How to Compose Music

There are many composers in the world today. A composer is commonly known for also being the conductor, but this isn't usually the case. A composer creates and writes music, may it be for performances, or just for listening to. Composers have outstanding knowledge in music, for most composers make a living off of creating music. All composers, however, always had to start out with the basics.

Place bold text hereMedia:Example.ogg== Steps ==

Composing Music For Beginners

  1. Enroll in a class and take lessons for a beginners instrument if you have not already chosen and are not already playing an instrument. You will need to be able to play something at least at a basic level. Please do not assume piano is the only way to go. Yes it is conventional, but many composers have begun their compositional careers on instruments such as the guitar, oboe and clarinet.
  2. Learn to actually listen to the musical devices and their sound.
  3. Learn the musical scales. the most powerful scale tool musicians have is the diatonic modes, which are just scales, starting on different root notes. You should also understand scales and chords and remember them.
  4. It will help to learn all about music theory. Take a class in high school or college, or even teach yourself via the internet. You will need the knowledge regardless of how you learn it.
  5. You may want to take easy and well-known pieces and try to switch them around, make your own variation of them, change the key (also known as transposing a key), and read music charts while even alternating the chords. Be creative!
  6. Listen to other composers' music to learn techniques through instrument combination or rhythms that get the most out of each emotion.
  7. Understand that after creating the melody, knowledge of harmony and accompaniment is essential. Some helpful things to look up for an accompaniment would be chord progressions and scale knowledge. Remember that music theory was made so each musician wouldn't have to experiment as much when making music.
  8. Know the sounds of each instrument used in your composition. Know which instruments fit into the category of music (e.g. String Quartet ~ 2 violins, viola, cello; Brass Quintet: 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba).
  9. Sit at the piano or pick up a guitar and have fun. Play by ear. Play things and see if they sound good together. If you want to be able to play the same thing again later, try using a MIDI keyboard. It can be hooked up to a computer, and will print your notes onto sheet music for you. A good computer composing program is Audacity
  10. If you have good ear training try to make a melody in your head, then hum it, and pass it to the guitar or piano. This takes a lot of practice and dedication, but is a great composing tool.
  11. Have a notebook with the musical staff and pencil handy, if you don't use a MIDI keyboard. Write the note combinations that sound good to your ear. With guitar, write down the chords and guitar lines you play. It will help you to be familiar with music so you can name the chords and know the notes/scales that should be played along with the chord.
  12. Create a rough draft. Just like a written composition in English class, music requires multiple revisions before the final piece is ready. Build off your melody. The best thing here is to use your imagination. Don't forget about dynamics, expressions, or articulation. for more ideas.
  13. Utilize contrary motion.[1] Contrary motion is the technique of having one line go down while the others go up. This is an extremely useful technique that will rapidly improve the sound of your piece.
  14. Consider carefully the structure of the piece; if it has sections make them clear, and keep the listener interested. Try to think where the listener will become bored, and be brutal with your judgments. Also, read up on musical forms.
  15. If you are a student, go to your music teacher and ask him/her for help. Often you will find they are more willing than you assume.
  16. Use counterpoint. It is a defining feature of common practice era music, and will make your piece sound really amazing. [2]

Composing From Rhythms

  1. Start from the rhythmic foundation (percussion and bass), the chord progression (guitar and/or keys), or the melody (lead guitar/keys). Songs have a definite structure to them. You want to get to the foundation as soon as you can, to create a strong base for your piece.
  2. Create a groovy bass line that complements the melody but doesn't copy it note for note (use counterpoint for example).
  3. Make a drum beat starting with just the kick and snare that complements and supports the bassline. Note: just lay down a basic beat to act as a template. Once you go to the other sections you can return to change things up a little based on the progressive sound of the song. Quite often I find I have a vision of what I'm trying to write and it will morph into something new. You have to be able to make adjustments along the way.
  4. Create a rhythm or beat that complements the core or foundation of the song. Start with a basic chord progression then build and change it from there. For example a chord progression may use I, III, and V (ex C, E, G) and fall into a: I, III, pattern for example (where I is the root of the chord and III and V are the next two higher notes in the chord).
  5. Play individual notes randomly, then see which ones sound good playing at the same time and use that to build chords from scratch.
  6. While you write the music, write lyrics to the song. You may have lyrics, then tailor a song to match them, or do the lyrics after the rhythm. The thing to keep in mind to to ensure you tell a good story. Don't be afraid to change lyrics or the music to achieve the best mutual fit.
  7. Make sure you put in all the essential elements: Intro, verse, hook, bridge (optional), and outro/CODA. Let the lyrics help guide you if you have lyrics.
  8. Pick a key idea of the song or a catchy phrase and a cool guitar or keyboard lick to create a melody. Choose the mood or style of the song. You'll know you're there when you can't get the phrase (known as a "lick) out of your head! Quite often a 2-8 word phrase will do it (i.e. "shoulder lean", "love shack, baby love shack", etc).
  9. Once you have it to this point add a pad, sound effects, lead parts, etc.
  10. If your song "tastes" or sounds right then you've done a good job!
  11. Record your song then listen to it as a music critic would you listen. Would you listen to it on the radio or change the station? Let others listen to it and make suggestions.
  12. Go back and make any adjustments you need to. But remember that too many adjustments may make your song sound or "taste" terrible, so don't over correct.

Composing from Chords

  1. Keep in mind that some of these steps are - clearly - for songs with guitars. You don't have to follow all of them exactly - in fact, some of them can just be omitted if you don't need them for the kind of music you play. But do follow the general outline and ideas.
  2. Pick a scale/mode for a note. Any one works. If you're writing a progressive song, then you have the option of picking more than one, just make sure the two aren't the same thin. Check out the notes in each scale and make sure that they are significantly different. The chromatic scale[3] is usually sonically pleasing.
  3. Find out the chord configuration for that scale or mode,. The major scale starting from the first "degree" is as follows: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminished, seventh, ninth. Add chords of two to four notes to some melody notes to produce harmony.
  4. Come up with a drum beat. Don't overdo and try to "display all your talent," especially if the tempo of the song doesn't call for it. Try different beats and speeds, known as tempo, of the beats from an electronic drum source. Start with a slow tempo and insert the melody into the rhythm.
  5. Write the rhythm and lead guitar riffs [4]. If you're writing an upbeat song, you can use full or barre chords, power chords or both. If you're writing a slow, calm song, only use full/barre chords, or there will be nothing in the song worth listening to. If you're going for the heavy metal song, then you can use the higher note/bass note patterns that "At the Gates" popularized for flavor or groove, although it's not recommended that you do it a whole lot or else you'll seem like you're hopping on the mallcore train), power chords can provide the chord progression, and full/barre chords [5] can add something different.
  6. Add the other instruments. Bass can follow the chord progression, but also has the option of doing whatever as long as it stays in the key everyone else is playing in. Keyboards or pianos generally follow the chord progression, although some bands have keyboardists that follow the lead guitar part.
  7. Write the lyrics if you have them. Come up with the chorus, bridge, etc. Progressive songs don't necessarily need the song structure [6].
  8. Add the extras such as solos, etc.

Composing on a Low Budget

  1. Take up singing, or rather remember how to sing. Remember that alphabet song from Sesame Street? We both know that. How about "Sing! Sing a song, make it simple..."
  2. Expand your repertoire. Whether you use karaoke, a choir, or lyrics, you can learn any song. Start with the easy stuff. People really don't mind a newbie coming in and singing "Somewhere, over the Rainbow", which is harder than it sounds.
  3. Apply that to your composition technique. You might start off a composition with "bum, bum, badum, bum...bidabidabohduh" -- then translate that to quarter notes, eighths, and sixteenths. It started off in your head. Really? Can you find lyrics for it? Are you a poet, too?
  4. After you've worked out one part, don't go straight to chords: Work out a whole other part. Does it make duet harmony with your first? Does it naturally carry the same beat? Once your duet harmony works, you can work on third and fourth parts. Six duets are in four-part harmony, and they must all work.
  5. Get some budget equipment and software. A decent headset, perhaps operable with your phone, can be had for thirty dollars in 2016. Professional quality stereo mic: ~180. The software to cut noise and add special effects can be anywhere from free (Audacity) to a rental (Adobe Audition). Record something...most memorable parts....hardest that don't work. Fix them in your head. Rewrite them.
  6. Chuck lots of experiments. It is easy to chuck stuff in your head: Just write a different part for it. Don't worry. If you really learned the melody, then working on counterpoint will hurt nothing. The good patterns will stick.
    • What matters is how much you chuck. If you didn't make two parts work when you were singing them together, then when you write them, you can transpose them. If you have the necessary range, then you can transpose them in your head. Even if you don't have the necessary range, you can transpose them in your imagination.

Printable Sheet Music

Blank Sheet Music


  • Have a tape recorder or electronic sound recorder ready just in case you get a tune in your head. You might forget the short tune overnight.
  • It is a good idea to learn to play more than two musical instruments, such as piano, guitar, and drums - as well as voice - to help composing. This will help you write treble, bass and percussion notes on music sheet paper.
  • After you learn to really 'hear' the music in your head, you can also play on a table if you are not near a piano. Many very well-known composers have written entire songs on a napkin while having dinner out, just by hearing the music in their heads. Once you develop this ability, you can amaze your less musically-inclined friends!
  • If you are interested in investing in it, you can buy software that listens through a microphone and detects notes, then turns it into sheet music where you can add proper rests and other musical notations.
  • A secret of composing pop music is harmony between the notes from the musical instruments and rhythm. A tune sung acapella (without musical instruments) doesn't sound like much, but if you combine it with notes of musical instruments and percussions (rhythm), then a hit (popular song) may be made. One set of bass notes may sound differently without a set of chords for accompaniment on an organ, so harmony and percussion rhythm plays a great role in producing pleasing tunes.
  • If you are using a guitar to compose, learn tab chords function in major and minor keys. You can apply your knowledge to any piece of music.
  • A song generally needs at least three musical instruments and voice such as percussion, bass and rhythm guitar. Five or more instruments is better.
  • A cooking analogy can help you remember to add some things to make your song better. Start with boiling water and some hearty stock to nail down the main flavor and add your meat (drums and bass). Next add in all the different main ingredients (rhythm). Finally, add the spices and flavorings, just enough to kick it up a notch, but not enough to drown out the main flavor (leads, pads, effects).
  • Read Aaron Copland's "What To Listen For In Music." It will greatly influence your methods, especially if you are just a beginner.
  • A good way to start is by creating what is known as 'variations.' They are pieces of music where some of the music is the same, but others have been changes. i.e, a Twinkle Twinkle little star variation can have the same notes, but a different rhythm.
  • For much easier composing, the musical instrument must be accurately tuned to the chromatic musical pitches. It is easier to compose melodies on keyboards like an organ that stays in tune, provided it was tuned accurately in the factory. Use an electronic drum or rhythm source to help composing or to practice composing with rhythm.
  • Try using some music notation programs: Finale, LilyPond, Sibelius, Magic Score, Rosegarden and GuitarPro are all good programs. They allow you to create professional-looking copies of your music. Some are even free.[7]


  • Composing music is hard work! Make sure that you're committed enough to continue even if you fail with your first attempts.
  • If your music doesn't come out the way you may want it to, don't give up! Remember, it's your piece and you can do what ever you want with it!
  • Do not make your song more complicated than it needs to be! The biggest mistake composers can make is to show off their theory knowledge and create a piece that is nearly impossible to play, and looks complicated when written out.

Things You'll Need

  • Instruments
  • Music Writing Software

Article Info

Categories: Songs and Song Writing | Music