How to Compose Music Using Software: Beginners Guide ?

Posted by Mike Schumacher

Are you just starting to create music on your own? Maybe you have just picked up the guitar or maybe you already have downloaded a program and you are having trouble getting started.

This article will give you tips to get you started with composing music for software.

Maybe you have the desire to create music mainly for yourself. Or perhaps you have an interest in the music of films, television, and computer games.

There are two main ways of composing music in my experience:

1. You get a magical melody bouncing around in your head and you capture it onto the software.
2. You start with something and build off of it.

The melody bouncing around your head is a bit hard to control, some days it comes and other days it doesn’t. So in my experience, the best way to start is to create something basic and then expand upon it.

Getting started with music software

The first thing to do is to get music software, or a DAW (digital audio workstation). If you are using a Mac computer you already have Garage Band installed.

If you are using a PC, Fruity Loops or Cubase are great tools.

Right now, I use a combination of a couple of softwares: Ableton Live, Reason, Logic and ProTools. They are all excellent DAWs and each one has their own specialties for the different things I do.

However, I have tried tons of other software and I would not recommend spending hours of time researching which is the best if you are new to making music on the computer. They are all very similar so just grab anyone that you can to get started.

Start with a groove

Now it will depend on what style of music you want to create. But for electronic music (music that we make on software) we generally have quite a bit of repetition.

Before we begin to tap out a tempo on your leg. It can be slow fast or medium, do whatever comes to you right now.

If there is a TAP TEMPO function on your software go ahead and tap the same rhythm. If there isn’t, just adjust your metronome to the beat in your head.

The time signature is 4/4. Let’s not overcomplicate this since we are all used to it.

Give yourself two measures to start with (that means the metronome clicks 8 times), and then loop it. This gives the rhythm a little bit more room to breathe then just doing 4 bar loops.

Hip-hop or rock or electronic music generally have a snare drum on the 2 and 4 or each beat, with hi-hats on the eighth notes or sixteenth notes.

If you are looking for ideas, try keeping the eighth notes/sixteenth notes steady while only making variations in the bass drum.

Here are examples of a groove with eighth notes, and one with sixteenth notes.

Eighth note hi-hats

Sixteenth note hi-hats

Play around with the different sounds of the drums. You can swap out the hi-hats for a more trap sounding thing, or pick a snare with a little more bite, etc.

If you are trying to emulate a style of music (hip-hop, etc.) listen to a song you like and try to recreate the groove that you hear

Once you’ve made a groove that you are satisfied with, go ahead and start making a bass line.

Making the bass line

When in doubt, the bass drum and the bass line go together. This is not a hard and fast rule but it is a way to get you started. I would pick one or two notes, let’s say the first and its fifth. So if you are playing on a keyboard that could be a C and G. Or F and C. Or G and D.

You have constraints—you can only use THOSE TWO NOTES to make a bass line. If you have a midi keyboard (or you can play many keyboards with your computer keys like on Garage Band).

Most of the notes you are going to play will be the first note, and maybe once or twice in the 8 clicks will you hit the fifth to change it up.

Once you have played around with the melody for a while you will record it (or program it in) to the loop.

Keep undoing it if you are not satisfied! This is the heart of your groove so you need to like it.

Once you are ready, move on to the melody.

Start with one note

Your goal is to make your first note of music meaningful. To do this we are going to just start with a one-note melodic pattern.

Putting constraints on ourselves lets us open our creativity. But we’re going to make it a great note.

Get your loop going and try out the root note (the first note you played).

Try it out in several different rhythms in the groove, maybe playing off the bass line (meaning playing in a cross-rhythm against the bass line).

If you still aren’t feeling it, search around your library for more sounds, there may be sounds that have more decay and resonance which you may think fit better over the music.

Sometimes, one note may be enough, and then we want to use another instrument to make another melodic gesture.

The beauty of making music with software is that you are not limited by the amount of people you have playing the part, so you can add as many tracks as you would like.

You can make some tracks quiet that is just used to support the rhythm.

Make a song structure

Don’t get too stressed with making this part super melodic and intricate. The great thing about music software is that you can always rearrange parts. So maybe you want to make a bass line and drum beat with a little melodic flavoring on top.

Then later after that loops for a bit, another melody comes in and really steals the show. I like to think of my parts in sections: Intro, A, B, C, D… etc.

Listen to music and copy what you like

The most important step out of all this is to listen to certain music that you like and try to emulate a part of it. Start with the beat and the bass line and then try to write your own melody on top of that.

Experiment with different sounds that you have in your music program. Even a program like GarageBand comes preloaded with a LOT of different sounds. Try them!

Stay inspired

Keep listening to music and try to get excited about the music YOU ARE CREATING. This is never before heard music by anyone so be passionate about it.

If you are not digging the song you are making, scrap it! Sometimes the second or third time is a charm when creating a great song.

In the beginning, you need to write a ton of songs before you start to find out what works and what doesn’t. You need time to develop your voice. So keep going and exhaust your creativity to its full potential.

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