Piano, Paper, and Pencil: How to Write Music

Major and minor triads on white piano keysImage by Cuito Cuanavale via Flickr

Some quick pointers on learning how to write music:

  • Learn basic keyboard. Piano lessons help you learn about music theory, chords, and melodies without having to wade through crazy theory books. Plus, then you will be able to write much easier.
  • Do you want to write pop or classical? For pop, you can get away with a lead sheet (pretty much just chords, melody line, and basic rhythm). If you want to write for something a bit more advanced, then you will need to learn about music notation. There are lots of online sites that will start you out on that. (I can answer any questions, too). For jazz, classical training is helpful, but not necessary. Oh, and there are plenty of computer programs that will write the music for you (ex. Garageband, Logic, Cakewalk). You play, and it prints it right out!
  • Get some feedback on your writing. Whether its a teacher, a peer, or just a friend in the band, you need to get some feedback when you write, especially at the beginning.
  • If you take composition lessons, be sure that the teacher writes what you want to write. You don't want to take lessons from someone that only writes string quartets if you want to arrange for big band or rock.
  • Get the materials you need: rhyming dictionary, orchestration book, book on notation, sheet music (print some online), pencils, a keyboard, pencil sharpener

One final thing. I always, always tell my serious comp students that they should write with the three P's : Pencil, Piano, and Paper. Writing on the computer is fun, but it ends up becoming a crutch. It is too easy to copy/paste when you can't come up with ideas than to actually have to sit there and write it all out from scratch.

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