing” may just become the seed of a new major work you complete in the future.

2. Have a recording device handy

If you are a beginning composer, your ability to create music in your head may be ahead of your ability to write it down in musical form. Or, you may find that a melody line or music idea comes to you while driving, riding your bike, or at a social gathering where it’s impossible to sit down and get it noted on paper. Having a smartphone or small recording device in your purse, pocket, or backpack allows composers to record spontaneous themes before they’re forgotten again.

An app such as Garage Band is also helpful. In addition to recording small melodies or themes as you come up with them, you can continue using your original recordings to expand the song and lay down additional harmony tracks.

3. Use an app for composing

Lucky you! You're a composer in the 21st century and that means there are a multitude of innovative tools to help you along the way. Our post, Coolest New Apps for Musical Compositions, contains detailed information on six different high-quality music writing apps that range from completely free to reasonably priced. Most of them can be used for free at the outset but require additional funds to open up their full range of features.

4.  Beware the trap of programmed bar lines

If you do choose to use an app for composing, be aware that the software behind these great apps can also create limitations. One of the most common is that it is hard to compose anything outside of very standard bar lines and time signatures, and that can seriously impact your freedom of expression. Remember that while apps are immensely helpful and efficient composition tools, they should be supplemental to your own musical skills rather than replacements.

5. Continue developing sight-reading and composition skills

To that end, make it a point to continue honing your ability to read music. The more astute you are in your music theory classes, the better you will be at handwriting your notations onto blank sheet music. If you are serious about becoming a composer, search for teachers who can support your composition-building. 

While all composers are musicians, many very talented instrumentalists have never written a decent composition other than the pieces required by their music school. Although your favorite violin instructor may not be the best at supporting your composition goals, they should be able to refer you to someone else. Also, keep your eyes and searches open to music and composition camps over the summer.

6. Honor where you are at NOW

If you are a beginning composer, respect that — don’t expect to rival Mozart with your first written works of music. If you are newer to writing music, read our Music Composition Beginners Guide and focus on these 6 Tips for Beginning Music Composers. 

If you have been at it for a while, challenge yourself with these 5 Tips for Advanced Songwriting. Continuing to learn and grow from where you are at present prevents frustration and will keep you more inspired.

7. Expose yourself to a range of musical genres

Locking yourself into a specific musical genre will limit your creativity and the ability to compose songs that appeal to a wide audience. 

Exposure to a myriad of musical genres will help you develop a more artistic sensibility which will translate into more interesting melody and harmony lines. This is backed up by researchers at Northwestern University who discovered that listening to multiple styles of music has lasting impacts on the brain (pri.org), very similar to multilingualism (the ability to speak and understand different languages).

The process of composing, recording, and publishing songs is a rewarding one. It will expose you to a network of other talented musicians and mentors and has the potential to become your musical career. The key is to practice, practice, practice. 

Finally, we encourage all budding composers to remember that there is a time to create, and a time to constructively criticize. Be open during the creative process and keep your inner-critic in check when it’s time to objectively step back and make improvements.