When most of us hear the term “composer” we see a dude with a white poofy wig holding a quill pen, etching notes onto a parchment, usually by candle light.
And even if we have a more modern image in mind, we think that surely we would need to be able to read and write music notation before we could ever compose music. How else will we get the music onto the page?
Well, prior to Thomas Edison inventing the phonograph in 1877 this was certainly the case. In other words, before the advent of recorded music, the only way to preserve your composition was indeed to get it onto paper. So either you had to fill up your quill pen and get to work scratching out notes, or hire the poofy wigged guy to write them out for you while you played your new cello sonata over and over again, note for note.
Not a great way to make friends with the folks in the cobblestone hut next to you.
But now that we live in the technological age, and thanks to Thomas Edison, there is a new way to compose! We call this “audio composing”, or composing by instrument. Put simply, you just make up the melodies on whatever musical device you are most comfortable with (including voice), and then record yourself! Yes, you will be actually composing, using your trusty tape deck or computer to capture the melodies that come out of your fingers or vocal chords. It’s easy and it’s fun, and you can take all the time you need to get it right.
But (you ask), how do I get it converted into written music eventually? Well, this is where JamAlong comes in! We have a team of music instructors who can listen to any melody, and type it up into professional looking sheet music, and email it back to you. This means that anyone, anywhere, can now read and play your composition! That’s pretty exciting, as music notation is truly a universal language and no matter if the person looking at your composition is French, Germain or Bulgarian, they will be able to recreate your piece on the spot (assuming of course that they read music).
Yes, there are also software programs that you can feed your recording into, but they are often very expensive and also make lots of errors as they attempt to render your recording into accurate musical notation. This is supply because after all, computers frequently hit bumps in the road when confronted with true human creativity. (And we know that there are those out there who would furiously debate this, but this article is not addressing the slippery slope of human versus computer abilities. We politely leave that to the AI freaks the world over).
So how do you get started composing? Well, using our instrument based approach, it comes down to getting comfortable enough to pick out little melodies. That’s the first step to any kind of composing. Whether you hear the melodies in your head and them write them down in music notation (the traditional approach), or create the melodies on an instrument or voice (the way we’re going to do it), the end result is all the same.
But here is where we come to a bit of a crossroads: if you aren’t yet confidant enough to create melodies on your given instrument, you will need to postpone your composing endeavors for the time being and focus on some instruction. There is no shame in this, you just have to crawl before you can walk! There are boundless sources for instruction out there of course, but we hope you go with JamAlong! Just give us a call or an email and we’ll come up with a study plan that works the best for you 🙂
If you are already comfortable with creating melodies and chord progressions on your instrument, then read on, and we’ll get you started in the wonderful world of creating your own music!
The five steps to Audio Composing with JamAlong…
Step one: Get set up to record yourself
This is often the hardest part because it involves the dreaded Technology! However it needn’t be too traumatic, all you really need to do is use your computer as a recording device. And this is easy if you follow these simple steps (and remember, you can always just book a live video call with us and we will talk you through this as well!)
First, determine if your computer has a built in microphone. Most laptops do, some desktops do not. If you do already have a built in mic, then go on to the next step. If you don’t, then purchase a good computer mic like the one we sell HERE, and plug it in!
Next, you will have to have some actual recording software. If you have a PC, we recommend Audacity, super easy and free (Download it HERE). If you want, you can schedule a video call with us and we will show you every detail of using this program, as we use it all the time. If you are a Mac user, then we recommend Garage Band. Finally, there is nothing wrong with going the super-easy route and just getting yourself a digital recorder. These are small and handy and you can take it with you whenever you think you might be inspired to compose. WE have a really cool on on our Tech Page of the music store (scroll down till you see the awesome red Digital Recorder).
Step two: compose!
Before you record anything, you’re going to want to have your composition pretty much done, that means you need to go into “composer mode”. This means finding a quiet spot, get yourself in the zone, and start noodling around. Everyone has different ways to encourage their creative process, some like to have a glass of wine, others like to do things we can’t endorse here. But whatever you do, the point is that you feel relaxed and creative, and can spend uninterrupted time exploring sounds on your instrument. And remember, this can be picking out notes, strumming, singing, humming, whistling, or any combination of these. You are on a scavenger hunt, and the prize is finding the little melodies that are floating around just outside your ears…
Please remember that you cannot force the Muse, and there may be many times where you just can’t come up with anything. Don’t freak out! This is perfectly natural and in fact very common, so if nothing comes to you just smile and put it away. There’s always another day. And although every composer has a different method for coming up with musical ideas, here are a few way to get yourself jump started:
Try stringing together various chords, and trying them with different strums or picking patterns. You can use this as a learning opportunity and use our Chord Number chart as a reference 🙂
Start with a count, either saying “1, 2, 3, 4” (4/4 time) or “1, 2, 3” (3/4 time) over and over, and then start picking along and see what happens.
Take a brisk walk, and start humming along with your foot steps (you’ll obviously want to have your Digital Record along with you!)
Find something on YouTube you like, and jam along with it. Then turn off YouTube and keep playing. See what comes out…
Step three: record and send
After you have came up with something you are happy with, it’s time to put in stone! And by this we mean get that masterpiece recorded. Now, before you click “record”, here are some tips to make the experience less stressful. First of all, know that every musician has issues with what is known as “red light fever”, the insider term for the anxiety that arises as soon as the red lights are on and you know that you are being recorded. The trick here is to let go of the idea of a perfect time through! As soon as you can be OK with a few mistakes in your recording, you’ll do just fine. Remember, when you send it to JamAlong we will be able to tell what you “meant to play”, so the final music score will look just fine. Think of your recording as a sketch pad, and we will create a finished painting out of it for you. (If the recording process is still to hi-tech for you, don’t stress! Most folks have issues with this. You can always take the easy way out and just schedule a Live Video lesson with us, and we’ll set it all up for you.)
Step four: work back and forth with your transcriber to finish your composition
Composing is an organic process, and takes a lot of “going back and changing stuff”. And what better way to do this than with your JamAlong coach? So you’ll record yourself and email it to us, we’ll write down what you have and send it back, you’ll add more melodies, then record and send…and on it goes. This is the Creative Process, and when you are in the right frame of mind about it, can be incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling! If you get stuck at any point, we strongly recommend you schedule a Live Video Lesson with us so we can co-create with you. Sometimes we have students who write a part, then we compose a part, and we end up sort of “co-writing” the piece, which us super fun and usually makes for a more interesting composition (and, it get’s finished a lot sooner).
Step five: get your sheet music, and gloat over your finished work!
When you have decided “that’s enough, this thing is done!” then it’s time to have us write the final edition out in music notation for you, so you can admire your composition. That’s right, you are a composer now, and you have a written work that any musician from around the world can play! Take pride in this, you worked hard for it and deserve to show it off to all your friends and family.
In closing, we want to broaden your definition of what it means to “compose”. This doesn’t just mean to create melodies on your instrument… if you like to write poems or sing, you can compose as a Songwriter! This is a richly rewarding form of composition which combines writing, singing, and playing an instrument. We have an awesome songwriting program where you can send us your lyrics and we’ll put the to music, or get us your finished songs and we can send you back recordings of them! Send us a call or an email and we’ll get you started on that. Maybe you just like to come up with different chord progressions, sitting around with your guitar in your lap and strumming till something cool emerges. That’s fine too, send these to us and we can help you write lyrics to them, or put them down into a chord chart so you can share it with your friends! The thing to remember is that any little ditty, whether something you were whistling, or strumming, or plucking or singing, can be a composition. So keep your recorder handy and make sure to give yourself time to spend looking for melodies, and it will reward you in so many ways 🙂