Can you learn to compose music?

The art of music composition is lauded as a celestial, genius-like ability.  When I tell some people I compose–even some fellow musicians–I hear “I have no idea how anyone can do that” or “I could never do that”.

The problem is, YES, you can do that.  You can compose; you can become a composer; you can incorporate composition into your life, even if you are not a professional composer.

Yes, anyone can learn to compose music.

But, if composition is only for those with a creative side, or a “gift”, how in any respect can the average person become a composer?

There are actually two truths that contradict the premises of this disbelief:

  1. Unlike what people think, most composers are not geniuses or prodigies.  And the most genius and prodigious people are not necessarily the best composers.  Our society just fetishizes the genius and the prodigy because we assign value to unnatural ability, instead the natural ability in the rest of us that takes effort to cultivate.  In short, we don’t want to have to work for our success, so we live vicariously through those who don’t.  In truth, most composers are not geniuses or prodigies, and anyone who wants to be a composer still has to work, especially if they have extreme innate ability.
  2. Composition is a form of creativity.  And creativity is not magical.  It is something that we all possess, and something that can be cultivated, taught, exercised, tested, strengthened, grown, and (gasp!) engineered–choose your verb.  In other words, we can all teach ourselves creativity, and others can show us the path to even more creativity.

But I don’t want to be Mozart or Stravinsky, Kendrick Lamar or Eddie Van Halen

That’s great, because you will never be them.  Not only will you never have their careers in our ever-changing world, but you are entirely different from them in your life experience and the direction your creativity will take.

And, if you want to be the next Mozart, Stravinsky, Kendrick Lamar ,or Eddie Van Halen, how about refocusing your perspective?  I would suggest aiming to take your love for their music and bring your own ideas to it, transform it, make it your own, and take it in new directions.  Don’t live in their shadow.  Do something different and new.  And bring something that has never existed into this world.  That is literally what composition is.  And the best part is that you can actually do it.

How do I compose?  How do I learn to be a composer?

I will be breaking down this over the course of many posts on Composer’s Toolbox, but here is some insight into what people may tell you.

When someone tells you how to compose, they may be telling you how they compose or how someone else composes.  They may also be telling you of a system, method, or school of thought in composition.  Be wary of learning just one way to compose; in the end your workflow is yours entirely, and it will always be changing.  It is okay to imitate and learn styles, techniques, and systems, but in the end those are just tools for you to grow your creativity and technique.  You are the composer.  On this website, I will aim to speak broadly enough so that you are not just getting how I compose or how you can or should compose; rather, I hope to equip you with tools, techniques, creativity, inspiration, and doors to help you be in full control of your life as a composer.  But, I am still presenting one perspective–keep that in mind.

Let’s get started!  More posts to follow.



For more reading, check out Composer Cat.

2 thoughts on “Can you learn to compose music?

  1. Pingback: How to Compose Music – Composer's Toolbox

  2. Pingback: The Basics of Music Notation – Composer's Toolbox

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