What do you need to know?

Okay, I'll 'fess up ... I'm a self-taught composer. I know some theory, but not as much as someone who studied it seriously. However, I think I do pretty well creating works, often by ear.


So, my question is, what, in your opinion, is the bare minimum list of things someone needs to know in order to be a bonfied composer?

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  • Well it depends on what your compositional goals are.


    What kind of composer do you wish to become.

  • Tyler Hughes said:

    Well it depends on what your compositional goals are.


    What kind of composer do you wish to become.

    So? Give an example.
    What do you need to know?
    Okay, I'll 'fess up ... I'm a self-taught composer. I know some theory, but not as much as someone who studied it seriously. However, I think I do pr…
  • Expanding a little on Tyler's answer, what you need to know differs dramatically between whether you want your work to be played by real musicians, or if you're producing a final sound product within your computer.

    If creating for real musicians, you'll need to know the ranges of the instruments you're writing for, including how those ranges differ between beginning, intermediate, and advanced players. You'll also need to know a bit about how each instrument is played. For example, a piano can play several notes simultaneously, a violin can play only certain notes simultaneously. Instruments involving breath to make sound require the opportunities to breathe. Brass players can only play so long before their lips go numb, and need to stop to regain the circulation in their lips. And one must know how combinations of instruments sound together. For example, a flute in the low register won't be heard playing alongside the trombones. Also, notating the music correctly so it's readable  is important. You can't rely on software to produce it correctly, anymore than you can rely on a word processor to produce  a book with the right spelling and formatting.


    If you're writing for TV/Film/Video games you can get away with a lot of things that you couldn't with live musicians, if the final sound product is coming from your computer. Obviously, you'd need to know your software. You'll still need to know how different combinations of instruments sound, but it's easier to figure this out, and change your mind by hearing the final sounds as you go. Having the same knowledge as writing for real musicians is beneficial, but not necessary.


    My post is still skimming the surface to your questions, without knowing more about your compositional objectives.


    As for being a bonified composer, that depends on your personal criteria. I have several criteria including producing work playable/played by others, respected by peers, and published. (I accomplished the first two on a *very* small scale, and am working on the third!) The good thing is, music is art. You're bonified as soon as you declare you are!


    Have fun with it!

  • Well lets see, there are many different paths in the compositional world and these are just a very few options that one can take. They are not set in stone


    Lets say you want to be a Film composer:

    You will need to know how to create, produce, and sync music to film using today's technologies, such as Logic, Sonar, ect ect.  Learn how the film scoring process works such as the negotiated contracts, spotting sessions, and the overall scoring process.You must also be able to compromise for the sake of the film, tv show, or game you are scoring, remember, it isnt your project, its the directors.

    Books such as On the Track by Fred Karlin will be very useful to any up and coming film composer that wants to know what they need to know


    If you want to be a Concert Composer you should know these things:

    First and for most,not only will you need to know how to write music, you will need to know the art of making, preparing, and distributing near perfect scores. Though most will say, they have mistakes in their scores and some professional composers dont write the best scores, having good scores is important,

    Software like Finale and Sibelius will be increasing valuable, but it wouldnt hurt to know how to write music by hand. A knowledge of music history, theory, and current concert composers is also valuable as a concert composer.

    How to get works read, performed, and published is also key to being  a concert composer.But what is most important of all is being realistic. concert composing is defiantly not a lucrative field, its more about art the profit. 


    This is just a brief tid-bit about how the world of composing. They are not set in stone, and can change drastically for a various reasons.

  • A composer who comes from the Western music culture needs to know certain things:

    [I am inventing an ad hoc list...]

    1. middle C on the piano

    2. how to play Happy Birthday in all 12 (the usual) major keys.

    3. PC composers need to know how to use a PC.

    4. who's on first.

    5. Who Nino Rota is. ibdem, Mason Williams. [these are really esoteric options.] [Google them, and you won't be sorry.]

    6. How to play the 15 Two-Part Inventions of J.S. Bach. Well, at least 2 of them. And analyse them. Or Google the analysis, if you want.

    7. Analyse, and hopefully play at least 2 Beethoven Sonatas. The most seductive first movement, "Moonlight" (just Google it) is a must-see for understanding the concept of Fantasy.

    8. Look at the score to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvQxHfNLbOk by Rimsky-Korsakoff. The link is a performance; I could not find the score. Try to Google the score! Oh, and learn to write like that. People will be impressed.

    9. Go to YouTube, and begin to collect music that you are attracted to. And collect some (Favorite it) that you are not attracted to. Listen to both. Don't just collect them. The more you hear, the better your organizing skills will get.

    I have a fair number of things in my favorites on my youtube channel, if you want to look at them. The link is to my Favorites: https://www.youtube.com/user/Composerland?feature=mhsn#p/f  [ignore my own music, and look at the favorites, and what I subscribed to - a treasure trove of interesting music.]


    10. Write as much music as you can stand. Hopefully, you have the means to play it, which really helps. But if you don't, the popular software choices, like Finale or Sibelius can hook you up with some sort of sound. It won't be stupendous, but it is a start. [by the way, there was a person who entered some famous works into a common software program. Let me see if I can find one of them... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etBmrJAaA0o

     ...that one is Bach's Little G minor - (Bach will take anything)].


    If synthetic sound is attractive to you...

    see this one:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usl_TvIFtG0 [this is interesting, to Moog enthusiasts.]


    11. Go to concerts. Sit close up, and watch how people play music. You begin to understand that the more complicated your music is, the less-likely it is that it will be listened to, or performed. But it's your choice, ultimately.


    12. In today's music composition, it is pretty much an "Everything Goes" atmosphere.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56fpcCAtWwQ Tom Waits

    or, in Cole Porter's terms... Anything Goes.



    Good luck!

  • How to spell 'bona fide' perhaps? It's a Latin phrase meaning "in good faith" not an adjective like certified or ratified. I know we're in the Internet age where there are no typos but I've found that being able to spell and communicate effectively has gone a long way when dealing with professionals in the industry.


    I'm also a self-taught composer who originally learned theory from a contemporary point of view (i.e. jazz theory) based around chord/scale relationships. I've found that to compose orchestral music I spend time studying: -

    • Form and structure (sonata form, rondo form, etc)
    • Orchestration and instrumentation
    • Voice leading within harmonic movement
    • Counterpoint
    • Lots of actual orchestral music (concert work and film work)

    On the other hand, if by bona fide composer you mean someone who gets paid for their work then honestly you probably already know enough. I can think of some exceptionally successful film composers who basically seem to write simple melodies and basic chord changes beneath.

  • Thanks to all of you for the wonderful responses. My intent was not only to get a sense of whether I've been on the right track or not, but also whether this is a forum for me. Well, it is! I'm so glad I discovered this forum and look forward to some great discussions.
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