Self-Teaching Music Composition: A Comprehensive Guide

Music CompositionLeave a Comment on Self-Teaching Music Composition: A Comprehensive Guide

Self-Teaching Music Composition: A Comprehensive Guide

Are you ready to unleash your inner composer? Self-teaching music composition can be a thrilling and rewarding journey, allowing you to express your creativity and bring your unique musical visions to life. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician looking to expand your skills, this comprehensive guide will provide you with the tools and techniques you need to succeed. From understanding music theory to exploring different genres and composing techniques, we’ll cover everything you need to know to start creating your own music. So grab your instrument of choice, put on your composer’s hat, and let’s dive into the world of self-taught music composition!

Setting the Foundation

Developing a Basic Understanding of Music Theory

Introduction to Music Theory

Music theory is the study of the structure, harmony, and melody of music. It is an essential aspect of understanding how to compose music, as it provides a foundation for understanding the building blocks of music. Music theory is based on the principles of sound and the way that sounds interact with each other.

Key Concepts and Terminology

There are several key concepts and terminology that are important to understand when learning music theory. These include:

  • Pitch: The highness or lowness of a sound.
  • Melody: A sequence of single pitches that make up a musical line.
  • Harmony: The combination of two or more notes played at the same time.
  • Rhythm: The pattern of long and short sounds in music.
  • Meter: The rhythmic structure of a piece of music.
  • Scales: A series of pitches arranged in a specific order.
  • Chords: A group of three or more notes played at the same time.

Notation and Reading Sheet Music

Music notation is a system of writing down music so that it can be read and played. It is an essential skill for any musician, and it is especially important for composers, as it allows them to communicate their ideas to other musicians.

Sheet music is a written representation of a piece of music. It shows the pitches, rhythm, and timing of the music, as well as any instructions for the performer. To read sheet music, a musician must be able to understand the various symbols and notations used in the music.

Learning to read sheet music can be a challenging but rewarding process. It is important to start with simple pieces of music and gradually work your way up to more complex pieces. Practice reading sheet music regularly to improve your skills and become more comfortable with the different notations and symbols used in music.

Choosing Your Instrument and Software

Selecting the right instrument

Choosing the right instrument is crucial to the creative process in music composition. Different instruments have different tonal qualities, and each one can bring a unique flavor to your compositions. Consider factors such as the instrument’s versatility, ease of use, and affordability when making your selection.

Essential software for music composition

In today’s digital age, music composition software has become an indispensable tool for composers. It provides a wide range of capabilities, from simple recording and editing to advanced sound design and notation. Some popular software options include Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, and FL Studio. It’s essential to choose software that fits your skill level, musical style, and budget.

Basic software functions and tools

Once you have selected your instrument and software, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the basic functions and tools. This includes understanding how to navigate the interface, how to create and edit MIDI files, and how to use essential effects such as reverb, delay, and EQ. It’s also important to understand the basics of music theory, such as rhythm, melody, and harmony, to create a well-structured composition.

Establishing Your Composition Goals

When embarking on your journey to self-teach music composition, it is crucial to establish clear and attainable goals. This section will guide you through defining your personal style, exploring various genres and subgenres, and setting realistic goals and expectations.

Defining Your Personal Style

As you progress in your self-taught music composition journey, it is important to develop your unique voice and style. This involves understanding your preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as exploring different musical styles that resonate with you. Take time to listen to various genres and subgenres, and consider the following questions:

  • What type of mood or emotion do I want to convey in my compositions?
  • Which instruments or sounds do I find most appealing?
  • What musical techniques or elements do I enjoy incorporating in my work?

By answering these questions, you will begin to define your personal style and set the foundation for your composition goals.

Genres and Subgenres to Explore

To broaden your knowledge and skills in music composition, it is essential to explore various genres and subgenres. Here are some examples to consider:

  • Classical: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, Modern
  • Jazz: Swing, Bebop, Cool, Fusion, Avant-Garde
  • Popular: Pop, Rock, Hip-Hop, Electronic, Alternative
  • Film and Game: Orchestral, Ambient, Electronic, Experimental

Remember that this is not an exhaustive list, and there are countless other genres and subgenres to explore. By familiarizing yourself with different styles, you will expand your creative palette and be better equipped to develop your unique voice.

Setting Realistic Goals and Expectations

It is important to set realistic goals and expectations for yourself when embarking on a self-taught music composition journey. Consider the following when setting your goals:

  • Time commitment: Determine how much time you can realistically dedicate to learning and practicing music composition each day or week.
  • Skill level: Assess your current skill level and identify areas where you need improvement.
  • Resources: Identify the resources you have available, such as music theory books, online tutorials, or composition software.

By setting achievable goals and expectations, you will maintain motivation and avoid feeling overwhelmed by the learning process.

Remember, the key to establishing your composition goals is to define your personal style, explore various genres and subgenres, and set realistic goals and expectations. With a clear understanding of your musical preferences and aspirations, you will be well on your way to becoming a skilled self-taught music composer.

Building Your Skills

Key takeaway: To self-teach music composition, it is important to develop a basic understanding of music theory, choose the right instrument and software, set realistic goals and expectations, improve aural skills, enhance technical abilities, navigate the creative process, and balance inspiration and perspiration. Additionally, continuing to grow as a composer involves staying current with industry trends and technologies, networking with other professionals in the field, and embracing new challenges and opportunities.

Improving Your Aural Skills

Active listening and analysis

One of the most important aspects of improving your aural skills is active listening and analysis. This involves paying close attention to the music you listen to and analyzing it to understand how it works.

To start, choose a piece of music that you want to analyze. It could be a song from your favorite artist, a classical piece, or anything else that interests you. Then, listen to the piece of music multiple times, taking note of the different elements that make it up.

For example, you might listen to the melody, harmony, and rhythm of the piece, and try to identify the different instruments and voices that are playing. You might also pay attention to the structure of the piece, such as the verse-chorus-verse structure of a pop song or the sonata form of a classical piece.

By actively listening and analyzing music, you’ll develop a better understanding of how different elements work together to create a cohesive piece of music. This will help you to develop your own compositions and to understand the music of others.

Ear training exercises

Another important aspect of improving your aural skills is ear training. This involves developing your ability to identify and replicate different musical elements, such as pitches, intervals, and chords.

There are many ear training exercises that you can do to improve your skills. For example, you might try singing a pitch and then trying to find the pitch on an instrument, or listening to a chord progression and trying to identify the chords.

You can also use software or apps that provide ear training exercises, such as Musition or Functional Ear Trainer. These tools can help you to develop your skills in a structured and efficient way.

Sight-singing and sight-reading

Sight-singing and sight-reading are two related skills that involve reading and performing music that you’ve never heard before. Sight-singing involves singing a piece of music that you‘ve never seen before, while sight-reading involves playing a piece of music that you‘ve never seen before on an instrument.

Both of these skills are important for any musician, whether you’re a composer, performer, or listener. By developing your sight-singing and sight-reading skills, you’ll be able to read and perform music more fluently, which will help you to become a more confident and competent musician.

To improve your sight-singing and sight-reading skills, you can start by practicing with simple pieces of music and gradually working your way up to more complex pieces. You can also use software or apps that provide sight-singing and sight-reading exercises, such as Sight Reading Mastery or Music Reading Practice.

Overall, improving your aural skills is an important part of becoming a skilled musician. By actively listening and analyzing music, doing ear training exercises, and practicing sight-singing and sight-reading, you’ll be well on your way to developing the skills you need to compose your own music.

Enhancing Your Technical Abilities

Mastering software and hardware

In order to become proficient in music composition, it is essential to have a solid understanding of the tools you will be using. This includes not only software such as digital audio workstations (DAWs) but also hardware such as midi controllers and audio interfaces.

  • Familiarize yourself with the basics of your chosen DAW. This may include learning how to navigate the interface, create and edit audio tracks, and add effects and instruments.
  • Practice using your midi controller or other hardware to input notes and control various parameters in real-time.

Experimenting with different instruments and sounds

Experimenting with a wide variety of instruments and sounds is an important part of developing your own unique style as a composer. This can include exploring virtual instruments, sample libraries, and even creating your own custom sounds using synthesizers and other sound generation tools.

  • Try out different virtual instruments and sample libraries to find ones that inspire you and fit with your musical style.
  • Experiment with different synthesis techniques to create custom sounds that fit your compositions.

Expanding your knowledge of music production techniques

As you continue to develop your skills as a composer, it is important to continually expand your knowledge of music production techniques. This may include learning about different mixing and mastering techniques, as well as exploring advanced topics such as music theory and composition.

  • Seek out resources such as online tutorials, books, and courses to learn new techniques and deepen your understanding of music production.
  • Practice applying these techniques to your own compositions to improve your skills and develop your own unique style.

Developing Your Compositional Techniques

As you continue to self-teach music composition, it’s important to actively work on developing your compositional techniques. This involves refining your ability to create music that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also technically sound. Here are some ways to help you develop your compositional techniques:

  • Studying the works of famous composers: One of the best ways to improve your compositional skills is to study the works of famous composers. This can help you understand the structure and form of classical music, as well as the techniques used by these composers to create their masterpieces. By analyzing the works of great composers, you can gain insight into how they used harmony, melody, rhythm, and other elements to create their compositions.
  • Analyzing structure and form: To develop your compositional techniques, it’s important to analyze the structure and form of music. This involves breaking down a piece of music into its individual components, such as the melody, harmony, and rhythm, and understanding how they work together to create a cohesive whole. By analyzing the structure and form of music, you can learn how to create your own compositions that are well-structured and effectively convey your musical ideas.
  • Applying theory to your compositions: Another way to develop your compositional techniques is to apply music theory to your compositions. This involves understanding the fundamental principles of music theory, such as harmony, counterpoint, and rhythm, and using them to create your own compositions. By incorporating music theory into your compositions, you can create music that is technically sound and aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, by understanding the underlying theory behind music, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the art form and develop a more well-rounded compositional style.

Navigating the Creative Process

Overcoming Creative Blocks

Identifying common causes of blocks

One of the primary reasons composers experience creative blocks is due to the immense pressure they place on themselves to produce original and innovative work. The fear of failure and the expectation to meet external or internal expectations can be paralyzing, causing composers to become stuck in a cycle of self-doubt and indecision.

Another common cause of creative blocks is a lack of inspiration or motivation. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as burnout, a lack of interest in the project at hand, or a lack of resources or time to dedicate to the creative process.

Strategies for reinvigorating your creativity

To overcome creative blocks, it’s essential to approach the creative process with a renewed sense of curiosity and openness. One strategy is to explore new musical styles or genres that you haven’t worked with before, which can help you break out of your comfort zone and find new sources of inspiration.

Another strategy is to collaborate with other musicians and composers. This can help you gain new perspectives and ideas, as well as provide a sense of accountability and motivation to keep creating.

Collaborating with other musicians and composers

Collaborating with other musicians and composers can be a powerful way to overcome creative blocks and reinvigorate your creativity. By working with others, you can gain new perspectives and ideas, as well as access a wider range of resources and expertise.

Collaboration can take many forms, from co-writing songs with other composers to working with a band or orchestra to create a larger ensemble work. Regardless of the specific form of collaboration, it’s essential to approach the process with an open mind and a willingness to learn from others.

Additionally, collaborating with others can provide a sense of accountability and motivation to keep creating, even when you’re feeling stuck or uninspired. By working with others, you can build a supportive community of fellow musicians and composers who can help you stay on track and overcome any obstacles that arise.

Revising and Refining Your Work

The Importance of Feedback and Critique

In the world of music composition, it is crucial to seek feedback and critique from others. This can be done by joining a music composition group, workshop, or class, or by finding a mentor who can provide guidance and constructive criticism. The feedback and critique of others can help you identify areas for improvement, as well as highlight your strengths and unique voice as a composer.

Techniques for Self-Editing and Refinement

Self-editing and refinement are essential skills for any music composer, especially for those who are self-taught. Here are some techniques that can help you revise and refine your work:

  • Take breaks: It’s important to step away from your work and come back to it with fresh eyes and ears. Taking breaks can help you gain perspective and identify areas that need improvement.
  • Listen critically: As a composer, it’s important to listen critically to your work and identify areas that need improvement. This can be done by listening to your work in different environments, such as on headphones or in a live performance space.
  • Analyze other composers’ work: Analyzing the work of other composers can help you identify techniques and structures that you can incorporate into your own work. This can also help you develop your own unique voice as a composer.
  • Seek feedback from others: While self-editing and refinement are important, it’s also crucial to seek feedback from others. This can help you identify areas for improvement and refine your work.

Knowing When to Move On and When to Revisit a Piece

As a composer, it’s important to know when to move on from a piece and when to revisit it. Here are some tips to help you make this decision:

  • Trust your instincts: If a piece feels complete and satisfies you, it may be time to move on. On the other hand, if a piece feels unfinished or unsatisfying, it may be worth revisiting.
  • Set deadlines: Setting deadlines for yourself can help you move on from a piece and avoid getting stuck in a creative rut. However, it’s important to be flexible with these deadlines and allow yourself the time and space to revisit a piece if necessary.
  • Seek feedback from others: Feedback from others can help you identify areas for improvement and determine whether a piece is ready to be moved on from or revised.

In conclusion, revising and refining your work is an essential part of the music composition process. By seeking feedback and critique, using self-editing and refinement techniques, and knowing when to move on and when to revisit a piece, you can develop your skills as a composer and create music that is both satisfying and impactful.

Balancing Inspiration and Perspiration

Finding the right balance between creativity and discipline

Creating music is an art that requires both creativity and discipline. It’s important to have a vision for your composition, but also to put in the work to make that vision a reality. A successful composer must be able to balance these two aspects of the creative process.

Setting aside dedicated time for composition

To be a successful self-taught composer, it’s important to set aside dedicated time for composition. This can be difficult, especially when juggling other responsibilities, but it’s crucial to make time for your art.

Embracing the process and enjoying the journey

Composing music can be a long and challenging process, but it’s important to embrace the journey and enjoy the creative process. By approaching composition with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn, you’ll be more likely to create music that you’re proud of.

Furthering Your Education

Expanding Your Knowledge Base

One of the most effective ways to improve your skills as a music composer is to continuously expand your knowledge base. Here are some practical steps you can take to achieve this goal:

Reading Books and Articles on Music Composition

There are countless books and articles available on music composition that can provide you with valuable insights and techniques. Some popular books on music composition include “The Craft of Music Composition” by Walter Piston, “The Art of Music Composition” by Richard C. Harrington, and “Harmony in Western Music” by Edward L. Campbell. Additionally, you can find articles on music composition in various online music magazines and blogs.

Attending Workshops and Masterclasses

Attending workshops and masterclasses is an excellent way to learn from experienced music composers and gain practical knowledge. Many universities and music schools offer workshops and masterclasses that are open to the public. You can also find online workshops and masterclasses that you can attend from the comfort of your own home.

Participating in Online Forums and Communities

Online forums and communities are great resources for music composers who want to connect with other like-minded individuals and learn from their experiences. You can find online forums and communities on social media platforms such as Facebook and Reddit. Additionally, you can join music composition-related groups on these platforms to connect with other composers and learn from their experiences.

Pursuing Formal Education

  • Understanding the benefits of formal education
  • Researching music composition programs
  • Preparing for the application process

Understanding the Benefits of Formal Education

While self-teaching can be a valuable and effective way to learn music composition, pursuing formal education has its own unique benefits. A formal education in music composition provides a structured and comprehensive learning experience, offering a solid foundation in music theory, history, and composition techniques. It also offers opportunities to collaborate with fellow students and instructors, and to gain exposure to a variety of musical styles and traditions. Additionally, a formal education can open doors to future career opportunities and help to establish a professional network within the music industry.

Researching Music Composition Programs

When considering pursuing formal education in music composition, it’s important to research various programs to find one that best fits your goals and needs. Look for programs that offer a strong curriculum in music theory, composition, and music technology, as well as opportunities for performance and collaboration. Additionally, consider the reputation of the program, the qualifications of the faculty, and the availability of resources such as music libraries and recording studios.

Preparing for the Application Process

Once you’ve identified programs you’re interested in, it’s time to prepare for the application process. This may include submitting audition materials, such as original compositions or scores, as well as transcripts and letters of recommendation. It’s important to carefully review the application requirements for each program and to submit all required materials by the deadline. Additionally, it’s a good idea to prepare for any interviews or portfolio reviews that may be part of the application process.

Continuing to Grow as a Composer

Staying current with industry trends and technologies

One of the keys to success as a self-taught composer is staying current with industry trends and technologies. This means keeping up with the latest software, hardware, and music production techniques. Some ways to do this include:

  • Reading industry publications and blogs
  • Participating in online forums and communities
  • Attending workshops and seminars
  • Experimenting with new software and hardware

Networking with other professionals in the field

Networking with other professionals in the field is another important aspect of continuing to grow as a composer. This can include:

  • Attending music industry events and conferences
  • Joining professional organizations
  • Reaching out to other composers for advice and collaboration
  • Participating in online communities and forums

Embracing new challenges and opportunities

Finally, it’s important to embrace new challenges and opportunities as a self-taught composer. This can include:

  • Taking on new projects and collaborations
  • Experimenting with different genres and styles
  • Learning new instruments and techniques
  • Seeking out feedback and critiques from others in the industry.


1. What are the basic elements of music composition?

Music composition involves several basic elements such as melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and form. Melody refers to a sequence of single pitches that make up a musical line. Harmony refers to the combination of two or more pitches sounding at the same time. Rhythm refers to the pattern of long and short sounds in music. Texture refers to the way that musical elements are layered and arranged. Form refers to the structure of a piece of music, including its beginning, middle, and end.

2. How can I learn music theory to improve my composition skills?

Music theory is the study of the language and structure of music. It can help you understand how different elements of music work together and how to create effective compositions. There are many resources available for learning music theory, including textbooks, online courses, and apps. It’s important to start with the basics, such as learning to read sheet music and understanding the structure of a scale, and then gradually build your knowledge from there.

3. What software can I use to compose music?

There are many software programs available for composing music, both free and paid. Some popular options include GarageBand, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, and Sibelius. These programs allow you to create and edit sheet music, record and edit audio, and add various instruments and effects. It’s important to choose a program that is user-friendly and meets your specific needs as a composer.

4. How can I practice composition?

Practice is key to improving your composition skills. You can start by setting aside dedicated time each day or week to work on composing. You can also try setting specific goals for yourself, such as composing a certain number of pieces per week or month. It’s also helpful to seek feedback from other musicians or composers, either through online forums or in-person collaborations.

5. How can I stay motivated while learning music composition?

Learning music composition can be a challenging and rewarding process. It’s important to stay motivated and engaged throughout your journey. One way to do this is to focus on the progress you’ve made, rather than getting discouraged by what you still need to learn. You can also try setting up a system of rewards for yourself, such as listening to your favorite music or taking a break to practice a different instrument, to keep yourself motivated. Remember that music composition is a lifelong learning process, and it’s okay to take your time and enjoy the journey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top