So You Want to Write Music


in Composition, Music Theory

From Guest Music Theory Blogger:  Robert Reno

Many of you reading this may have written songs, or have tried your hand at writing songs. By definition, a song has words. But for simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the term “song” to represent music composition with or without words.

Human beings are creative by nature. For some of us, the creative urge comes in the form of writing music. We don’t know why; we just aren’t satisfied unless we’re creating music. Okay, so you have that creative urge. What do you do next?

If this seems to describe you, you probably have no problem coming up with musical ideas. Either you hear tunes in your head, or you improvise and stumble across a chord progression or melodic phrase that you like. But you don’t know how to turn it into a complete piece of music.

Harmony and Intuition

I have had many music theory and composition students over the years who write songs. Most either play the guitar and sing, or play the piano and sing. They use their instrument to provide the harmony for their tune.

Like it or not, our musical system is based on harmony. Some of these students seem to have a knack for understanding harmony intuitively. But most get stuck because they are lacking in the knowledge of chord structure and chord relationships – that is, the music theory behind what they are composing.

Intuition is a great way to begin, but you must learn the deeper aspects of musical structure to write music successfully.

Every year I hear the argument about successful musicians who can’t read music, and don’t really understand music theory. It just so happens that some have enough of an intuitive sense of harmony to get by. I don’t want to be a bearer of bad news, but odds are, you’re not one of them.

I’ve taught music theory and composition long enough to know that 99.99% of folks that want to write songs, but never apply themselves to learning music theory, never complete a song.

Brad has provided some wonderful learning tools for you. Take advantage of them! When you begin to apply yourself to understanding the structure of music, a completely new world of creative possibilities opens for you.

Tools of the Music Writer

There is no right or wrong way to write music. In fact, I have discovered that every new piece of music I write has its own rules. In other words, it seems to take on a life of its own.

My job as the composer is to craft the musical tendencies that emerge from my original idea. An aspiring cabinet builder might know that the cabinet needs doors, but he’s out of luck if he doesn’t have the right tools, or if he doesn’t know anything about hinges!

So, as a composer, you somehow know that your song needs something more, but if you don’t have the right tools, you’ll most likely never figure it out, and your song will never be completed.

If you have that urge to compose music, don’t wait to learn music theory before you start composing. Start learning music theory as you compose.

If you apply yourself, I can’t promise you a full-time career in music, but I can promise you the personal joy that comes when you hear your musical creation from beginning to end, and everything sounds just right!

Copyright © 2010, Robert Reno

Bob Reno is a composer, arranger and author of Materials of Music, a university-level theory text. You can read more by him at Learning and Loving Music Theory.

Thanks Bob for a great post, it's definitely personal joy for me! – Brad

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