How to Write Music

2. Writing Music Road Map


Old (2005-2010) Article Series

Lesson 2: Writing Music Road Map

There's more than one way to approach learning to write music. Different approaches appeal to different people, and it's good to try several different approaches yourself. Here are some possible approaches:

  • Learn songs, then just do it
  • Music theory
  • Analyze music
  • Step-by-step procedures

Learn songs, then just do it. This is the "intuitive" approach. Playing (and singing) music by other people (Lesson 5: Playing Chord Progressions) can give you an intuitive sense for how music works, and ideas for your own music. You can play around with chords from other people's songs, and just try singing whatever comes into your head along with the chords. This is probably how most people learn to write music.

If you use the "just do it" approach, then you're pretty much on your own, so have fun with it and come back here when you want to try the other approaches below.

Music theory. For hundreds of years, people have noticed patterns in music and "rules" that most music follows, invented a language to talk about them, and invented theories about why these patterns and rules sound good. If you like this sort of thing (I know I do), then knowing music theory can help a lot when writing your own music. Many of these lessons are about music theory.

Analyze music. This means studying other people's music to figure out how it works. This is the most powerful approach I know to grow your collection of ideas and make your music more interesting. The only reason I list this approach after "music theory" is because music theory is the foundation for analyzing music. I plan to analyze many musical examples in these lessons, but in the long run that's just to help you learn to analyze music yourself, so that you can learn from the music you like rather than from the examples I pick.

Step-by-step procedures. Even if you understand how other people's music works, it can be hard to figure out exactly how to proceed when writing your own, and helpful to follow a step-by-step recipe. For example, here's one high-level recipe for creating a song:

  1. Create a short chord progression (Lesson 4: Chord Progressions)
  2. Add a melody to it (Lesson 15: Adding Melody to Chords)
  3. Expand the short idea into a chorus (or verse)
  4. Add a verse (or chorus)
  5. Add lyrics, bridge, intro, more verses and choruses, until you have a whole song (Expanding an Idea into a Song)
  6. Create a multi-instrument arrangement (drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, etc.) (Lesson 16: Arranging)

Each of these steps can be broken down into smaller steps. I try to give lots of step-by-step procedures in these lessons.

by Conrad Albrecht 2015. Questions, comments, ideas? Tell me on Facebook!

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