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January 10, 2013
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Any tips on composing music?

:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Recently I started to give a try on composing music (piano and electric guitar).
I'm usually able to produce a little melody, that I like but then I'm stuck.
I can't seem to finish the song and with piano I don't know what to do with my left hand either.
I played keyboard for 2/3 years and now I've been playing piano for over two years, both with lessons. Guitar for one year self taught so it's probably easier for me to start with piano.
Somehow I never got any theory from both my teachers about things like the circle of fifths, different scales etc. (or I completely missed it :?)
Is this important to know this well?
And if so, do you have any recommendations where I can learn it or any books I should buy?
What's you're way of composing music?
BTW the style I like on piano is classical and rock on guitar

Also, show me your music! would love to hear it :)
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Devious Comments

:iconjonathan120:
Jonathan120 Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2013
This is a piece I started yesterday for a new fantasy album; [link]

When I first began trying to write my own orchestra music at age 17 after having practiced my first instrument a guitar (Metallica etc songs from TAB) I didn't know any theory, just some guitar scales/modes. I've always had a good sense of melody, that's something that you can't teach.

I've only ever learned songs on guitar and then started trying to write my own music out of nothing but sheer enjoyment and it's always been that way. I stopped guitar completely a few years ago because it stopped giving me the same rush of excitement as composing for orchestra gave. I can read music, though I can't sight read. If music is played in front of me it takes quite some time to be able to perform the notes on any instrument. I can however notate in music the things I create either on an instrument or in my head. But I just use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, Cubase being my choice) to record/perform the music in with a USB 88 key keyboard and then edit the notes to make them as realistic as is possible with a limited mid-range computer.

I think a good starting point in composing is first of all to be very familiar as a listener to the genre you wish to compose in. Secondly, I think learning a variety of songs some time before composing in the specific genre will help to get a feel for what you're trying to create. As a composer I don't listen to music that often but when I do I try to make it so the music I listen to is the opposite of what I am writing. On occasions I'll refer to specific pieces of music as an orchestration guide. The Disney wedding music on my SoundCloud channel was

The more time you put into it the better you'll become. I'm almost entirely self-taught and a lot of what I know is just from pure practice over and over, the more I write the more I continue to learn. Although I have read books such as 'The A to B Guide To Music theory,' 'Principles of Orchestration' and I've just purchased some jazz books to improve my understanding of harmony. Harmony is something I feel is the hardest and last thing to learn which is directly in relation to the fact that the human ear first hears the melody, then the bass and finally the harmony of notes in between making up the chords.

My final and most important advice to anyone would be to practice, practice, practice. It's that which has gotten me where I am today and will continue to take me to new places.

I don't know if any of those anecdotes will help, but there you go ^_^
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:iconjonathan120:
Jonathan120 Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2013
"The Disney wedding music on my SoundCloud channel was inspired by a track called 'Transformation' from the Beauty and the Beast album."

Forgot to finish that sentence with the small comment box sorry.
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:iconana1129:
Ana1129 Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
First come up with a melody, then add some chords to it. Then, don't make it sound unnatural with the same chords, add some variation, modulate into different keys, have fun with it. I got all this from personal experience. Good luck! ^^
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:iconkaos-chosen:
Kaos-chosen Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
this book [link] can be quite useful, it has circle of fifths and lot of other music theory. Recommended by both my teachers! I think i'm in the same boat as you, I find nice rhythms to play on guitar, piano and saxophone, but when it comes to forming a complete song, I struggle :/

So far, I've only used that book to look up circle of fifths, but plan on looking for details on composition when I have my instruments around me :)
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks! That book looks like it's just what I need.
I think it's a lot of practice as well... which kind of sucks sometimes :P
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:iconkaos-chosen:
Kaos-chosen Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I find that when I'm playing my own pieces, practice doesn't feel like a chore as it sometimes was for my grades through alto sax. It's just a relaxing past time!:D

Though writing it down always been hard, 8 years of playing alto sax to then come to a piano to find they had different clefs to each hand! :O It's so annoying! Anyways, good luck with your compositions! :)
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:iconthisomessedup:
ThISoMessedUp Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Don't think about it too much. It will come naturally. Some of the best songs in the world aren't thought about.
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
That's very true, it's just a bit frustrating sometimes
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:iconartfreakish:
Artfreakish Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013  Student Digital Artist
It's important to know your theory. Get to know the 7 basic (Dorian, Lydian, etc.) major scales, major and minor pentatonic scales and their variations. Learn how to improvise by freestyling and listening to a lot of different music styles. Other than just play and enjoy. Everyone has music in their hearts and after plenty of practice and challenging oneself it should come out. And at time you will be able to compose music. My best tip is to first learn to walk before you start running. Become a skilled musician before moving on to composign and such so that you have the proper understanding and technique to express yourself.
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I'll definitely learn some theory after all the comments.
I've tried improvising before but it kind of sounds off tune all the time, but I guess I need to know more theory for that. Listening to different music styles has never really been an issue for me, but I just personally like to play classical on piano and rock on guitar. For me it's kind of unnatural to play for example pop on piano (even though it can be great).
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:iconartfreakish:
Artfreakish Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Student Digital Artist
I see. Well music is a language. Just start playing and dont be afraid of mistake or a wrong note. Get comfortable with your mistakes and go on to the right note or chord. That's very important in improvising. You are free to express yourself they you want to express yourself. Think of it as your language. I'm dutch and I learned dutch by hearing it from my parents and by making a lot of mistakes as a baby. But I always expressed myself they I wanted to express myself. The difference is not necessary in the notes but in the expression of the notes. That's improv :). Playing different styles can greatly help you to free your musical mind. Of course it's unnatural in the beginning but after a while of practising it, it will become natural. :) But the my main tip is taking it one step at a time. Practising the chromatic scale can help you greatly in expressing yourself in improv btw
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:iconbluesmanbruno:
BluesmanBruno Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013
I also have quite a bit of trouble with actually finishing a song I've started to write. However, one thing that works for me is just jamming. Since I know almost no theory, I can't "actively" compose music, instead I just (amateurishly) jam until I "discover" a riff or a melody or a couple of chords that I like, and repeat the process until I have enough material for an entire song. Sometimes it even takes a couple of weeks before I discover the next part for some riff I came up with, but it works for me.
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yes I've tried it too. I'm just never satisfied with the material after I found my main melody/riff. It doesn't seem to go well together, so maybe music theory can help...
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:iconbluesmanbruno:
BluesmanBruno Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2013
If it never quite goes along with the main section it means you haven't "found" the right part yet. But once you do, you'll know, and it'll probably happen when you least expect it.

Of course, music theory can and does help, so don't take what I'm telling you as a "deterrent" from learning it :D
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:iconno-doves-fly-here:
no-doves-fly-here Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013
slop random notes together, call it... avant-garde
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Some kind of improvising..I kind of suck at it lol
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:iconkitenster:
Kitenster Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013
Just throw in some notes on a paper, listen to it (test it via computer) or play it, then fix it. That's what i do. I use Noteflight to throw in music. Then, I listen to it and edit it and play it in real life then viola I got it
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Ooh that sounds very interesting! I'll probably try that. Do you have any "rules" in mind whenever you write those notes on paper?
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:iconkitenster:
Kitenster Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013
Not really but sometimes I imagine a beat/rhythm I like and I go from there.
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:iconreptilliansp2011:
ReptillianSP2011 Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Student General Artist
Try to utilize resources that you have as much as possible and try to meet with musicians that you like in order to learn more.
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
mmhh okay that sure does sound helpful to meet up with other musicians, but honestly I don't know where. That's why I started this forum, assuming there are lots of musicians on DA
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:iconopiumrooster:
opiumrooster Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013
be a child prodigy and drink absinthe.
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
aww I don't like alcahol:shrug:
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:iconbluesmanbruno:
BluesmanBruno Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013
I'm not a child prodigy. Do you think drinking absinthe will help me anyway?
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:iconopiumrooster:
opiumrooster Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2013
probably not. no.
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:iconwolfyspice:
WolfySpice Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
You can never know enough theory.

I think in your situation, you need your song to have structure, and some chords. Have an 8-bar verse; an 8-bar chorus; an 8-bar verse; an 8-bar chorus; an 8-bar bridge; and a final 8-bar chorus. Something incredibly simple like that. Put some chord progressions in. Say... G, F, G, C for the verse and bridge... Am, F, G, C for the chorus. Then do whatever over that in the key of C.

That's what I used to do when I started out. I was in the same situation; I might make a little melody or a riff, but that's it; I couldn't write anything more than a quick thirty seconds. I worked on writing whole songs with a full structure. I'd fill it out with the basics, add the basics in for a few instruments (guitar, bass, percussion...) and it was done. Cheap and nasty, but it's all a learning experience. You have to learn to write songs first by pushing yourself, otherwise when inspiration comes, you can't write it. Books? I picked up the Idiot's Guide to Music Theory. Simple to get into.

When I write songs, most of the time I come up with a very simple small chord progression. For the best song I've written, I just did simple triads, the notes barely moved: E5add6, E5/B, Am, Em. A very, very simple i-v-iv-i progression in E minor. From that, I came up with a little riff, some interesting percussion, worked out what tracks I wanted to hear... and went from there. I set out the structure, heard in my head how I wanted the song to evolve as it went along, then wrote what I thought sounded nice. Nearly ten minutes long when completed.

I've yet to record it, though... waiting on new strings.
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Mmh That's true. Whenever I try to write it feels very chaotic.
I'm assuming you're talking about the guitar so do you just randomly come up with the chord progression?
Thanks for the advice! It's very helpful
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:iconwolfyspice:
WolfySpice Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
Guitar, yeah, though I don't play 'guitar' chords. I think of them as if on a staff. I pick a key, then I either have a progression already in mind and work around that, or come up with an interesting sound then see how that resolve back to my tonal centre.
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:iconisho13:
Isho13 Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Study the theory. Also, expand your tastes and listen to lots of music of different genres. I love it when I hear a tango song with hints of jazz, or a metal song with a touch of rumba. =D
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks for the advice:D Do you know any good sources on music theory?
And yes I do listen to different genres:) From rock to hip-hop to classical to jazz but I just like to play classical on piano and rock on guitar. It feels kind of unnatural for me to play for instance pop on piano.
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:iconarielrgh:
ArielRGH Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Hi Quynh,
While you can write some things without knowing theory, you benefit greatly from knowing it. You will realize that you can do more things, as well as understand some things of songs you know. Harmony is a wonderful thing to learn.
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you for the advice!
I love harmony, but I never really figured out how it works. I'll definitely look it up :)
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:iconlola-in-the-black:
Lola-in-the-Black Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2013
I never studied music, but I tried learning on my own. I know only Polish great book about music theory ("Harmonia" by Sikorski).
Music theory is very important, because there are some rules about composition. It might seem dreadful, but it has been worked out through years and some degrees of the scale sound good f.ex. in the end of a phrase and some sound terrible. Or you can simply find what you are looking for: you use different element to make your new melody sound peaceful or cheerful and different to make it sad, uneasy or even irritating ;)
I wouldn't call myself a musician (I didn't compose a lot, and I don't play well, I learn on my own the guitar, the piano and the violin), but as a total amateur I'm telling you - give it a try :) It's really worth it :)
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:iconq-le:
Q-Le Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Okay! Thanks for the advice
I'll definitely look up some sources especially with those "rules"Because even though I can read notes and stuff, I feel like I don't have a clue on what I'm doing
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:iconlola-in-the-black:
Lola-in-the-Black Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013
I hope you'll have fun with it :)
I thought it's a terrible thing and then I had problems with learning even the notes (the only thing we had on music at school when I was 7 - the notes), but when I wanted to play the guitar I learned them all during a quarter :D I just thought it's pleasant and it was :)
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