What kind of music do I want to make?
I don’t know! I think I just like playing around, and it’s been fun to do that. I don’t want to paint myself in a corner; I just want to keep playing around in my free time.
How long have I been at this? How often do I practice?
I started in early July, after getting a MIDI controller (Akai MPK mini 2, if that helps you decide). I’ve been practicing every day since I got it using Melodics, which has been great for giving me something to chip away at for 5+ minutes a day after making coffee.
I also take Sunday and compose something under a time trial. So, 3-4 hours to go from nothing to something. I usually pick 1-2 things to focus on (a particular key, a particular tempo, using a particular instrument, etc.) and see what I can do with that. The goal isn’t to make a perfect track, just to make a cohesive idea and clock the hours of practice.
How do I compose music?
Right now I’m using Notion for iOS. I’m writing sheet music because I want to learn how to read it, it’s a compact language, and I can export to MIDI files, and do mixing and exporting in GarageBand! The playing is a bit robotic, but again, I’m looking for a cohesive track. If I really like a track, I could take a few days and actually perform it in GarageBand and perfect it.
Where I’m struggling
I’m currently struggling in a few areas in learning to compose my own music, which I want to focus on in the next few months:
I think I have a fundamental understanding of chords, and can build a simple rhythm, but my mind goes completely blank when it comes to making a melody. If composing music is a form of writing, I don’t know sentence structure. And the learning materials I’ve come across are hand-wavey about how melodies are made. The advice is too generalized, or unhelpful if you have no idea what actually makes up a good melody, or even to identify the patterns in a melody.
I really wish there was a “learn by example” book, or a collection of patterns readily available as a way to jumpstart. Kind of like writing prompts. I’m the kind of person who has to learn a solid foundation before I can branch out and do my own stuff. My best work comes from taking deliberate, regular application, combined with a solid foundation, and then dissecting how those foundations work so I can experiment.
Overall song structure (particularly transitions)
Struggling here might be a byproduct of not knowing how to build a melody. Since I haven’t been able to make melodies I’m happy with, and I don’t know what makes good melodies, I haven’t been able to practice making good transitions between them. So everything I’ve made has been janky, an idea that abruptly ends.
Again, I think the primary issue here not knowing how to build a good melody, I don’t know how to add texture. If the core melody & rhythm aren’t good; no amount of texture will sound good. But I also am pretty sure I don’t know which instruments pair well together, what creates a good texture balance, and how to properly mix texture.
Addendum: Work music vs. the rest of my music
I’m in a spot where I have 2 very distinct categories of music:
- Music I can work to
- Music I can dig into
Music I can work is usually instrumental tracks, or lo-fi variations, see:
- Louie Zong’s body of work
- Leon Chang
- Kamasi Washington
- Vince Guaraldi
When I’m not working or listening to an audiobook as a break, my recent favorites have been:
- Blood Orange
- It’s Alive from La Luz
- Caer from Twin Shadow
- Violet Street from Local Natives