For a lot of composers, beginning a composition out of the blue is really difficult. You have to make something out of nothing. In this blogpost I will teach you 5 ways to begin writing a piece.
1 – Lyrics
If you’re writing a song, this is a great way to lay out the overall structure of the song. If you’re a lyrics person, there’s bound to be a few phrases that are stuck in your head, keep repeating itself. Here you have your chorus! Also, if you’re stuck with lyrics, try telling a story.
For example I’m working on a song for mixed choir with the theme “winter”. The story I’m telling in the song is a story of two lovers, one of them has just come home from – well, I dunno – a long walk, an errand, doesn’t matter. But the other one notices all the little details like rosy cheeks and snowflakes in the other’s hair and so on. That’s what the sory is about.
2 – Melody
You could also start a piece is by taking the melody as starting point. This could be a melody that has just come up in your head. Then you could expand it, add bass and harmony to it, and things will spin off from there.
What you also could do to “force” some inspiration, is taking the melody from a piece you really like and the adding completely different harmonies to it. Then remove the melody and add a new one on top of your newly obtained harmony.
Another way of using an existing melody is writing an extra treble voice on top and then removing the original.
Last option using a melody as your starting point is taking an existing melody and changing the signature. I have once taken a hymn from the New English Hymnal and changed it from 4/4/ to 5/4. After 2 phrases, it caught on in my head and took an entire different path than the roiginal melody. This way of starting a composition is quite tricky, because you may never know who recognizes the original song. I would rather do this with old folk melodies than using modern pop songs.
3 – Harmony
Harmony is also one of the pillars on which you can base a composition. Just like with a melody, a harmony can just grow in your head. That’s great! Add a bass and melody and you’re on your way. But here also you can cheat a little if you have no inspiration at all.
You can take the harmony from an existing piece and change it from major to minor, or the other way round. I would not do this with simple songs but I’d take a more complex piece.
A second way to use an existing harmony is to change it a bit. I won’t explain the entire theory here, but basically chords a minor third apart are “linked”. You can play around by replacing the chord built up on for example C by a chord a minor third away from it in the same scale (Am or Ebm). Bela Bartok uses this technique a lot in is music.
4 – Sound
This method is a bit different. Instead of using the actual pitches of notes as starting point for your composition, you begin by determining the sound. For example, you can write a piece around a great synthesizer sound you made.
But sound doesn’t necessarily need to be electronic. By deciding on your ensemble, you also are working with a certain sound. For Campusninja I decided to use a symphonic base with lots of percussion and some electronic pads woven through.
Instead of choosing instruments first, you can also think the other way round: combining playing techniques and then see what ensemble you end up with. For example a light shower in spring I;d picture with pizzicato strings, xylophone, acoustic guitar and pizzicato flutes. That’s a quite random ensemble. You wouldn’t come up with it if you were just to pick an ensemble.
5 – Mindmap
This way of starting a composition doesn’t even involve notes or sounds! I used a mindmap when I started on my “Vikingen” piece. I had to write for an orchestra and the theme had to be “Scandinavia”. With no idea where to start, I just wrote down the word “Scandinavia” on a piece of paper and everything that came in mind: composers like Grieg and Pärt, vikings, Thor, Thorgal Aegirsson, fjords, etc. When I was busy, a melody took form in my head. The final composition was about viking’s adventures and sounded really filmic like the Thor soundtrack. Mission accomplished!
Now go write your own piece of music!