There are many ways for composers to write music. Which method or methods you choose, of course, is up to you. The best strategy for me is one that inspires and excites me, allowing me to capture ideas quickly and enabling me to hear back what I’ve composed. If you haven’t yet developed your plan for capturing ideas and turning them into a composition, discussing how people write music and what works for them may be helpful.
Some composers start with nothing more than an instrument, smartphone, or notebook and commit their ideas to memory as they work through their initial concepts. I can see the value in this as it’s freeing to work out lyrics in a notebook, sketch out a few chords, and use a smartphone to research lyrical content. Composing this way means not being bogged down by technology but following a quickly accessible creative flow. With this method, you can capture ideas almost anytime and anywhere for your compositions. Except for the instrument, notebook and pencil, it’s a free way to compose without many hindrances.
Next up, composing in music notation software. It’s a throwback to the earlier years of using a pencil and music manuscript paper to write down your concepts. Instead of a pencil and paper, you use music notation software on a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. This method costs slightly more because you need the software and computer device. Music notation software is more challenging because what you hear in your mind and what you’re writing can sometimes be completely different. To compose music this way, you must have some theoretical knowledge. This method usually takes more time because it’s not as quick and fluid as using a notebook to write down ideas. However, you can play back what you’ve written and hear a better representation of your ideas as though played by someone else, a band or an orchestra. This method takes longer because it requires many keystrokes and mouse clicks. Using a keyboard controller, you can play your ideas into the software on most music notation programs. While playing your ideas into the music notation software sounds great, it takes a lot of time and practice to correctly set the program’s settings, so the music turns out readable.
A similar method to playing notes into a music notation program is playing notes into a DAW and using the DAWs music notation editor. Again, this method is more expensive because you may require a more extensive setup. Using a DAW with quality virtual instruments provides a realistic playback of your composition. This method is convenient for writing for large groups or orchestras, as many parts play simultaneously; it’s easier to envision if you hear back what you’re composing. Using this method involves more programming as you are continually setting up tracks and routing them unless you have created a template. But like the other methods, this can produce great results. Most people using this method will export their final composition in an mxml file format to import into a music notation program to clean up and finalize.
Personally, I use all three of these methods depending on the project I’m working on, and many times I use all three methods on the same project. I start at the piano with a pen, notepad, or music manuscript paper and write down some ideas, whether a chord progression or a melody. Once I have some ideas worked out, I play them in the DAW. Once I’ve finished the composition in the DAW, I export the file as an mxml for importing into the music notation program, where I tidy it up and make the final copy for distribution.
However, if I’m writing complex harmonic content, like for a choir, I may use the music notation program right from the start; this allows me to see clearly what each voice is doing and check that my harmonic content is correct.
These are only some ways to develop your initial concepts into a completed piece of music. Whichever way works best for you, if it’s one or the other, a mixture of methods or something else altogether different, have fun composing and being creative. Thanks for reading; I’m just a music teacher having fun; catch ya on the next one.