Art of Composing

Jon Brantingham’s website Art of Composing is great source of information on composing. He offers a brief introduction to how to compose, and you can sign up for a “free beginner’s composing course.” He also directs you to “free composing software”, free sound fonts, and there are several videos to illustrate his points. He also offers paid subscription courses to his “Art of Composing Academy”. He also has a content-rich podcast and blog, plus a vlog on YouTube. Check it out!

A Day in the Life of a TV film Composer? (Bear McCreary)

How to Write a Melody (video)

Article: Teaching Young Composers How to Earn a Living

Brandon Nelson has an intriguing blog aimed at composers that we all should subscribe to. The article I would like to direct you to is his recently (5-18-14) published  “Filling the Gap: Teaching Young Composers How to Earn a Living.” This article should be downloaded into the brain of every freshman composition major on the first day of school. It’s a brief article, but loaded with common sense. He succinctly touches on Commissions (Networking. Networking. Networking.), Self-Publishing, Commercial Publishing, Contests (check out The Composer’s Site), Recording Sales, Grants, and Scoring for Film/TV/Stage (not much in this category – he admits to having no experience here).

A lot of great information and advice in a small space. Read it today!

Write Like Mozart and other MOOC offerings

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course – a gigantic development in (free) distance education. MOOC courses are often oriented toward science and not so much toward music, but there are interesting offerings out there, even some of interest to composers.

Coursera offers many free college-level music courses, including Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Music Composition, Songwriting, and The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color.

Not free, but with a lot of (how-to) courses is Udemy, with offerings such as Music Theory for Electronic Musicians, Learn How to Record and Mix Music, Mixing Music with Logic Pro, Learn How to Remix.




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Aaron Gervais, Composer

I just (re)discovered a terrific composer site – that of Aaron Gervais. It is a wonderful collection of all sorts of stuff, much of it self-promoting (that’s what sites like this are for), but Gervais is also an intelligent and thoughtful writer and he gives us a number of useful short articles on various subjects.


Working for Free: Helpful or Harmful?

Working Weekends Makes You a Worse Composer

A Machiavellian Guide to Becoming a Composer

Why Composers Should Drop Out of University (and What They Should Be Learning) – Parts 1 & 2

(“Education begins where academia ends. You make connections with people, you find a community, you decide what really matters, you find time to do what you love, you find a way to earn a living. You might do some of this while in school, but little or none of it is taught at school. So why don’t more composers just skip straight to the career and not bother with degrees?”)

Composition Tip #26: Conduct!

Learn to conduct. At some point you will be called upon to conduct your music. Be ready for that day. For composers, conducting is like playing piano – a very useful skill to have to support what you do as a composer.

A conductor silhouette

You can also hasten the day by writing for groups that might be glad to perform your music and have you conduct it: Bands. Orchestra. Choirs. Brass choirs. Horn choirs.

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Composition Tip #23: Systems

regolith graphic score

(Photo credit: g.rohs)

Sometimes ‘systems’ or techniques or styles or rules can make it easier to compose – but be ready to abandon the system for the good of the piece at any moment.

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Composition Exercise #1: Motion!

Motion involves change in position, such as in...

Pick an instrument, any instrument. You might start with an instrument that either 1) you play or 2) somebody you know plays – so that you can get feedback on what you come up in this exercise as well as new ideas to solve the problem.

It’s not a problem, really. Just an effect: creating the feeling of motion. Motion, in general, means fast notes. Every instrument has things that it can do easily, i.e. move between notes quickly. Your task, should you decide to accept it is to create some brief motion passages for your instrument of choice. This may mean a bit of research (try it out yourself, have a friend try it, check orchestration books, look through scores). When you find one (shouldn’t be too hard), don’t stop looking. Look for more. If you discover, for example, that you can get a feeling of motion simply by having a violin play 16th notes on one string, that’s a good start. Keep going. What if, then, the player puts down a finger and thus a new pitch for every group of 4? 2 fingers in alternation? Ditto, moving up and down the fingerboard? What about moving the bow between sul ponticello and sul taste? (color effects) Different registers? Add glisses? Add another player on another string? Add lower strings? Ditto, on mostly open strings? Ditto, playing triplets against the duple 16th note feel?

You see how quickly you can, with a little imagination, generate all kinds of ways to create the sense of motion.

Go and go on your chosen instrument. Go for quantity! Come back tomorrow and come up with even more! Ask players, let them inspire you to more, more.

OK. That’s one instrument. Start again with another one.

Continue until you have notes on all instruments that you know about and/or have any access to.

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Composition SetUp #2: Aliens Landing!



English: Picture of Maytag Dairy Farms, Newton...This composition set-up is in puzzle form. There are lots of right answers. The point is to make you come up with creative solutions.

Here it is:

The film is beginning (before credits – this is the first thing the audience sees/hears). The scene is summer in rural Iowa, around dusk. Then: aliens landing!


1. Compose music for the quiet, bucolic setting; for our puzzle here, just list some possible ways (what to use, how to use it) to do this. About 10-15 seconds ought to do it.