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Independent learning music composition

Are you learning music composition on your own? Self-guided, self-paced study? This page is here to help you along your road, especially with regard to saving time.

Even though I have a Master's Degree in Music Composition, I still consider myself "primarily" self-taught. Also, I've noticed that I haven't really found any teachers capable of teaching exactly what I want to be taught...and I've loved my teachers! They've been more than great! If I've had perceived needs in particular areas, let's say A, B, and C, then I find a teacher great at A, bad at C, kind of willing to address B, not really willing to discuss A, and incredibly good at explaining Y. Or I'll find someone really good at A and unfamiliar with B and C. What are you going to do?

So, my path has been one of self-study combined with targeted instruction.

This page is about the self-study side of things, although I do feel very strongly that one can save a lot of time and money by seeking and finding instruction that matches one's needs and perceptions.

There are quite a few resources out there for studying music composition: books, CD's, videos, audios, and DVD's. It can be overwhelming plodding through all of the material, trying to find something that matches your level, skill set, needs, desires, etc.

If you are interested in the methods I wish someone had taught me early in my career, then I recommend you purchase How to Write Your Songs Down. It's directed at songwriters, but applies to all students of composition.

Here are some recommendations, some of which you may have already applied.

Run these two concepts: 1) You as a composer 2) Your learning path as a composer; through these areas of thought: past, present, future, present direction, future goal(s).

You as a composer: past, present, future, present direction, future goal(s).


Clarify "where you are" in your composition career

How? I'd work from "what you've composed" and create a general statement

For example, I've composed a lot of songs. The songs span multiple genres, from rock, pop, rap, alternative, jazz, to classical, meditative, and avante garde. So, I "write songs in multiple genres." There, that's one statement. I also write choral works and arrangements. What kind? Also spanning multiple genres. Great, I'm making progress. I also like to combine artistic forms, genres, and compositional methods that one would not normally expect could be synthesized into a cohesive, beautiful, whole. For example my saxofugue is a combination/synthesis/journey featuring jazz and baroque music. My Surrounding Flutes piece is an avante-garde, new-music piece, composed using strict 12-tone technique, with one exception per section, incorporating jazz and hip-hop elements.

So, here's "where I am" in my composition career:

I combine artistic forms, genres, and compositional methods that one wouldn't normally expect to find in a cohesive, beautiful, whole. I also write songs, choral works and arrangements in multiple genres. My works, in general, symbolically state things like: "we are at peace," "we can be at peace," "let's enjoy ourselves!" or, "hey, that's cool!" or "let's allow difference and hatred to transform into celebration, positive energy, and love."


You can start by just looking at your output and making generalizations. Yet, your "generalizations" might leave you open to being free of generalizations.

If you wish to contribute your description of yourself as a composer, I might just post it here as an example! Just get in touch.

Onward and upward.

I suggest you gain perspective over...

Your learning path as a composer: past, present, future, present direction, future goal(s).

How? -- With a music composition self-study notebook

If you don't already have one, make your own, personal, self-study notebook for music composition. My self-study "notebook" has expanded into several notebooks on various topics like: harmony, orchestration, characteristics of particular instruments, songs I like, pieces I like, pieces I'd like to get, etc.

In a way, even a "pile of stuff" is a type of "unbound" self-study noteboook, so many of us have already made a great start!

Focus your self-study path

How? -- Be able to express your compositional learning goals in relation to where you are and where you want to go

You might have come up with "I write country songs with soul." Or "I write computer generated music that reflects my love for cold, calculated procedures." These kinds of statements and realizations "inform" your self-study path.

Statements like "I want to be good at music" are wonderful, they require further definition of what "being good" means to you, what "music" means to you, what instrument you are talking about, etc.

Statements like "teach me to write a song" can take power away from you and distance you from your own, deep and personal inner will.

Statements like "I want to craft a composition/song out of (this material, these emotions, this situation, these thoughts, this poem, this title...) are magnificent, since they give you and your teachers direction.

Another possibility: "I want to develop world-class virtuosity at the clarinet, and I wish to complete my first clarinet concerto."

Write a list of your self-study goals and any other thoughts that come to mind while you're writing

Brainstorm now, organize, categorize, and make appropriate decisions and purchases later.

You may want to:

Be able to play most Christmas songs in any key at any time at the piano.


Write for symphonic orchestra


Write a hit song

Allow yourself to discover new methods of learning

Are there new ideas coming to you regarding what kind of books you'd like to buy, what kind of teachers you'd like to find, what kind of software programs might interest you, what you might want to do to learn what you want to learn?

Let the ideas and the information come!

I'll be adding more resources here so that you can find and buy books and products related to your compositional goals and your self-study goals, so be sure to check back!