Music Composition For Dummies book cover

Music Composition For Dummies

Authors:
Scott Jarrett ,
Holly Day
Published: January 18, 2008

Overview

Music Composition For Dummies demystifies the process of composing music and writing songs. It guides you through every step of writing your own music, from choosing the right rhythm and tempo to creating melodies and chord progressions and working with instruments and voices. In this fun and practical guide, youll learn how to match keys and chords to the mood you want to convey, work a form without limiting your creativity, and hammer out a musical idea, even when your mind is drawing a blank
Music Composition For Dummies demystifies the process of composing music and writing songs. It guides you through every step of writing your own music, from choosing the right rhythm and tempo to creating melodies and chord progressions and working with
instruments and voices. In this fun and practical guide, youll learn how to match keys and chords to the mood you want to convey, work a form without limiting your creativity, and hammer out a musical idea, even when your mind is drawing a blank

Articles From The Book

10 results

Music Composition Articles

Spurring Musical Creativity for Composing

You can't overestimate the value of a good musical imagination. It's the single most powerful source for composing music — if you can tap into it. The imagination is so powerful, in fact, that it was long ago personified as the Muse.

Because it's inside your head, though, your imagination is also the hardest source to put your finger on. Its timing is sometimes off, for one thing. The Muse can feed you melodies when you least expect them and are least prepared to do anything about them.

But you can do a few things to help your Muse produce new music. Here are some tips for encouraging your Muse:

  • The Muse needs space to work in. Turn off the TV, log off the Internet, turn off your cell phone, and tell your family that you are indisposed for the next hour or two.
  • The Muse likes to be nourished. Every day, expose yourself to a variety of musical influences — not just the few favorites you keep cycling through. For your Muse to get real exposure to different music, listen with full attention.
  • The Muse likes quiet. Music as a background often silences or distracts the Muse. It's hard to focus on what you're hearing in the mind's ear when you're hearing things in your physical ear.
  • The Muse needs you to follow where she leads. The Muse can't do it all; you have to do your part. Once the Muse gives you something, run with it. Work it, play with it — above all, write it down! No matter how impressive your melody seems at the moment, it will slip out of your head just as magically as it slipped in.
  • Your Muse needs you to remember what she says. Keep a pencil and paper or a simple recording device next to your bed. The first few seconds after you wake up provide the best opportunity to clearly recall your dreams. Discipline yourself to write them down, even if there is no music in them. And when you do wake up with a strangely unfamiliar and uncharacteristic Beatles song in your head, get it down on paper or tape. It's possible that it wasn't a Beatles song at all, but your Muse playing hide-and-seek with you. (Of course, make sure it wasn't an actual Beatles song before you try to publish it!)
  • The Muse works for you. If you sit at your keyboard, piano, guitar, computer, or pad and paper long enough in a patient, receptive state, your Muse will show up more often than not. The Muse lives in your subconscious, waiting for only one thing: your impassioned receptivity. Once you figure out how to turn that on, you will be on another level entirely as a composer. If you defend a routine time and place to work quietly, your Muse will become trained to know when and where to make an appearance.
  • The Muse is fickle. Of course, even if you do all of this, it won't always work.

Music Composition Articles

Concert Pitch and Transposition

The piano is a well-loved music composition tool for a reason. Not only do the piano's 88 keys contain virtually all the notes you'll ever need to create a solid foundation for a full orchestral composition, but the entire piano is tuned to concert pitch. Concert pitch simply means that when you hit a C on the piano, you are actually playing a C.

However, if you play a C on a transposing instrument, you get another note entirely, and this is where it can get confusing. For example, if you were playing a B-flat clarinet, and the sheet music showed a written C, you would actually be playing a B flat concert pitch. If you were to play a written C on an E-flat alto sax, you would actually be playing an E flat concert pitch.

The easy answer for why transposing instruments are the way they are has as much to do with convenience as with historical tradition. Most instruments are too small to contain the 88 notes of a piano, so most instruments have only a fraction of the piano's tones available for use. Brass and woodwind instruments are built so that by pressing and releasing sequential valves or keys, the musician either moves up or down to the next note of the scale. The key is that these valves and keys are used in a particular sequence.

All instruments in both woodwind and brass families are designed this way, and because of this, a clarinetist can theoretically pick up a saxophone for the first time and soon play a song he is familiar with on the clarinet. This same musician can pick up an oboe or a flute and make just as easy a transition — theoretically, at least. Depending on the instrument, there may be one or two extra or fewer buttons on the instrument's body, but the main notes — A, B, C, D, E, F, and G — will be there.

The usefulness of transposing instruments is most obvious when you look at the basic saxophone family. If you pick up any saxophone and play a C, you'll hold down exactly the same buttons for each instrument. However, you'll hear a different tone depending on what type of saxophone you have: soprano and tenor saxes are pitched in B flat, and alto and baritone saxes are pitched in E flat. Because saxes are transposing instruments, you can learn one set of fingerings and play all of the instruments in the saxophone family.

In the old days, back when staff paper and especially sheet music were expensive, the members of an ensemble would all read the same piece of music, and the musicians had to make the necessary transpositions in their heads. These days, however, the burden of transposition is now carried solely by the composer/arranger, who writes out individual pieces for each musician/instrument in the corresponding pitch and key.

Music Composition Articles

Constructing Music Concrête

Music concrête is a type of music that sprang directly out of the evolution of music technology. As a throwback to classical music being inspired by poetic forms, music concrête has its roots in the 1920s Surrealist literary practice of cut-up and fold-in composition.

In cut-up, writers would physically cut up existing pieces of literature and rearrange the order of the phrases and words, whereas in fold-in compositions, a group of writers would write random phrases, one at a time, on a piece of paper, folding the paper over after each turn so that the next writer couldn't see what the previous writer had written. In the 1930s, French composer Pierre Schaeffer began experimenting with splicing bits of analog tape together to create music completely different from the source material.

Music concrête basically means that you make music out of existing sounds. This can range from human voices (as in Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain" and "Come Out"), spinning around on a radio dial (Ben Azarm's "Neoapplictana"), static (Apollon and Muslimgauze's "Year Zero"), or a combination of power tools and bird songs (such as in the music of Japanese noise rocker Rhizome). A list of significant pioneers of the music concrête movement must include Swiss musician Christian Marclay, whose most notorious composition, 1988's "Footsteps," was created by having thousands of people walk across many copies of the same slab of vinyl and then playing the damaged records on a turntable, recording the best bits for an album under the same title.

Throughout the 1980s, rap artists used the ideas behind music concrête to completely change the way contemporary pop musicians would create music. Through their use of samples and loops of existing music and dialog, artists such as Del Tha Funky Homo Sapien and Ice T brought music concrête from art galleries and other experimental music forums into the forefront of popular music.