I Want to Write Music - How Do I Start?
So You Want to Write Music?
If you are interested in writing music, you need first of all to take stock of where you are, in terms of your knowledge, your training, your drive or desire, and your creativity. There are many different factors involved if you want to write music, so first of all let’s identify what it is you know and what you want.
- Do you play a musical instrument, or have you had experience in singing (for example in a school, church, or community choir, or singing solo for any kind of audience, including karaoke night at the VFW)?
- Have you taken classes at school or in the community or have you had private music lessons of any kind?
- Do you know how to read music?
- Can you write down some type of music? For example, if you were given a line of written music, would you know how to write out a harmony part to go along with what is already written?
- Do you have ideas of music in your mind that you want to write down, but simply don’t know how to go about it, even though you actually do know how to write out music?
- Do you have ideas of music in your mind that you want to write down, but don’t know how to go about it, because you don’t know how to write out music?
- Have you written lyrics to a song and you don’t know how to put a great melody with it to make it truly into a song?
These questions matter, because they will help you figure out where to start to write music. The biggest question of all, though, is: How important is it to you? What is your drive to write down music? If you somehow can’t manage to get it done – ever – will that just be one thing on your Bucket List that you never got around to? Or will an essential part of you be untapped; will you feel incomplete or deprived, if you don’t manage to write your music?
Think of it this way. One of the criteria for determining whether a very young child should take formal music lessons is their behavior around an instrument. (Bastien, How to Teach Piano Successfully, 1977) The parent and teacher should ask, Does this child automatically go to the instrument without prompting and play around on it? Does the child try to create melodies of some kind on the instrument? If the answer is yes, then that very young child is probably a good candidate for lessons.
Use a similar type of questioning and logic to evaluate your own drive to write music. When you get a musical idea, do you immediately scramble around for paper and pencil and try to find some way – any way – to recreate the idea on paper? Or do you perhaps find an instrument right away and fiddle around on it to hear the tune out loud? Or hum it to yourself so that you won’t forget it? Or even just mentally review it over and over, adding or adjusting it to make it better each time?
Some Notation Software and Guides
So, why does it matter what kind of drive you have, if you know how to write the music? Actually, evaluating the level of importance, to you, of writing music can help you get a better grip on the steps you need to take and what kind of investment of time and money is appropriate.
Knowing how to read and write music is extremely helpful, but it is honestly not absolutely essential to the process of creating music. Paul McCartney and John Lennon, the two most creative of The Beatles, did not know how to read and write down music when they were in their heyday. I have not yet discovered whether they learned how to later, but even so – what does it matter? They knew how to make the music, how to take an instrument and words and voices and put them together to make memorable, popular, and sometimes quite meaningful songs. One famous current Christian songwriter (I have heard anecdotally) does not read and write music. When she has a musical idea, she goes to her piano or keyboard, plays it to get it the way she wants it, then gets an assistant to transcribe it for her into written form.
So now, back to the specific questions and laying out some possibilities for writing your music.
ƒ Let’s say you have written lyrics to a song, and you haven’t figured out how to put a great melody with it to make it truly into a song.
One method to use is to take your instrument and start playing chords or individual notes, perhaps in a random order, to fit the lyrics – following or altering their rhythm, adding emphasis or pauses, generally organizing them the way you want them to come across. As you start hearing the chords or notes along with the lyrics, you will start to hear patterns that you like, sounds that you want to keep.
Another method is to speak the lyrics out loud – very loudly – in a kind of chant, using the rhythm, rests, long syllables, etc., that you believe will make it “work.” As you chant the words this way, they can develop some sounds that start to resemble an actual melody.
Try also imagining your favorite singer with the lyrics to your song. How will they stylize it? Do the lyrics sound more like a soothing ballad, a song to belt out with energy, rap? Will the words work best for a soloist or for an ensemble or a choir? Listen to the sounds your imagination creates, as you “hear” someone famous playing with your lyrics.
And don’t forget that wonderful lyrics and a perfect melody for them do not have to come from the same person. It may be that the perfect way to write the melody for your lyrics is not for you to write it at all, but to collaborate with someone you know and trust and work with well.
More Help on HubPages
Here's another Hubber's tips for getting started with making music of your own, designed especially for those who want to play a keyboard instrument like the piano: Become a Composer Overnight.
ƒ If you have ideas of music in your mind, but don’t know how to go about writing them down, even though you know how to read and write music in general, try the following procedure, which is often taught in music theory classes (for music dictation).
Think separately about the various parts (different instruments and/or voices), and think separately about pitches and rhythms. Take one voice or instrument at a time and write down the rhythm first, at least in a “bare bones” form. I mean by that, if there are some very complicated rhythms involved, it may help to write them in a somewhat simpler form initially, but with a mental reminder to come back later and fine-tune the way the rhythm is written.
Then, still working with the same voice/instrument as above, write in the pitches. As much as possible, write from what you hear in your head, without reference to an instrument. Use an instrument to help find the pitches only when it is absolutely necessary. Develop the ability to hear and recognize the sound of intervals. Several articles can assist you in developing that ability.
You may find it more helpful to write pitches first, without the rhythm. If you write pitches as slashes or noteheads on the proper line or space of the musical staff, then when you come back to write in the rhythm, you can simply add the correct kind of stem, flag, dot or whatever to indicate rhythm, of course changing the notehead from a solid to an open oval as necessary.
In traditional, classical music theory classes, students are taught the rules of four-part harmony, the way a melody would be harmonized and sung or played with a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voice (or instruments playing the four parts). This is the style that you would find in a chorale by J.S. Bach. In this type of writing, it can be helpful to begin with either the melody or the bass line. Write one of these parts out first, then the other one of the two. After writing out the highest and lowest sounds, fill in the middle parts with the alto and tenor notes.
Today’s music does not follow exactly the same set of “rules,” but it is still a wonderful discipline to learn about four-part harmony writing. Even if your music is not written in four-part harmony, you may want to try writing out the parts in a similar sequence: melody; chord progressions (not necessarily with each chord precisely realized); bass line (could be played by a string bass or electric bass); any harmonizing vocal parts, then the filler, stylizing vocal parts; and finally, any details of the accompaniment that you wish to write yourself. If you are a songwriter, you may want to leave the details of accompaniment up to the performers, the band, or the studio musicians.
Then lather, rinse, repeat…. That is, use the same method again to check the details and revise and tweak to make the written form as close to your musical thoughts and ideas as possible.
ƒ The final question to face is: Do you have ideas of music in your mind that you want to write down, but don’t know how to write out music?
For I suppose obvious reasons, this is the biggest challenge. But there are some very creative possibilities for meeting the challenge.
One possibility is to follow the example mentioned above. Create the music on your instrument (a keyboard instrument is great, since it can play several notes and/or parts at the same time), and have a friend or associate write it out for you. Pay them – or trade some sort of service in a barter system. Record what you play, if you can’t get the transcriber to sit with you while you work, on a digital recorder, tape player, or even your cell phone – for later playback and transcription.
How can you go about finding a good transcriber? Check with every musician you know: school music teachers, private music teachers, choir directors, band directors, the guitarist in your teenage son’s garage band, ... whoever! Ask them if they know of someone who can do this or who would be interested. A music student might enjoy transcribing as a way to sharpen their own skills. Advertise in the newspaper, online, on Craigslist or wherever, if you need to and if you think the expense of advertising will be justified. I have been asked a number of times by practical strangers whether I would write out a song for them. It is a good practice, and it may help you or someone else to become a better musician.
Another method of "writing music if you can’t write music" is to invest in some music software. There are so many brands available, that I hate to start naming names. Some of the best-known are Sibelius and Finale; add to them the highly rated MagicScore Classic. My personal favorite, Cakewalk Home Studio, is not really considered to be notation software, because it is designed more for recording and manipulating sound files than simply for notation, but it notates as well. Free downloadable notation software packages are available too.
The specific features available will vary from software to software. Among those features are various types of notation (standard staff notation; guitar tabulation; percussion notation; guitar chord frames); various styles of entering notes (mouse note entry, [computer] keyboard note entry, and virtual piano note entry – which all require a knowledge of notation to begin with; MIDI keyboard entry; importation of standard MIDI files); and various types of output (print; standard MIDI file; audio file (wav, mp3); musicXML file; graphics). Before you invest, decide exactly what it is you want and will need over time.
Do you want to sit at your computer, thinking of the sounds you wish to make, and add them to the screen music staff (and also to the file) one note at a time by clicking the mouse, or by typing keys on the keyboard, or by using an onscreen “piano” to play? In Cakewalk (and possibly in other software), there is a view called “Piano Roll” where it is possible to click on rectangles of various colors to represent the notes you want, and they will be transformed into notation. You don’t have to know where on the staff they belong or where they would be played on a virtual piano. You think of the pitch you want and find it by clicking on the various rectangles, which will sound at their correct pitch, using the selected instrument’s voice – and when you hear the correct one, you add it to the file and then remember that rectangle for the future.
Instead of sitting at your computer keyboard, would you prefer to make music at your electronic keyboard or on your guitar and have the sounds converted into a MIDI file that is fed into your computer, where your notation software changes it into the form of notation that you need? Or perhaps it would be easiest to copy a MIDI file you have saved on an instrument, then transfer the file to your computer.
Many music keyboards have a display that shows the way a particular note or chord is notated. You could use this feature to help you with correct notation: find the notes that belong to your musical idea on the keyboard, play them, and look at the display to see how they should be notated.
Finally, it would be a really terrific thing for you, and you would be very happy, if you could learn to write your music in standard notation in a music manuscript by yourself, so that you could jot down your ideas even when you are not around a transcriber, an instrument, or a computer with notation software. Check out some of the other articles on Hubpages and see how they can help you learn more about the various components of writing music, including learning about intervals, keys and key signatures, rhythms, and more.
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