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Simple Approaches to Practice and Improve at Writing Music


Practicing an instrument or learning a new plugin can be fairly straightforward.

You run your scales, or you learn what a threshold is, and you repeat until it is memorized. This type of practice is objective and has a clear goal in mind. However, sometimes, your goal is not so clear.

Writing music is a subjective skill. So how do you learn to write music well? While there are foundational elements like chords, scales, harmony, progressions, rhythms, etc. There are countless combinations of those foundational elements that go into making a song, melody, groove, beat, and more.

Practicing Songwriting

Today, we will cover three approaches to practice writing music that engages with our foundational elements creatively. These approaches will either set a focus or a restriction that will challenge us to think in new creative ways!

These are the following approaches we will look at:

  • Limiting note choice
  • Focusing on layers
  • Using new rhythms

Limiting Note Choice

When you are writing music now, you generally stick to major or minor diatonic scales with 7 notes to choose from. While it is good to understand the growing possibilities you can choose from, sometimes less is more.

For example, let’s stick to the key of A minor. Listen to the first example without a limit, and the second with a limit on note choice.

No Limit:

Limit:

The first example uses all the notes in an A harmonic minor and A natural minor scale, while the second only uses four notes. Both are effective in achieving a musical goal with the background music.

The second also takes advantage of more active rhythms. Due to the lack of notes available to us, we have to compensate with other fundamental elements of songwriting.

When we limit note choice, we enable our minds to lose focus on just note choice. This frees up space for other musical ideas to occur that otherwise would not.

This helps us practice songwriting because it helps us combine the subjective ideas we already know sound good into a new idea.

Focusing On Layers

Next, we will talk about layers. This does not mean just playing multiple things at the same time, but instead focusing on the interaction between them.

To understand this, let’s build multiple layers of a song. First, the drum groove or beat:

This is a simple drum beat, so now let’s write a bass guitar part that doesn’t just play, but interacts with our drums:

Here, we can clearly hear the kick and snare work with the bass guitar. Let’s expand on these interacting layers with an electric piano:

Now that we have interacting layers making up our groove, let’s add a melody that also works with our groove on top:

Focusing on layers, we made coherent music that shares rhythmic and harmonic characteristics across multiple instruments. We basically treated it all as one large instrument rather than multiple completely independent parts.

Using New Rhythms

The last idea we will look at is exploring new rhythms. Listen to the common drum beat below:

This beat is called four on the floor since it has a kick drum every beat and always has the snare on beats two and four. Let’s take this foundational beat and add syncopation and smaller rhythmic values to it:

I took my four on the floor midi and simply displaced my kick drum and added smaller 16th note values in all the parts. By using new rhythmic subdivisions, we can create something entirely new from something easy and classic.

Wrapping Up

To improve and practice writing music, try the approaches we discussed today. Try to recreate my examples so that you truly internalize how the examples exemplify the techniques, and then create your own.

If you have questions or requests for topics, contact me at cjrhenmusic@gmail.com!

About Cj

Hi, I’m Cj Rhen, a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. You can find my work at cjrhenmusic.com or on sounds.com and Landr, where I write and record high-end sax and horn loops for your music. Feel free to contact me with questions and inquiries about private lessons in all things writing!


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At Audio Issues you’ll learn simple and practical audio production tips you can use right away to improve your music from your home recording studio.  Björgvin is the best-selling author of Step By Step Mixing and the founder of Audio Issues. He helps musicians and producers turn amateur demos into professionally produced records they can be proud to release.

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