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Three Steps To Get Started With A Musical Composition

By Matti Carter

1. Creating A Musical Idea

 


First, you will need to create at least one, powerful musical idea to use as the basis of your composition. The idea you are creating does not have to be very complex. It could be a simple melody, a short chord progression or a rhythmic idea. Make it short and memorable.


There are many ways to come up with ideas, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. People are different, and everyone has their own way of creating ideas. Some composers get musical ideas just by imagining the music in their head. Others may get inspiration by exploring what they see around them, or by the emotions that they are currently experiencing. Some may need to use their  musical instruments as a tool to come up with a good idea.


Which ever method you like the most to come up with ideas, you need to write down your ideas as soon as you get them into your head. That way you will not forget them. Coming up with a simple idea should not take you too long. If you are able to create lots of ideas quickly, you may want to pick the best idea to work on first. However, make sure to write down all the ideas that you come up with, so that you don’t forget about them in the future.


2. Developing The Idea


Once you have come up with a musical idea that you like, you need to start developing it further. You are going to use the idea as the basis for everything else you create. This way all the material you create will be related to the idea in some way.


Let’s say you have created a short melody that is four bars long. There is almost an unlimited amount of things that you could do to start developing it further.


Here are some examples of the things you could do to your idea:


1) Modify the rhythm of the melody

2) Modify the pitch of the melody

3) Create an inversion of the melody
4) Create a retrograde of the melody

5) Create a chord progression for the melody

6) Create several different chord progressions for the melody

7) Create a second voice for the melody

8) Create lots of different voices for the melody

9) Make the melody longer


You can use the examples given above, or think of your own ways to develop your melody further.

 
You can do literally anything you want with your musical idea, and you can even combine several different ways of modifying your idea. The point is to end up with as much material as you can, which is all somehow related to the idea you created to begin with. The more material you come up with, the easier it will be to finish your composition.


3. Planning The Structure Of Your Composition


Now it is time to design the structure of you composition. You can do this by creating a timeline, where you place each section of the composition in order. Write down the duration for each section, and decide how long you want your composition to be in total. Planning the different sections of your composition will make it much easier and faster to complete your composition.


After taking the three previously described steps (1, 2 and 3), you have achieved the following:


1) A musical idea (or lots of musical ideas)

2) Lots of material based on the idea(s)

3) A solid plan for your composition


Now all you have to do is arrange the musical material that you created into different sections of the composition. Assuming that you did steps 1 and 2, you will have lots of material to use for your composition. Arrange as much material into the different sections of the composition as possible.


If you are not able to fill the entire structure with material yet, you can easily create more material to add to it later. If you are not happy with the quality of the material, edit it for as long as it takes. The point is that you now have a solid plan and lots of material to work with, which will help you finish your music a lot faster.


© Matti Carter 2018

I am going to show you an efficient way to get started with your musical compositions. Based on my own experience composing different kinds of music, I very often end up taking the following steps:


1. Creating a musical idea

2. Developing the idea

3. Planning the structure of the composition


I’ve ordered the steps as shown above, because that is the order that I use most often. However, it is also possible to start with step 3, and then do steps 1 and 2. Let’s look at the three steps in more detail:

About The Author


Matti Carter is a professional musician based in Tampere, Finland. He composes music and writes instructional materials about music. If you have any questions, feel free to contact him.