How should I start writing a composition

Enthusiasm for music

Compose your own piece of music. A dream for many musicians. But what's the best way to start? The way from improvising to composing is not that far. Let yourself be taken by the hand and learn to compose your first piece.

Learn to compose

Your own composition is just great. You can be rightly proud of that. You will occasionally play it for years when it falls into your hands. Even if one thinks first and foremost of well-known composers such as Mozart or Beethoven when composing, you can dare to compose yourself without fear. It doesn't have to be a whole symphony!

Still, many wonder how to start composing. At first, don't do too much to yourself. About half a page to two pages is sufficient. Your composition doesn't have to be long. Rather, make sure that it is catchy, has a nice climax and an ending.

That sounds a bit like a story that each of us certainly wrote in school. But ultimately a piece of music is something comparable. Even without text, a piece of music tells something. And the story should by no means be boring!

If you know my sheet music e-book, you will also find this structure here.

In the following you will find instructions with suggestions and tips on how you can work out your own small but fine composition. Of course there are different ways. Here I explain a possible approach with which you as a beginner can come to a good composition.

A first idea through improvisation

The best way to develop a composition is from an improvisation. Because by improvising you collect a lot of ideas. And there is sure to be at least one that is worth writing down or elaborating in more detail. If you've never improvised before, you should take some time to improvise first.

You can start improvising completely spontaneously and think of a harmony sequence and a melody in parallel. Or you first look for a certain chord progression, which you then improvise over in an endless loop, and in this way collect ideas for the melody. Here you can find an example of a chord progression that I have already used for numerous improvisations and ultimately also for a composition.

Start as relaxed as possible and don't put any pressure on yourself about your intention of composing. Because in most cases this is counterproductive for creative ideas!

It basically makes sense to pick up ideas for improvisation. Especially when you notice that you are slowly getting going, have a lot of ideas, but are not really satisfied with them. Usually, when you listen to it later, you can better judge which section of the improvisation is worthwhile for a composition.

But even if you already had an undoubtedly great idea, a recording is of course good. Because that way you won't forget your idea again. You can take a carefree break and continue working with it later. A recording with a smartphone is completely sufficient to capture ideas.

Concretize your idea (s)

When you've found a motif that should be part of your composition, work it out on a theme. Perhaps you already have a theme of several bars from your initial improvisation that you would like to use for your composition. If necessary, you can now specify your initial idea.

Consider making changes, e.g. B. of individual notes in pitch or note value, to polish up your original idea! But it can also be that your original idea sounds very natural and catchy. Do not try to polish it convulsively! It doesn't always get better!

Once you start thinking about the details of your composition, it is definitely worth writing down notes. This works best if you use notation software right from the start.

Develop the composition further

You already have a few bars together, but it's probably still a little short for a composition. Perhaps you will find a second nice motif in your improvisation ideas that you can work out. Or you start a second round of improvisation to come up with more ideas.

You can also develop variations from your first few bars. These often go well at the beginning. This will take you a big step further in your composition with little effort. Variations are similar to a repetition, but in contrast offer one or the other surprise.

Composing with a concept

At the latest when you have already developed one or two ideas for your composition, you should think about the concept of your composition. Because most good compositions are heading for a climax and ultimately come to a nice conclusion. Often these two points are more difficult than getting started!

So plan, for example, that you want to bring something new for a climax and then you want to lead to the conclusion with the opening topic. Whatever your concept, keep it in mind as you continue composing. Otherwise you will get bogged down and not finish the piece. Or it hangs around and quickly becomes boring while playing or listening to it. And that's definitely not your goal!

The climax of your composition

The climax should match the beginning of the piece, but still be different from the rest of the composition. So come up with something new to surprise the listener! For example, you can choose higher notes for the climax, incorporate oblique notes or use triplets for a change. But these are only suggestions. The best thing to do is to let your spontaneous creativity run free!

Go back to the starting point

Two to three ideas are enough for a small but fine composition. If you've come this far, you don't need to make it unnecessarily difficult for yourself. Repeating the opening theme at the end of a piece is often a very good choice! Because our ears find it pleasant when something already familiar returns.

The conclusion of your composition

Find the conclusion. It's a challenge that needs to be mastered, and not just in football. Even when composing. It often helps to just play the last theme of the composition all over again, with the intention of letting the piece end. Do this a few times and trust your spontaneous creativity.

For example, you could change the subject slightly on the final repetition in your composition. Or you can add a phrase afterwards. Depending on the composition, this can be calm and uncomplicated or funny, e.g. B. with targeted breaks. Or you delay the expected final keynote by first playing around it with other notes. In terms of harmonies, the chord with a fourth instead of a third can lead to the final basic chord, as the fourth is finally resolved into a third.

But before you think too much, I advise you to first find a conclusion through improvisation. Especially if you have been making or even just listening to music for a long time, many ideas slumber through your listening experience. Get them out of you and finish your composition! And also remember: giving up now would definitely be the worst alternative.

Take breaks while composing

Composition challenges you. Especially if it is not your day-to-day business. Most people have phases when they are very creative and then less creative again. So be patient with yourself!

Maybe you have some ideas, but you lack the power to judge what is good for your composition. Most of the time it helps if you take a break. Record your ideas or put them on paper, then set them aside. If you look at or hear your ideas again the next day or several days later, you will be better able to decide how to proceed with your composition.

It is also possible that you have actually already finished your composition, but perhaps you are no longer convinced of it yourself. Somehow dissatisfied. Time, patience and serenity also help here. If you play your composition again after a few days and you (still) like it, that's a very good sign.

Or maybe you just have a passage or two in the piece that you don't like. Then you can specifically rewrite these passages. But this is best done with a little time lag. So take your time for breaks! They will do you and your composition good.

Notation software for your finished composition

Is your piece composed? What does your score look like? Did you work by hand or did you enter the notes in a notation software while composing?

You can of course play both. Even so, you will probably be a little bit more proud of it if your composition exists in a professional sheet music format. It will also make it easier for you to give your composition to someone else to play with. With music notation software, you can also listen to the notes you have written down to check that you have written everything correctly.

Finale or Sibelius, for example, are suitable as notation software. With Finale NotePad and Sibelius First, there are also free variants to get you started. The MusicXML file format also enables sheet music to be exchanged between different programs.

LilyPond is also completely free. This is a text-based notation program, i. H. the notes are not set graphically here, as is the case with Sibelius or Finale. With LilyPond, the notation is written down as a script, which is then compiled by the program.

You managed!

As you can see, composing takes a few steps to get to the finished sheet music. But if you do these one after the other, it's not that difficult and can also be done well for amateur musicians. If you have held out to the end, you now hold your (first) own composition in your hands! Congratulations!

If you are looking for examples of small but fine compositions, I recommend my sheet music e-book. Maybe you can get inspiration from my pieces for your compositional attempts.

I would be happy if you tell me about your first experiences in composing in the commentary. If you want to get even more practice in improvising, then read on here.

If you want to spice up your improvisations further, check out my tips and tricks to enrich your improvisations and take them to the next level. Did you know that you can also compose with sounds?

👉 Read more: 10 tips for more fun and variety when making music

Cover photo: edited sheet of music from FinaleNotepad

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