A Word of Advice from a Stranger


This may be a very obvious material.

However, I think it would be better if I go over it step-by-step.

Start by selecting a genre.

I could name you thousands, and I am probably not joking myself.

The traditional genres racking up bills in the music scene are Musical Theater, Jazz, Country music, Heavy metal, Classical music, Rhythm and blues, Blues, and Folk music.

A more contemporary genre would be alternative rock, rap, hip-hop (rap is a sub-genre of hip-hop), electronic dance music or commonly referred to as EDM.

Of these genres of music, there are also sub-genres as well.

To name a few, within the big family of the hip-hop genre:

Hip-hop genre itself varies from country to country as well.

Since hip-hop’s entrance to the mainstream scene, we’ve been seeing countries like Britain, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, China, and as well as Middle Eastern countries embrace hip-hop as well.

I write Scottish folk music, which tends to conform to quite a simple structure, and a few specific types of piece (jigs, reels, hornpipes, strathspeys, marches, retreat marches etc.).

It’s probably a good idea to know what you want to write first, and have an idea of the character of the piece.

Should it be energetic?



With that in mind, you can then start messing around to see if you find something that works.

I like to start by listening to music that at least sort of fits what I want to compose, and then play some tunes out of one of my music books to warm myself up.

After, I go ahead experimenting with a few different key signatures.

Say I want to write a tune about a certain experience.

I sit down, think about how it makes me feel etc, and how I might express it with a tune.

With that I should be able to identify the type of piece I want to write (or at least a possibility).

Also, the character of the tune.

Say I’m going for a jig.

Do I want it to be fast?

Gentle and lilting?

Brusque and authoritative?

Then I’ll go through my music collection, pick out some of the musicians that play jigs, and listen to them, getting a feel for their various styles; key signatures, ornamentation, and how that particular player’s personal style of playing has contributed to the character of the piece.


Next, I’ll go through my music books and sheet music, find some jigs, and start playing them.

This is generally stuff that I already know.

However, I’ll take a crack at learning one or two new ones if I’ve got the time.

As with the listening, it’s important to look at various technical aspects of the tunes, and ensure a good variety of different levels of difficulty, styles of ornamentation, pace, character and key signature.

It’s very easy to just write everything in D major.

Because of this, I try to avoid doing that too much.

After that, I start messing around in terms of composing.

Run through simple ideas first, and gradually try to work up the the level of complexity I want. If it’s a sad piece of music (like a lament or a slow air).

I find it can help to try to feel the emotions that inspired me to write the tune in the first place.

The same is not necessarily true for more cheerful tunes, but that is subjective.

That’s the 1st stage.

After that, you’ve hopefully got the first draft.

I’ve found that what really puts me in the mood to compose is jamming with other musicians, but since this often occurs in the evening, I usually can’t go home and start composing.

This is because the neighbors will complain.

Nonetheless, if you can do some jamming with a friend in the middle of the day, you often come home feeling eager to compose, whether that’s starting a new piece or going back to one that you’re editing.


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