How to start

February 13, 2018 James H

How to start a new piece of music: tips from a professional composer

Composing your own music is a richly rewarding experience.  It is a wonderful creative outlet, and can deepen your musical understanding in ways which can add new dimensions to your playing, and make listening to music even more enjoyable.     

But when you sit down to write some music, sometimes it can be tricky to know exactly where to begin.  The easiest way to overcome the tyranny of the blank page is simply to begin somewhere.  Anywhere!  Whether you are aspiring to become a professional composer, putting together your GCSE/A-Level/IB coursework, or simply composing for fun, here are my top seven tips to help you begin your piece:

  • Pick a note, any note.  If you have a favourite, choose that.  Or you could pick one entirely at random.  Once that first mark is on the page, it becomes easier and easier to add more. 
  • Improvise using your instrument or voice until you find something interesting.  Sometimes it can help to record yourself and listen back to it later so you can remember what you played. 
  • Sometimes the opening of the piece is only found once you get a few bars in.  Start writing, and once you have some music, take a close look at it.  Maybe that bit in bar 7 would make a better opening than what you have in bar 1. 
  • Start by composing the middle section of the piece, or even start at the end, and leave the beginning until later.  Quite often, the beginning of the piece is the very last bit that a composer writes! 
  • Feel free to move sections of the piece around.  It is perfectly ok to restructure the piece, even if you think you have nearly finished it.  If you bear this in mind as you compose, it can allow you to write much more because nothing is set in stone. 
  • Listen carefully to your favourite music.  How does each piece/song begin?  What makes it an effective opening?  You can always do something similar, but in your own style! 
  • Remember that whatever you write, you can always change it later!  Even the best composers go through countless different versions of the music before they arrive at a result they are finally happy with. 

These are all tried and tested techniques used by countless professional composers, and by using them you will be composing fluently in no time at all.  Eventually you may find that certain techniques work better for you than others, or you may even develop your own tricks to starting a new piece.  Ultimately, you have to start somewhere!   


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