Top Tips to Start Composing Music

David Barton, a teacher and composer based in Lichfield, writes his first guest blog post of 2012 on:

Top Tips to Start Composing

As a  composer based here in Lichfield, one of the things I’m asked more than anything else, is how did you start composing? If you’re reading this and you haven’t composed yet, then that’s where I started. I began by making up little tunes, asking my piano teacher to write them down so I could play them, and over 20 years later, I’ve now got over  100 pieces published all over the world. Writing your own music is a wonderful experience, and New Year is as good a time as any to get started.

Don’t delay…

Any composer, writer or artist will tell you that the hardest thing is to get started. The longer you put it off, the harder it will be!


Virtually all compositions start with improvising. Whether you’re writing a song or an instrumental piece, take your instrument and begin to improvise some melodies. If you play the piano, you might like to improvise some chords too.

Write it down…

Once you’ve got an idea, however sketchy it is, write it down quickly! If you can notate quickly using manuscript paper or on a computer Musescore is a free notation program that’s great, but if not, just scribbling down the notes is fine.

Don’t worry too much about the details…

When you’re starting to compose, don’t worry too much about the detail. The main thing is to come up with some ideas and get them down on paper – start with an outline which you can develop later. There are many rules about harmony, but if you try to check every note and chord to see if it fits with these, you may never finish writing anything.

Keep all your ideas…

Every time you come up with a tune, or even if you hear a nice chord you like, write it down. You might not be able to use it now, but it will come in useful in the future. Keep everything you write, even pieces you don’t finish, and even if you don’t think they’re any good.

Stuck for ideas?

I’m often asked where the music I write comes from… (one of the questions asked when I was interviewed for  this newspaper article) the honest answer is “I don’t know”. Inspiration comes from many sources – pictures, places, thoughts, people etc. If you’re stuck for ideas, find a favourite photo and think about how you could portray it in music – if you could write a piece to accompany it, how would it sound?

Don’t worry about the title…

Often, the title is harder to think up than the piece itself. If nothing springs to mind, leave it until a later date – some people spend weeks thinking up the title and then realise they haven’t written any music!

There is no right or wrong…

When you’re composing, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s true that some things sound better than others, and as you get more experienced you’ll probably want to explore some of the rules of harmony further, but don’t let this get in the way of creativity.

Writer’s block…

Like writers, we get composer’s block! You have to be in the right ‘mood’ to compose; it’s not something you can do ‘to order’. It is a creative task in which you have to give a bit of your inner self (sounds a terrible cliché, but it’s true!)

Enjoy it!

Enjoy writing music, and don’t be put off by what others say about it. Wherever you can, seek constructive feedback on the pieces you write, and if possible, get others to play them. If you enjoy composing, the theory work you’ll probably already be doing will help, but think about getting some lessons too.

David Barton is an internationally-published composer and arranger based in Lichfield, Staffordshire, where he also runs a successful practice teaching flute, piano and singing.


About Lorraine

South London Musician
This entry was posted in Composing Your Own Music, Piano lessons. Bookmark the permalink.

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