5 Priceless Composition Tips For The Young Composer

From hobbyist to professional, these 5 tips will greatly improve your composition ability.

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For me, composition is one of the most rewarding events I can partake in. However, getting comfortable with the language takes a very long time and only a select percentage of people actually turn that dream into a reality.

So I've written down these 5 tips for the young composer. It doesn't matter what style, what level, or how far you truly want to take it from hobbyist to professional, these 5 tips will greatly improve your composition ability.

1. Write Something Every Day

Often overlooked, it's important to realize that practicing our craft as often as possible is necessary for growth. Just like an athlete lifts weights to become stronger and perform better, we must write consistently to more effectively and accurately bring forth our thoughts/emotions/etc. in the music we write.

This doesn't mean we have to write an entirely new piece every day, but you should at least practice composing a section of music or developing a motif. Whether than means you will compose completely by ear today with your guitar and then practice writing for a string quartet tomorrow, doesn't matter. Just make sure that what you practice the most directly correlates with your goals.

As some of you may know, I'm a big fan of listening to and learning from other styles of music. However, when I write, I make sure to focus the majority of my time on music that I like. Every now and then I'll compose a tune in a different style to learn from it, but not nearly as often as I spend time writing music that ultimately caters to my end goals.

2. Define The Form

What I mean by this, is that's it's always nice to know where you're going to end up before you start moving. Sure, sometimes you'll just get in your car and drive around. However, most of the time we have a place in mind that we would like to visit when we get in our car. The same goes for music composition.

It's much easier to compose a piece of music (and a lot less overwhelming!) when you specifically chart out the length of the piece from beginning to end. Once you've done this, it's good to figure out where the sections will split. Perhaps you will have an 8 bar intro and your first chorus will only last 16 measures this time, but the second time it comes around it lasts for 32 measures. It really doesn't matter what you decide, but it's always helpful to chart out a rough idea of what you would like to accomplish before you go about accomplishing it (even if you eventually stray away from your parameters).

3. Be Modest With New Ideas

It's very tempting when you're a young composer to throw in everything you've just learned into your latest composition (I know from experience!). Mixing Funk, Swing, and Death Metal sounds great in concept, but you'll soon learn that it's much easier said than done.

So I recommend choosing only 1 or maybe 2 new ideas that you haven't composed with yet and then mix them into a style you're comfortable with. Haven't composed for 4 voices yet in a traditional classical/counterpoint style and would like to; but you are more familiar with rock music?

Great! Compose something you like for voices first and then take your expertise of rock music and apply it as appropriate. Sure, you'll change the vocal parts a bit as you progress, but you'll also learn new innovative ways of fusing your rock music together with this uniquely different style. Perhaps you'll find that a rock type lead guitar solo doesn't work in this situation, but a unique way of playing arpeggios or chord melody works perfect!

4. Give It Space!

Have you ever wondered why rock guitarists always play power chords and octaves (besides the fact that they sound cool)?

It's because Octaves and Perfect Fifths sound best in the lower range of any instrument and since the guitar transposes down an octave, guitarists tend to play voicing's that start with a Perfect fifth or Octave on the lowest 2 strings (E & A).

It's very important to remember this, as a sturdy foundation in the lower range is essential to most every style of music. Sure, you can play thirds in the lower range but more likely than not it will be too muddy to recognize. So as a rule of thumb, any chord starting below the middle line in the bass clef should be written with a perfect 5th or Octave on bottom.

5. Support That Melody!

Last but surely not least, if you've written a very important melody that is at it's absolute climax and you want for it to come across strongly, then you must support it! Don't expect the violins alone to carry that super high melody (even if there are 20 of them). If you want it to come across strongly, then you must support it in some way.

Usually if it's over the 2nd or 3rd ledger line above the treble staff, you want to support by doubling (sometimes tripling) the melody an octave below in another instrument (perhaps viola, or another guitar for rock). This will come across much more clearly without detracting from the integrity of your melody.

If it's under these ledger lines and still feels a bit weak, than I recommend supporting your mainly melody by 6ths. This is a very commonly used technique and can even give you some unique harmonies that you may not have ever thought of using before.

So, here are your 5 Composition Tips. I hope that you found these useful, but if you practice them frequently then I can guarantee they will be! However, if you still feel hungry for more knowledge, then you can read 3 more Composition Tips at the link below. (Just sign up and a link will be sent to you automatically!)

3 Bonus Composition Tips!

Until next time, take care and keep composing fellow artists.

Copyright 2009 Kole (Kyle Hicks). All rights reserved.

Kole is a Composer for Media, Guitarist, and Instructor living in Los Angeles, CA. To find out more visit his main site.

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

    hildesaw
    This was pretty sweet. I've been taking stabs at composing for multiple instruments lately, besides guitar and bass. It can be tricky. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around fugue. There should be more articles like this. Thanks!
    teknoman
    Interesting... im an amateur composer, i think my music sounds good but when it comes to the vocals its complete hell for me. Any tip on that?. Or should i go to ultimate-singing.com? ha ha ha :-D
    Kole*
    Happy to share and glad all of you are finding this article useful -Kole
    meakel
    Thank you! Simple but really great! You might want to make this clear it's not entirely for beginners though, if I had just started out and read this I'd be a little confused...XD, then again young is a good alternative
    Kole*
    teknoman wrote: Interesting... im an amateur composer, i think my music sounds good but when it comes to the vocals its complete hell for me. Any tip on that?. Or should i go to ultimate-singing.com? ha ha ha :-D
    For solo vocals (popular music song) it kind of depends on the style, but overall I like to try and shape the vocal line so that my highest notes are in the 2nd or last chorus. The verses will be a bit lower and if its rock/pop try to stick to 1 3 5 of the chord For something like a choir, I recommend the same thing (shape wise), but sing/hum each part and let the "spice" of the song be driven by the movement of all the voices as a whole. Usually Songs will have vocals melody over chords/accompaniment, but when writing for choirs it's better to think of them all as the melody and accompaniment. Sometimes the bass voice will be the center of focus rather than the soprano. Hope this helps and best of luck!
    travislausch
    I've always just kind of operated under the "anything goes" composition method, but I do find myself using a couple of these tips regardless, like supporting a melody by doubling it an octave lower, or being fairly modest with new ideas. So these are tips that are pretty useful, as some of the ideas are already pretty much ingrained in the average composer's mind.
    Bobsam3
    sorry dude but this article is a "how to sound like someone else" lesson. that line about only playing octaves and 5ths when playing strings lower than D is retarded. How are you supposed to have any "colour" in your rythym playing if your going ACDC style. Also you shouldn't have a time limit a song ends when it sounds like it should end. I guess its hard writing a lesson about writing seeing as it is so personal and full of self-expression.
    CoreysMonster
    this is really good. A great starting point for young composers, and a good set of basic rules that they can go buy. As Stan Lee, the guy who made spider-man, once said: You can't break the rules until you know them.
    DeadxEndxEmpty
    Lower register harmonies can also be done parallel or symmetrically, but thirds is also an option assuming the initial lick itself is not too muddy. Changing harmony patterns is also a good step, say from parallel to octave to thirds.
    SGteo
    great advice, i suck at composing but i have been trying to get better thanks!
    zegreatdane
    all really great advice man, and i know i should probably be using it to help my own composing, as i have a bit of a timing issue more than an actual theory issue...ugh i need to find the hours in a day to do productive things ha
    sherry07
    Nice article, thanks for posting. Useful, since my friends and I just started rock band!
    cortezio
    Nice thoughts...better than most of the usual How-to-write-a-song articles, cheers
    Zeppelin Addict
    great article man i really like your idea about writing something everyday.. definitely going to give that a try! cheers!
    miskatsu
    hoah I'm stuck in writing riffs... Every riff I get is littlebit too heavy metal... And I wanna play hard-rock! Great article though!
    jean_genie
    Another note on violins and arrangements: pedal tones are always worth trying. In Johnny Cash's version of Hurt every chord in the climax uses a G note, and there's a piano (and an organ mixed way back) playing G chords as pedal tones. Even if you end up taking them out of the mix later, it's a really good way to figure out where you stand during complicated arrangements.
    leCrime
    very good article!! short and helpful for constructive composin without stress or forgeting something.i feel more creative and productive. thanks man! when i try to put vocals on a guitar chord progression or riff. i play it on my organ. because im working with a keyboard im more aware of where my space for arranging is. after that im isolating the melody, practice it, grab my guitar again and hell yeah it rocks
    Kole* wrote: teknoman wrote: Interesting... im an amateur composer, i think my music sounds good but when it comes to the vocals its complete hell for me. Any tip on that?. Or should i go to ultimate-singing.com? ha ha ha :-D For solo vocals (popular music song) it kind of depends on the style, but overall I like to try and shape the vocal line so that my highest notes are in the 2nd or last chorus. The verses will be a bit lower and if its rock/pop try to stick to 1 3 5 of the chord For something like a choir, I recommend the same thing (shape wise), but sing/hum each part and let the "spice" of the song be driven by the movement of all the voices as a whole. Usually Songs will have vocals melody over chords/accompaniment, but when writing for choirs it's better to think of them all as the melody and accompaniment. Sometimes the bass voice will be the center of focus rather than the soprano. Hope this helps and best of luck!