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How to write music...

These are just a few ideas I have decided to bounce around that others might find helpful.

One of the main things that prevents a person from writing music is fear of failure or worrying about what others think. It’s as if everyone expects a composer to be a complete genius, such as the Mozarts and Beethovens of the world, and anything less is just not going to be good enough. In actual fact, so long as there is a strong desire and an appreciation of music, there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t write his or her own music.

Another thing that holds people back from writing music is the fear of copying existing music. These days with so much music already written and still being written, it is easy to think that nothing more can be done. In fact, the number of possible note, rhythm and instrument combinations must be almost inexhaustible. There is probably no end to what is possible.

If you view success as being the ability to impress as many people in the world as possible or to make a lot of money, then you will be disappointed very quickly. If you simply want to enjoy the process of creating music, gradually learning and improve the skill and working towards completing compositions, then it can be a most satisfying occupation. It helps a lot if you already play a musical instrument or can sing. Such skills provide the basis for musical improvisation that allow you to explore possibilities.

Another stumbling block is the process of notating the music as you write it. Some clever people can simply memorise their improvisations and compositions but it doesn’t work for everyone. Music notation software, of which there are some very good low cost or free options available, once mastered will make the process of writing your music much easier than using pencil and manuscript paper. Of course, the better your understanding of music theory, the easier it is to know how to use music notation software.

But how and where do you start? First and foremost, it’s important to forget about your inhibitions. Try to be like a child - perhaps try writing something that makes you feel some kind of emotion be it happiness or nostalgia. The first thing you write might not be perfect but you have to start somewhere - anywhere at all! Be prepared to accept it at it is and try to learn something from the exercise. Just do it and see what happens. Think of what it was like when you drew or painted pictures as a young child. You probably didn’t think ‘oh that’s rubbish!’. Perhaps you felt quite satisfied with it and moved on to start the next one.

Keep it simple, at least to begin with. The tendency for beginners is to expect to do too much all at once. Be realistic. A beginner is unlikely to be able to start off writing beautifully harmonised preludes in the style of Bach. Simple melodies without accompaniment are more realistic. Experienced composers usually set boundaries for themselves to work within in order to ensure that they don’t get too carried away with their ideas. For example, you might decide to write a piece that lasts 30 seconds, uses just three notes and has two beats in every bar. Too many conflicting ideas in a single composition can create confusion for the listener.

Sometimes an idea can come to mind, perhaps a simple and catchy melody, and it is difficult to know where to take the idea. This is where experimentation comes into play where you can try varying the idea. Try changing the last two or so notes in the melody or change the order of the notes. Turn the musical idea upside down and see how it sounds. Or you can simply follow your musical instincts and see where they take the melody.

Some people find it easier to let ideas flow naturally than to attempt to contrive or plan a composition. Other composers map out precisely what is going to happen before writing. Different approaches work for different people and over time you will discover what works best for you. It’s a good idea to think about how you might do better on your next attempt.

What you end up writing is ultimately going to be influenced by your own experience and understanding of music, as well as tastes and preferences. If you have listened to a wide range of musical styles and have had a good grounding in music theory, you will be able to more readily recognise musical ideas that might have been overused or considered clichés. If you are trying to write original music it is important to avoid such clichés or if you plan to use them, perhaps try to use them in a way that is unique.

In order to be original, try not to adhere too religiously to rules. If everyone followed the same rules then all music would most probably sound very much the same. Learn to trust your ears and that sometimes rules can be broken. There was a time when including sharp dissonance in music was considered a mortal sin! Nowadays dissonance is used freely to create delightful effects. So, if something sounds good to your ears then it might be a sign that others will like it too.

As you become more experienced it is a good idea to challenge yourself from time to time rather than always write in the same style. Be daring, try to branch out and explore possibilities to see what happens. You might not always produce great music but sometimes the best things are the result of accidental discoveries.