Perhaps I could begin by saying that there is no single, right way to compose your own music. Nothing other than your ambitions dictates how you approach your composition projects. It is vitally important to recognize this as it lifts any potential restrictions and avoids the limits that are often placed on pure imagination.
Some conventions thread through musical history that has to some extent governed how music has been written but you will find, if you look closely, at some of the most well-known pieces, is that they break with convention and by doing so single themselves out as unique.
How To Compose Your Own Music
Similar to my article on methods of composition, there are many approaches to writing your own music. In scholarly tomes about the great composers of the past, you can read about the sketches composers made before making any final decisions regarding their work. The process of sketching out a composition and trying out ideas can be a useful starting point. This does not necessarily mean writing in traditional notation. You could use what is called ‘graphic notation’ where your own symbols and drawn images convey your musical intentions.
Another approach is to decide on the duration of your music and draw out the structure of your music so you have a kind of template on which to hang your musical ideas. Be open and responsive to anything new that comes along and adapt your original ideas if you feel a stronger direction emerges out of your sketching.
The structural sketch can also be of use when considering harmonic frameworks. Even for relatively uncomplicated pieces, knowing where you are planning to go harmonically speaking, is extremely useful. It can also act as a guide to your melodic writing to in as much as the two need to be connected. You may of course not be writing within any kind of a tonal framework and wish to have a disconnected relationship between harmony and melody.
On a smaller scale simply coming up with any ideas can be daunting. Sketching can be useful but even if your beautiful graphics fail to capture your concepts of inspiring a worthy composition, then turning to the micro rather than the macro can supply a way forward. Turning composition into a game can be fun and yield the most unusual results for you to work with.
To devise a melody you could start with your own name. From your name, you can then ‘extract’ the musical notes. Here is an example. David Branch could extract the following notes from his name: D, A, D, B, A, C. You could also use the ‘H’ as this is a B in German musical language! Even if we only use the first six letters, you have the very beginnings of a melody. No, there is no rhythm as yet but here again, you could use the natural rhythm of the name to get you started. David Branch would probably be two short notes followed by on longer one. You could even play the notes backwards or jumble them up in a different order. Interpret it any way you want, the point is you are now underway and composing.
The octave in Western Music is divided into twelve equal notes known as semitones. This offers another way into generating musical material similar to that created by the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg; the ‘Father of Serialism’. Take a phone number as a starting point or date of birth. Let’s say you were born on the following date: 09.06.2011. If you count the first note of the octave as ‘0’, or ‘C’, then you produce the following notes: C, A, C, F#, D, C, C#, C#. It may not be the most inspired melody, but remember this is about finding ways forward when you are lost and staring at a blank computer screen or piece of the manuscript.
If you made all the ‘C’s’ sharp, then perhaps there is material that could work. Just the first four notes without the addition of the sharp make for an interesting ‘ostinato’ figure played in quavers (eight-notes). Use any series of numbers, sometimes the longer the better, and try out several different combinations. Move notes in the series about, ‘blend’ different series together or layer them up one on top of the other to create a more complex ostinato.
Schubert, Bach, Mozart, Haydn or Liszt did not have the technology we have available today to help us realize our compositional ambitions. It can, if carefully used, provide all composers with a starting point that can be both rewarding and creative. The other distinct advantage is that even with modest sound libraries, many of which come with software programmes, give you instant playback of what you have composed. This is useful as without the ability to in some way play your compositions or try out your ideas instrumentally or vocally, the whole compositional process can be very challenging.
In a programme such as Garage Band there musical extracts or patterns known as ‘loops’. Many composers, especially those working in the Popular Music world make incredible use of these loops to generate astonishing compositions.
These loops can be dragged and dropped into the ‘playspace’ on Garage Band and the programme itself sets up the correct instrument for you. Choose from drum patterns, bass lines, vocal riffs and all manner of other options. Layer these up to create your own work but be warned, it can quickly become a textural mess and simply sound like a random set of unrelated sounds have been thrown thoughtlessly together. This may be what you want, in which case great.
If you are trying to put together a song, for instance, try a tested structure out when using the programme. Work with an ‘Introduction’ (8 Bars); ‘Verse’ (12-16 Bars), ‘Chorus’ (12-16 Bars) structure perhaps so you know where to use your loops. Chose a different drum pattern for the verse and chorus and make sure the chorus is memorable and distinct from the verse.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to writing your own music. Use an instrument and improvise your ideas if you are able. It does not have to be complex to be competent work. Use a computer if you feel that is helpful. Experiment, be tenacious and enjoy the journey.