How to Write Music
By Jay Fuchs
This is how I like to do it.
Step 1: Set a performance date.
There is no reason to write music unless someone will hear it. Nothing inspires creativity like a deadline. I recommend you finish your final draft a week prior to the performance date so you have time to make the very valuable last minute changes. These last minute changes will often produce “magic”.
Step 2: Decide how long your composition will be.
You can always change this, but it’s good to have a general idea of how much time you have to work with.
Step 3: Choose the instrument or instruments you will be writing for.
You may even want to choose the exact performers. Each instrument and each performer has specific qualities you want to embrace and utilize for their unique expressive potential.
Step 4: Choose the expressive character you want your music to have.
Not “happy” or “sad” but stronger, more specific things like “joyful”, “playful”, “suspenseful”, “awkward”, “heart-wrenching”, “majestic”, “ponderous”, “thrilling”, “humorous”, you get the idea.
Step 5: Create a musical gesture that reflects your chosen expression.
Now it’s getting fun. Imagine what your chosen expression would sound like to you, and then create it. This is where your skill with the “language of music” is most useful. The better your musical skills are the better equipped you are to use them to communicate in musical terms.
Step 6: Choose the shape (form) of your composition.
The shape of a composition reveals itself to the listener over time. As the composer, you are in charge of this. Make sure your shape is clear.
Step 7: Build your chosen shape using your musical gesture and variations of it.
Just like with step 5, your skill in using the “language of music” is crucial for this step. Key to this step is maintaining musical momentum. Keep the listeners interested. If the music is interesting they will keep listening. If it’s not interesting, well…
Step 8: Have your new music performed.
This is the most important step! The answers to all of questions regarding whether the melody should go up or down, whether the chord should be major or minor, whether this phrase should be repeated, whether the drums are too loud, will be revealed during the performance.
Step 9: Review how successfully your new music fulfilled its objectives.
Only the listeners can tell you this. Study their reactions. Ask questions.
Step 10: Decide what musical skills and knowledge need improvement in order to improve this composition and make your next compositions better.
To summarize how to write music, follow these steps:
- Set performance date.
- Set the composition length.
- Choose the instrument(s).
- Choose the expression.
- Create a musical gesture.
- Choose the shape.
- Build it.
- Have it performed.
- Make improvements.
To Better Express Yourself, Learn the Language of Music. –Jay Fuchs
Jay Fuchs, Ph.D. (Dr. Jay) is the Head of the Music Theory Department at McNally Smith College of Music. He is also the co-creator of Corridor and co-founder of American Pop Academy. He is also the performing partner of celebrated singer, actress, and television personality, Erin Schwab.