Music composition learning resources

Chords, scales, harmony, melody, etc.
sellyoursoul
KVRist
419 posts since 1 May, 2009

Post Wed Mar 01, 2017 10:26 am

What are some good resources for an independent learner to learn music composition? At the moment I am looking at artofcomposing.com, but I don't know what should be covered in a music composition course. Also, it looks to be based around classical composition. My underlying interests in learning music composition is music for songs and songwriting. Does it matter that the above course is based around classical?

What would be ideal for me is one-on-one with a teacher, but I imagine that approach would be too exepensive. I guess the next best thing would be a set of learning materials which follows a methodical approach with the opportunity for asking questions as needed.

sellyoursoul
KVRist
419 posts since 1 May, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Wed Mar 01, 2017 10:46 am

Maybe hooktheory.com is better geared toward what I am looking for. But I don't like the software as a service approach.

KBSoundSmith
KVRian
706 posts since 6 Jul, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Wed Mar 01, 2017 10:56 am

I'm going to be blunt -- most of what you find online is useless, and when it actually comes to learning how to compose, I have yet to see someone reference an online resource that's pedagogically sound, IMO. I'm a touch busy atm, but when I have time either today or tomorrow, I'll post in this topic again to point you in the right direction.

Just so I know what to direct you to, what kind of budget of time and money are you willing to put into this?

sellyoursoul
KVRist
419 posts since 1 May, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Wed Mar 01, 2017 11:02 am

KBSoundSmith, when we start talking about budgets, I don't have much of one. Having some idea of cost range of options would be helpful here. On time, I work fulltime, so I will only be able to put in a few hours per day, except for my days off, which I can dedicate 8+ hours to.

KBSoundSmith
KVRian
706 posts since 6 Jul, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Wed Mar 01, 2017 11:11 am

sellyoursoul wrote:KBSoundSmith, when we start talking about budgets, I don't have much of one. Having some idea of cost range of options would be helpful here. On time, I work fulltime, so I will only be able to put in a few hours per day, except for my days off, which I can dedicate 8+ hours to.
Great, all I needed to know. I'll make a list of resources and suggestions, and I'll post them here either today or tomorrow. Based upon your interests, I already have a few things in mind.

sellyoursoul
KVRist
419 posts since 1 May, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Wed Mar 01, 2017 11:31 am

Much appreciated.

KBSoundSmith
KVRian
706 posts since 6 Jul, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 10:57 am

So this post is about What To Buy. There is a sprinkling of What To Do in here as well, particularly in the music notation sub-section. But by and large, this is about What, not How or Which Order.

I’ve limited my recommendations to things I have read and own, with two exceptions in the lyrics section. But based upon the quality of the books by the same author that I do have, I have no hesitation in recommending them anyway. I also don’t own flash cards, but their pedagogical worth is beyond question, so I’ve listed some. I’m also limiting resources to essentials — my personal library is MUCH larger than what I’ve listed here, and after you have mastered these, I have many more resources I could recommend. However, based on your interests, plus the needs of basic musicianship, I’ve curated just a handful of resources.

When I have time, I might add the How and Which Order in a separate post in this topic. But for now, just resources.

Because you mentioned a limited monetary budget, I have focused on the biggest bang for the buck you can get in the world: well-researched books designed for learning. I don’t recommend any arbitrary online resources for two reasons: 1) it’s usually someone trying to prod you toward a purchase of their products, and 2) anyone can post anything they want online at anytime they want, so the accuracy and quality of information is typically piss-poor, and you get it all piecemeal.

A private teacher can be a great investment. However, advice on finding a good teacher would require a very extensive, separate post, since the risk of finding someone who is a waste of your time and money is high. I’m focusing on sure things in this post. These are excellent, credible resources that will get the job done if you apply yourself.


Music Notation

Learn to read and write using standard music notation.

Alternatives to standard music notation are for suckers. Don’t be a sucker. Learn to read music. The only people who will encourage you to learn an alternative is people trying to sell you that alternative (PT Barnum: “ A sucker is born every minute”).

And skipping notation altogether is for the lazy and stupid.

“But KBSoundSmith, surely we can just use the piano roll in our DAWs for today’s—”

Image

Learn to read music.

Drill with Flash Cards

Buy flash cards. For example:

http://amzn.to/2mLdvV4
http://amzn.to/2miTsQ7

Just make sure you get a complete set. Then Drill, Drill, Drill. Do so until it is impossible for you to make a mistake.

Write down the Key Signatures, Scales and Chords in both Treble and Bass every single day. By hand. Pencil and manuscript paper.

This will get obnoxious. Do it anyway.

Now, let me clarify these directions, so you don’t waste time and burn out.

On Monday, do all Major Keys in Treble Clef and Bass Clef.
Tuesday, do all Natural Minor Keys in Treble Clef and Bass Clef
On Wednesday, all Harmonic Minor Keys in Treble Clef and Bass Clef.
Thursday, all Melodic Minor keys in Treble Clef and Bass Clef.
Friday, Both Major Keys and Natural Minor Keys in Treble and Bass Clef.
Saturday, both Harmonic and Melodic Minor in Treble and Bass Clef.
Sunday off.

Repeat.

Now, some more refinement.

Part A— write down scales only
Part B — write down the Triads over the scales (root position)
Part C — write down the Seventh chords over the scales (root position)
Part D — write down the Ninth chords over the scales (root position)
Part E — Do this exact same concept for anything you want to memorize without fail. For example, how many quarter notes are in a measure of 4/4? There are four. So write down a measure of 4/4 time with four quarter notes. Do the same for half notes (two half notes in 4/4 time), whole notes (one in a measure of 4/4), eighth notes, etc.

Don’t move from one part to the next until you’ve gotten to point where the you can automatically recall a scale or chord without thinking. If I say “Spell the E Major Scale,” you should spit out without thought or hesitation “E, F#, G#, A B, C#, D#, E”, or if I say “Spell an F# Dominant Seventh” you should immediately say “F#, A#, C#, E”. Once you can do that for a given part, then you may move on to the next.

Again, THIS WILL BE OBNOXIOUS — do it anyway. Learn it once, you’ll know it for a lifetime. Between flash cards and writing everything out by hand, you will learn to read and write quickly, plus have automatic recall of scale and chord spellings, rhythmic values, etc.


Rhythm and Ear Training

The Rhythm Bible, Dan Fox, http://amzn.to/2mQ4OYr
Music For Sight Singing, Robert Ottman, http://amzn.to/2meFBtH
Sight Singing, Samuel Adler, http://amzn.to/2meSnZf

The first book listed is for rhythmic training only. It is primarily in 4/4 time, so it’s lacking in some ways, but since most popular music is in 4/4 anyway, it won’t be a handicap (and since you’re going to buy books two and three as well, those shortcomings will be addressed by those books). What’s nice is that The Rhythm Bible derives all of its rhythmic patterns from jazz/pop/rock/folk music styles. You’ll sharpen your ability to perform a rhythm, and you’ll be absorbing contemporary rhythmic patterns into your subconscious. You should use the rhythms in this book to practice writing melodies and accompaniments too.

Of course, being able to hear the pitches in your head and write and perform them is extremely important, so to address that, I suggest books two and three. Get book two, and add book three as you’re able.

And the last thing here: TRANSCRIBE. That means listen to a recording, then try to notate exactly what you hear. Write down the rhythm. Write down the notes. In music notation. I can’t emphasize this enough. I suggest doing this with simple songs at first, then obviously, more complex ones later. This is also an excellent way to learn a musical style that you’d like to compose in.


Melody

Melody In Songwriting, Perricone, http://amzn.to/2lZ5cX3
Jazz Composition, Ted Pease, http://amzn.to/2m0C5ky

There aren’t many texts specifically on melodic writing, so the first book is a must-have. Do the exercises, and design your own too. It’s a very practical book. This books is about technical tools that can be used for any genre/style, so again, transcribing will be extremely beneficial to your ability to write melodies of a particular genre/style. This book also addresses coordination of harmony and melody.

The second book I would say is optional, but it does have a nice alternative perspective and tools for melodic writing, plus it will also enrich your musical vocabulary; it is a very solid supplement.


Harmony

Harmonic Practice in Tonal Music, Gauldin, http://amzn.to/2m0zPK5
Practical Manual of Harmony, Rimsky-Korsakov, http://amzn.to/2mjjv9V

These are both excellent. However, there are pros and cons.

The cons of the Gauldin is that it is expensive. The second con is that the workbook is a separate book — and also expensive. However, it is a modern book and covers more topics and contemporary musical issues. However, the sequencing inside is good, plus it is designed where it can also serve as a good reference. That said, save up and buy the core book anyway — it is an investment. The workbook is optional.

The cons of the Rimsky-Korsakov are that it is old and doesn’t cover contemporary musical language. HOWEVER — it covers most of what you’d need to know, since contemporary language is an extension of the core of this book. A big pro is that this book is inexpensive, and it includes examples and exercises inside, without a separate purchase. There might be a free version online, but it would likely be in Russian — I don’t know if there are any public domain English Translations; but again, it is inexpensive.

My recommendation: buy the Rimsky-Korsakov first and work through it. Save up and add the Gauldin when you are able (but DO add it). You can skip the Gauldin workbook — just apply the same exercises and idea you find in the Rimsky-Korsakov and you’ll be fine.

Economically, this may be the most uncomfortable section I’m suggesting. However, I’d like you to consider what I call “false economy.” Yes, you can find all of the information in these books online for free. However, that means spending significant time searching, finding things piecemeal, likely coming across incomplete or inaccurate information, dealing with the egos of keyboard warriors, etc. What is more expensive — $100 for a book that is thorough, well-researched, and contains everything you need to know, sequenced in the order you should know it, and provides the means for you to master it, and getting it all immediately — or spending possibly years assembling that information yourself, incompletely, inaccurately, running into charlatans who waste your time and money and who could send you down unproductive or crippling paths?

Bonus: Counterpoint

Counterpoint should be undertaken after you have some harmonic and melodic experience under your belt. This will greatly enrich your command of writing both melodies and accompaniment, but for now isn’t strictly necessary for your interests. But for the sake of completeness, I include them here now.

Gradus Ad Parnassum, Fux, http://amzn.to/2liIJ8O
Counterpoint, 4th edition, Kent Kennan, http://amzn.to/2lZ0854

The Fux can be found online for free. That’s the pro. The other pro is that it is simple. The con is that this form of counterpoint is a touch ancient (pre-Bach) and isn’t concerned with functional harmony, which will be the basis for most of your songs. But that said, basic intelligence will let you extrapolate to what you need, so it is still a very useful text.

The Kennan is excellent and does address counterpoint within the context of functional harmony (Bach and post-Bach), and it is laid out in a more modern way; however, it too has a separate workbook, and it is expensive.

Again, these are completely optional for now, but it may be something you’d like to look at some time in the future.


Orchestration

Principles of Orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov, http://amzn.to/2meGvGy
The Study of Orchestration 3rd Ed., Adler, http://amzn.to/2mj2bC7

For songwriting, you can view these as optional. However, should you like to expand your skills into arranging (which will make you a more complete artist), you’ll need these. But initially, these are optional.

You can find the first book online for free I’m pretty sure (public domain), the second you’d have to purchase. They’re different in approach but very complementary. The first is an older book, but still offers very practical and good artistic advice. The second is modern, and it has a more encyclopedic approach about the techniques and physical characteristics of the instruments.


Lyrics

Songwriting: Essential Guide To Lyric Form and Structure, Pat Pattison, http://amzn.to/2m0EOKI
Writing Better Lyrics, Pat Pattison, http://amzn.to/2liGIcN
Songwriting Without Boundaries, Pat Pattison, http://amzn.to/2mj5ysP
Pat Pattison’s Songwriting: Essential Guide To Rhyming, Pat Pattison, http://amzn.to/2mKndqq
Rhyming Dictionary (get whichever you like, but here is *a* link) http://amzn.to/2m0v6rT

If you’re writing songs, odds are you need to write lyrics too. Not much to say here other than that these books will get the job done. Start with first book listed, then add the others as you’re able and in the order you’re interested in them.


“Wow, That’s A Lot, and I Don’t Have Money For All of It Right Now. What Should I Prioritize?”

No problem.

Now, I do think you should get everything I suggested. But for starters, get the following:

Music Notation: flash cards and manuscript paper
Rhythm and Ear Training: The Rhythm Bible, Dan Fox
Melody: Melody In Songwriting, Perricone
Harmony: Practical Manual of Harmony, Rimsky-Korsakov
Counterpoint: nothing, for now. If interested, start with free online version of Gradus Ad Parnassum, Fux
Orchestration: nothing, for now. If interested, the free online version of Principles of Orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov
Lyrics: Songwriting: Essential Guide To Lyric Form and Structure, Pat Pattison

DON’T BUY THE KINDLE VERSIONS. GET THEM IN PRINT. In my opinion, music texts are universally awful and hard to read in Kindle and other electronic formats. I have yet to come across a version that was readable, due to the detailed, graphic nature of music notation. Get the print versions — plus, consider these investments that you will keep for life. A printed book isn’t going to disappear on you if Amazon suddenly decides to stop supporting its electronic format. The lyric books should be okay in Kindle format, but the print versions should still be preferable.
Last edited by KBSoundSmith on Sat Mar 04, 2017 2:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.

sellyoursoul
KVRist
419 posts since 1 May, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 12:04 pm

KBSoundSmith, big thanks for taking the time. I'll need a little time to better process it and to put together some questions (I already have half a dozen or so questions).

The main points which you have listed are things that I have been thinking about for a long time, but then it all gets mucked up in the seemingly endless runaround of trying to find good resources and failed starts on this and that.

But one question which is at the front of my mind has to do with how performance can be related to composition. My primary instrument is guitar (and voice), and I tinker on some bass, drums, and keys. And those are the meat and potatoes instruments which I anticipate 'composing' for. So my question here is that while, for example, drilling keys, chords, and scales, how beneficial do you think it would be to apply the drilling to those instruments as I go? For example, while drilling bass clef, would it not make sense to apply that stuff as I go to bass guitar? And while drilling rhythms...applying to drums. I'm not sure if this would dillute focus away from ingraining theory in a general way, putting some of the focus toward performing on those instruments, but it would definitely be more fun, I think. The same question applies toward keyboard. I'm terrible at keys. I just haven't put in the time. But I often think that the keyboard is probably a great instrument for music composition, because bass, chords, and melody can be played at once. But to use the keyboard effectively for composition, I would need to put some focus into playing keys.

Again, I'll need some time to give this all some thought. And again, big thanks!

User avatar
Hooj
KVRist
383 posts since 23 Aug, 2012 from Way Out West

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:01 pm

KBSoundSmith wrote:
Bonus: Counterpoint

Counterpoint should be undertaken after you have some harmonic and melodic experience under your belt. This will greatly enrich your command of writing both melodies and accompaniment, but for now isn’t strictly necessary for your interests.
what are your thoughts on learning counterpoint (2 & 3 part species) along side (or even prior to) harmony? From what I understand, some institutions are now teaching this way. Just curious.
Last edited by Hooj on Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:56 pm, edited 3 times in total.

User avatar
Aleatoriac
KVRAF
1662 posts since 31 Dec, 2004 from betwixt

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:07 pm

Image


FFS I'm awake! :x




:lol:

KBSoundSmith
KVRian
706 posts since 6 Jul, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:29 pm

sellyoursoul wrote:KBSoundSmith, big thanks for taking the time. I'll need a little time to better process it and to put together some questions (I already have half a dozen or so questions).

The main points which you have listed are things that I have been thinking about for a long time, but then it all gets mucked up in the seemingly endless runaround of trying to find good resources and failed starts on this and that.

But one question which is at the front of my mind has to do with how performance can be related to composition. My primary instrument is guitar (and voice), and I tinker on some bass, drums, and keys. And those are the meat and potatoes instruments which I anticipate 'composing' for. So my question here is that while, for example, drilling keys, chords, and scales, how beneficial do you think it would be to apply the drilling to those instruments as I go? For example, while drilling bass clef, would it not make sense to apply that stuff as I go to bass guitar? And while drilling rhythms...applying to drums. I'm not sure if this would dillute focus away from ingraining theory in a general way, putting some of the focus toward performing on those instruments, but it would definitely be more fun, I think. The same question applies toward keyboard. I'm terrible at keys. I just haven't put in the time. But I often think that the keyboard is probably a great instrument for music composition, because bass, chords, and melody can be played at once. But to use the keyboard effectively for composition, I would need to put some focus into playing keys.

Again, I'll need some time to give this all some thought. And again, big thanks!
Good question.

First off, if it is more fun for you, that seems reason enough to do it, to me at least.

Again, think in terms of pros and cons, particularly around the time commitment you can afford. Do you have the time to practice all of those instruments, while still maintaining sufficient time for practicing your main instrument and for composing? Will you have sufficient stamina and focus? Are you trying to learn to many skills at once, to the point where they're getting in the way of each others? If you're pressed for time, focus on your main instrument and composing.

That said, there is some real value to doing it. You'll gain insights into how to write for those instruments, what unique issues performers of those instruments will face when you write for them, etc. This is really valuable for when you go to write.

So I'd spend a little time with those other instruments, if for just those reasons. And for the reasons you mentioned, making the keyboard your secondary instrument will be very, very useful.

But something to keep in mind: if composers limited themselves to writing only what they themselves could perform and on instruments they could perform, orchestras wouldn't exist.

So go ahead and do it, it IS valuable, and if it is fun, even better. But in a time crunch, focus on what matters most: your primary instrument and writing.
Last edited by KBSoundSmith on Thu Mar 02, 2017 5:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

KBSoundSmith
KVRian
706 posts since 6 Jul, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:30 pm

Codestation wrote:Image


FFS I'm awake! :x




:lol:
Haha, thought that might be appreciated :D

User avatar
Aleatoriac
KVRAF
1662 posts since 31 Dec, 2004 from betwixt

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:44 pm

Yes!

I'll stand up for anybody who says "learn to read and write using standard musical notation."

My sight-reading is rusty. And I needed the b****h-slap. Especially from Batman. Especial. Special. Spec.

I'm high as f**k right now. :party:

KBSoundSmith
KVRian
706 posts since 6 Jul, 2009

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 4:54 pm

Hooj wrote:
KBSoundSmith wrote:
Bonus: Counterpoint

Counterpoint should be undertaken after you have some harmonic and melodic experience under your belt. This will greatly enrich your command of writing both melodies and accompaniment, but for now isn’t strictly necessary for your interests.
what are your thoughts on learning counterpoint (2 & 3 part species) along side (or even prior to) harmony? From what I understand, some institutions are now teaching this way.
Certainly it's a valid approach. I made the recommendation I made to the OP for a few reasons:

1) Writing just melody will teach horizontal development (allowing the study in isolation)
2) Writing just harmony will teach vertical development and reinforce the drills of learning chord names largely allowing the study in isolation -- harmonic change obvious entails some level of horizontal development)
3) Counterpoint seems to come easier to some students when they have a teacher guiding them, although there are plenty of exceptions to that (subjective) observation
4) Counterpoint following the guidelines of Fux doesn't emphasize the resulting harmony -- according to Fux's guidelines, harmonic progressions could develop that would be "objectionable" to the harmonic progressions we use today (particularly if the student is unaware of those progressions -- students who know them tend to apply them without a problem, with the resulting counterpoint being more like that as addressed in the Kennan text)
5) Today's pop music textures can primarily be described as homophonic

Since I'm trying to get the OP to his goal of writing songs using as straight a line as possible, that's why I suggest counterpoint to be done a bit later.

However, counterpoint first certainly has advantages.

1) A heightened melodic sense (probably the chief advantage, deserving consideration for primacy for this reason alone)
2) A more flowing quality to the bassline
3) A heightened awareness of intervals between parts
4) A more sophisticated command of musical texture
5) It is more like writing "real" music than chorale writing (another reason why counterpoint first deserves consideration for primacy) ** chorale writing and its limitations is actually something I plan on addressing in a later post -- since I've spent this time writing these posts, I might as well go all out and make it sticky worthy

Off the top of my head, those are a few of my thoughts. Totally valid, and if I was teaching someone one-on-one, it would very well likely be the approach I took. But the OP is going to be self-teaching primarily, so reduced complexity seems appropriate to me.

@sellyoursoul: In other words -- make sure you add counterpoint study :lol:

User avatar
Hooj
KVRist
383 posts since 23 Aug, 2012 from Way Out West

Re: Music composition learning resources

Post Thu Mar 02, 2017 5:14 pm

KBSoundSmith wrote:
Hooj wrote:
KBSoundSmith wrote:
Bonus: Counterpoint

Counterpoint should be undertaken after you have some harmonic and melodic experience under your belt. This will greatly enrich your command of writing both melodies and accompaniment, but for now isn’t strictly necessary for your interests.
what are your thoughts on learning counterpoint (2 & 3 part species) along side (or even prior to) harmony? From what I understand, some institutions are now teaching this way.
Certainly it's a valid approach. I made the recommendation I made to the OP for a few reasons:

1) Writing just melody will teach horizontal development (allowing the study in isolation)
2) Writing just harmony will teach vertical development and reinforce the drills of learning chord names largely allowing the study in isolation -- harmonic change obvious entails some level of horizontal development)
3) Counterpoint seems to come easier to some students when they have a teacher guiding them, although there are plenty of exceptions to that (subjective) observation
4) Counterpoint following the guidelines of Fux doesn't emphasize the resulting harmony -- according to Fux's guidelines, harmonic progressions could develop that would be "objectionable" to the harmonic progressions we use today (particularly if the student is unaware of those progressions -- students who know them tend to apply them without a problem, with the resulting counterpoint being more like that as addressed in the Kennan text)
5) Today's pop music textures can primarily be described as homophonic

Since I'm trying to get the OP to his goal of writing songs using as straight a line as possible, that's why I suggest counterpoint to be done a bit later.

However, counterpoint first certainly has advantages.

1) A heightened melodic sense (probably the chief advantage, deserving consideration for primacy for this reason alone)
2) A more flowing quality to the bassline
3) A heightened awareness of intervals between parts
4) A more sophisticated command of musical texture
5) It is more like writing "real" music than chorale writing (another reason why counterpoint first deserves consideration for primacy) ** chorale writing and its limitations is actually something I plan on addressing in a later post -- since I've spent this time writing these posts, I might as well go all out and make it sticky worthy

Off the top of my head, those are a few of my thoughts. Totally valid, and if I was teaching someone one-on-one, it would very well likely be the approach I took. But the OP is going to be self-teaching primarily, so reduced complexity seems appropriate to me.

@sellyoursoul: In other words -- make sure you add counterpoint study :lol:
Thanks for the reply.... I'm not trying to hijack the OP's thread btw, I was just wondering after hearing someone else explain the benefits of learning CP along side or even prior to harmony. IIRC, they were explaining that since harmony is a derivative of contrapuntal style, by learning counterpoint first, you learn how melodic lines move horizontally whereas when you learn harmony first you tend to think vertically and forget about the movement from one chord to another.

Return to “Music Theory”