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Composing is a creative, fun musical skill many of us wish we could develop. Here, composer Kay Charlton makes it easy, giving you a range of simple ideas and advice on how you can get started composing your own pieces using your own instrument. This activity doesn’t need any previous knowledge of composing or any specialist equipment. You can get creative right away and perhaps uncover a hidden talent as a composer...



Composing is a great way to express your own creativity and personality; to get your ideas down in sound. In this article I’ll show you some simple composing examples — lots of musicians out there are composing, so I hope this inspires you to have a go!



Music can be seen as a conversation — a series of phrases with questions and answers, commas, full-stops and occasional exclamation marks! Here are some possible ways to begin:


  • Word rhythms
  • Finger patterns
  • A musical conversation
  • Use your favourite scale or mode
  • Start on one note — find a great rhythmic pattern
  • Use Trinity’s own composition starters

Let’s look at the first of those approaches next.



Whether the title comes first or emerges from the music, it may then define the direction of your piece. Is the title descriptive, does it have a strong rhythm? Words can be the basis of your piece; no-one even needs to know about it!

For instance, let’s take an everyday idea for some word rhythms — the weather. I wrote this simple question and answer phrase on a newspaper so I didn’t forget it; after it had been in my head for a while I sang it into my phone and extended the phrases a bit.


Later I wrote down my first idea:


So now we have a two-bar motif (short phrase). Does it sound finished or unfinished (a question)? Can you think of a phrase that answers it?

Congratulations — you’re composing.

Now this is where you can have some fun; mess around, or improvise, with your idea: run it through in your head or under your fingers for a while — improvise on the motif, change the ending, think of a contrasting theme. Develop your melody, embellish it, play it in a different key or with a different accompaniment, make it longer, change the rhythm, turn it upside down...




The next stage is to turn your ideas into a piece, or a song. For this, we need to look at the building blocks: scales, modes, chords, form (structure), melody, rhythm, and style.


Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Tonality — think about how the key and style of the piece reflect the mood you want to create. Do all keys sound the same to you — or do some sound more warm, and others more melancholy, or strident? Pentatonic scales are simpler to work with, and can be found in all types of music including heavy metal songs! Dorian and Mixolydian modes are commonly found in traditional folk music, but their versatility means you can find them in contemporary funk too.
  • The instrument you are writing for will bring its own inspiration. For instance, if you are writing for a cello, think about how you can work to its strengths. How does it sound in different parts of its range — does the quality of the tone change as you go up the instrument? Can you add interesting effects by using, for example, pizzicato or string harmonics? Or, if you are writing for trumpet, what interesting effects could you get by adding a straight or a cup mute? Also think about melody line instruments and whether or not to use piano accompaniment.
  • Which time signature will you choose? The first example is in 4/4, but don’t forget other meters that can give a particular feel to a piece, for instance 6/8 has a lilting folk song feel, 3/4 is a waltz.
  • What about the structure of your tune; is the form simple: A B A or A A B A? Is it a verse and chorus idea or a theme with variations?
  • Don’t forget to consider the tempo of your piece; use dynamics to add variety and emphasis (where might you use p or sfz?); use variations in timbre and texture where possible.

Make sure your piece sounds integrated — if you have more than one melody do they relate to each other? Your new melody may actually be the beginnings of a new piece entirely. Keep it simple and don’t over write, sometimes your first idea is the best

Good luck with your composing!



Have a go at creating your own short composition, using your own instrument. You can simply use your voice, or even think about using household objects to create percussion instruments. Composition doesn’t always have to be conventional. You might find these websites useful:



Kay took a music degree at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and since then has played trumpet with various groups, mainly the Bollywood Brass Band for who she is arranger and Projects Manager, leading on their education programme. She has worked in education for over twenty years — as a peripatetic and whole class instrumental teacher and as a curriculum teacher, workshop leader and composer. She recently completed an MA on the ‘Teaching Musician’ course at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.