Music and Musical Know-how For You

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The Lessons

Tutorials for Important Concepts:
Tone | Interval | Scale | Duration | Rhythm Pattern | Melody | Chord | Chord Voicing | Chord Progression | Transposition

This purpose of this site is to teach you enough about music so that you will be able to compose your first musical composition a few hours from now.

This claim is audacious. The learning curve for those who wish to compose has traditionally been very steep. Some would say that it is mountainous. Most would claim that climbing the curve is not a stroll up a low Appalachian knoll, but is instead a severe technical foray, like an Everest climb. As you read about the requirements imposed on composers previously, don't lose heart. Your way is going to be much easier.

Convention would say that you first need to be able to play a musical instrument with some fluency. Most people find that they need to practice an instrument for several years guided by a good music teacher to attain adequate proficiency. They actually need to develop two skills in parallel. They need to learn how decode music notation and they need to learn how to manipulate their instrument to play the music they have learned to read. Because Western music is chordal (plays several sounds at once), most composers have to learn to play piano or guitar in order to reproduce these stacks of sounds.

After this, aspirants take an ear training course so that they can learn to identify sounds they hear and write them down using proper notation. Usually they first learn to transcribe the classics of the genre of music they are practicing for months or years before they attempt to write anything that they have invented themselves. In the course of this study, many pick up the attitude that they are worms who should never have had the temerity to even try to invent an original idea. They give up their goal at this point. Such a tragedy!

By this point in the journey, the novice composer can write her or his first idea on paper. She or he will discover that it doesn't sound like Charlie Parker, or the Beatles, or Mozart, or Beethoven, or Coltrane, or Bach or any other advanced musical practioner. It probably won't even sound like good hack work.

They discover that they have to internalize a large amount of musical knowledge to improve their compositional skills. They need to learn the characteristic sounds of chords and scales. They need to learn how these can be specified in notation. They need to discover how hundreds of different rhythm patterns feel and learn how to notate these. They need to learn how to create the sequences of chords that become the emotional skeleton of a piece. They need to learn how to derive different strands of melody that harmonize with a chord sequence and learn to juggle several at once during the course of a composition.

The process of acquiring a musical toolkit can be a lot of fun. It's also a lot of work since a lot of it is expressed by arithmetical rules. Learning the rules feels like memorizing addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. The good news is that every new thing the composer learns allows him to write better compositions. After a few years he may write something that attracts an audience.

As you can see this is a course of study that only the prodigous, the ultra-determined or monstrously self-confident complete. However, with the help of modern music composition software it's possible to airlift yourself to the part of learning to compose that is great fun. These programs can support you so that you can actually do better than hackwork on first use.

You do need to acquire a few key concepts at the beginning. They are pretty easy to aquire, however, if you love music. You've probably listened to so much music in your life that these concepts are pretty self-evident. For many it will seem that we are just attaching names to things you already recognize.

One computer application that can airlift you to the fun stuff is SongTrellis, the app that shares its name with this website. (Click here to see a SongTrellis preview).

To use SongTrellis productively you need to learn 10 concepts. The concepts listed here have links attached that will take you to tutorials that will teach you about that concept. These tutorials can also be accessed via the link bar at the top of this page.

Inside each concept tutorial there is a small amount of tutorial text to read and a large number of musical examples to listen to. The musical examples are recorded as MIDI files or SongTrellis format files that will play when you click on links in the tutorial. (Click here for configuration info) If you want to be comprehensive and follow every link and listen to every example, you can spend several hours within this part of the site

The newest Internet Explorer and Netscape Web browsers have MIDI players preconfigured. If your browser is not set up to play MIDI, visit the QuickTime or LiveUpdate Crescendo sites and download yourself a MIDI player.

Once you have these in hand, you'll able to build your own musical vocabulary using SongTrellis by opening scores and listening to them, and by doing small musical experiments for yourself. Using the concepts you learn here, the music composition tools provided by SongTrellis, and your own musical taste you should be able to compose your first composition very quickly.

Last update: Thursday, February 15, 2001 at 5:04 PM.