Any Composers in or around Harlow Essex who might be able to offer guidance

Hi I have been trying to learn how to compose for 7 years and although I have some success I find it difficult. Would any one like to offer their help?

I have Albion one and a few other Libs and a new PC and studio,

Many thanks


  • Hi there - would be delighted to offer up any knowledge I have that could help (and I am sure there are a lot of regulars round these parts that would happily do the same), but it would be be helpful to know specifics on how far you have got and where you are struggling...

  • Hi Retroblue. I know in the past my older PC really struggled with the LIBS. It ended up grinding to a halt. The new PC has fixed that. Music theory is a big one. I understand the basics of scales and keys as I play the piano (badly). Orchestration is another. How to achieve the sounds in my head. Is it a limitation of Albion and the articulations?

    I use ableton live. I think I know my way around it now.

    Mixing. Am I mixing my tracks properly?

    I am just in a the middle of a reconstruction of one of my favourite songs. It's going quite well but could it be better?

    Thanks for replying

  • Hi again - am going to seize on your thought that you are struggling to realise the sounds in your head. I will say in passing that a library like Albion with ensemble patches could, depending on what you are going for, be a limitation in that regard - e.g. if you want to voice a woodwind chord with each instrument playing a different note then you really need something like BBCSO so you can give specific notes to each instrument (BBCSO discover is ok, but has limitations!). I also like trying to give each instrument a unique "part" to play and again, an ensemble patch won't really allow for that.

    So I think you are doing well to nail down the areas you need to work on. I would probably work on them in the order they go through the production chain - i.e. work on learning mixing last because ultimately you can only polish so much and if you have bad writing or bad orchestration further up the chain, then mixing won't save you. The thing I think you miss out is "ear training", which I have always thought is a bit of a misnomer, you aren't really training your ear, rather you are gaining command over, and upping the resolution of, the music you hear in your head, and then separately honing your ability to analyse that music so you can tell what it is doing.

    So, some of this may be part of the journey you have already taken, but I thought I would scribble down (at least the start of) my ear training journey in case it is helpful to you, or maybe someone else reading (you will see that there is a lot of music theory built in here that you will learn on the way). Don't stop composing/producing whilst you do this - composing producing whilst doing this is going to help massively!

    Part 1, Prep

    You need a phone with a music player on it, that has shuffle and create playlist options (an old pre-smart phone era burner phone can work here - you could probably get one for less than £20).

    So, fire up your DAW with the best piano sample you own (preferably a normal piano rather than a felted/soft one), and program in a 4 second single C2 (i.e. the C one octave below middle C if your DAW numbers things differently). Export that as a 4 second mp3 file and save it as title "aaC2". do the same again with C#2 and save as "abC#2". And keep going all the way to C4 (the C an octave above middle C). Select all the Mp3 files and edit the details to give them the album title "mp3 piano" or similar. You now have an album of 25 separate notes comprising a two octave chromatic scale going from C2 to C4 (which you can put in order by sorting by title). Put the album on your phone - you are now set to do ear training wherever you are - as a side benefit - this will mean never being bored on a commute again (and also fantastic for insomnia- this can be exhausting at first but it's my version of meditation: )

    Part 2, Exercises.

    Ex 1.a

    Create a playlist from your album above which just has the notes of C major in it. And listen to the whole thing a few times. Now, listen to one note at a time. After C2 has played, pause it and try to hear the note in your head as perfectly as possible. Keep doing this all the way up to C4 until you nail it. Now, do the same again, but this time, do two notes at a time, and try and hear them in your head. Then do three notes at a time, then four, and keep going until you can play a 2 octave C major scale in your head all the way up, and all the way down, with each note recognisable as a piano and with the last note perfectly in tune (check). The important thing here is to visualise yourself actually playing the key as you hear each note in your head (saying "C2" in your head at the same time as you try and hear a C2 creates unnecessary noise - better to have a visual cue).

    Ex 1.b (I wouldn't attempt this until you have nailed 1.a)

    Now do the root position chords that occur diatonically in C major. That is, C major (CEGC), D Minor (DFAD), E minor (EGBE), F major (FACF), G major (GBDG), A minor (ACEA) and B Diminished (BDFB). In practice you would play your C2 mp3, then skip D2 and play E2, then try and sing those two notes in your head. Keep going until you can play one octave arpeggios of each chord up and down in your head. Then do first inversion chords (i.e. the chords above starting on the second note of the chord) - this time your first chord will be A minor (C2,E2,A2,C3), then B diminished (D2,F2,B2,D3). Then second inversion chords starting with F major (C2,F2,A2,C3). The chords should be played as arpeggios. DO NOT worry about trying to hear the note in your head as a single "chord" (that is for much further down the line - by all means do it if you can, but don't feel you have to).

    You can move on to Ex 1.c. at this point, but at some point do the diatonic 7th chords (C Major 7th - CEGB, D minor 7th- DFAC, E minor 7th- EGBD, F major 7th- FACE, G dominant 7th- GBDF, A minor 7th- ACEG, and B half-diminished 7th- BDFA) and their inversions.

    Ex 1.c

    The fun bit - you can now start learning to play music on your mental piano in C major. I would start with things like nursery rhymes (twinkle, twinkle little star, BINGO, Old MacDonald etc). It will be trial and error at first, but you get better the more you do. Then do "famous" chord sequences - e.g. I-vi-IV-V (C major, A minor, F major, G major). Start with root position (CEGC,ACEA,FCAF,GBDG) but then try doing it with inversions (e.g. C major CEGC, A minor (CEAC), F major, CFAC, G major, BDGB). Don't be shy about taking a starting note or a prompt from your phone. I'd try and be precise about playing the right notes in your head in the right key.

    Then do random chord sequences and melodies in C major (at this point you are now composing music in your head).


    Whilst you are here, you may as well do the above for the A minor scale as well (it has the same notes - ABCDEFGA being the relative minor of C major). Basically, start on track 6 of your playlist.

    Ex 2- Ex 12

    Repeat Exercise 1 for the other 11 major keys and minor keys - you will start to run out of notes, but you can always add tracks to your album. Hopefully, each scale you add will be quicker to learn.

    At this point, if you've been diligent, you should now be able to compose music in your head in any key given a starting note (which you have on your phone). You aren't replacing sketching things out on the piano, but you are facilitating it (massively)!

    [am rather pleased that I have managed to exceed the Spitfire maximum post length - will continue below]

  • [continued from above]

    Ex 13 (can be done at the same time as the above and the below).

    Transcribe EVERYTHING. Any time you here a melody try and play it on your mental piano and try and work out the harmony by breaking it down into arpeggios (this will be trial and error at first but you'll get there). Take a starting note from your phone if you need to. If they are doing something "non-diatonic" - make a note to try and work out the thinking behind that at a later point.

    Ex 14. (going forwards and moving into orchestration)

    Get something like the BBCSO core library with individual instrument patches, and fire up a flute solo legato patch. play around with it on your midi keyboard and get a feel for how it sounds in the different octaves. Then try playing the flute in your head. Maybe give the flute a week and move on to the oboe for a week, then the clarinet for a week, then the bassoon. Then do the brass and then do the strings (or do the strings and then the brass). Rinse repeat, until you are no longer confused about which instrument is making the sound you hear in your head - this will be much easier if you build the mental piano first, as above. Then try out pairs of instruments, then sections and so on. I would say it's actually at this point that something like Albion becomes invaluable because it will massively save you time.

    Ex 15 (can be done at the same time as all the above).

    Put your mp3 piano album on shuffle, don't look at the screen, and try and guess the notes - don't worry about getting one wrong, but every time you get one wrong, check the note title on your phone, learn what the interval is (minor second, major third, perfect fifth, minor 9th, etc) and play the two notes together in your head four or five times. If you are struggling with a particular interval - work on it specifically (e.g. if major thirds were a problem, then do C and E, F and A, F## and D, etc). The big problem with intervals is that they are different beasts ascending and descending - you can crack all the ascending major thirds you want, but descending major thirds are going to be a separate thing to learn. I've done this so much I can pretty much name notes immediately and accurately and fool people into thinking I have perfect pitch. You should also put the playlists of the major scales you have created on shuffle and do the same.

    Singing everything out loud will help embed this massively, but not always practical (particularly on the commute; )

    I think that's probably at least a good six month project if you put in around 30 minutes a day (remember, you can do most of this on your commute or before bedtime). Although, Ex 13 and 14 will be lifelong projects. By the end of it you should be able to fairly readily compose anything you hear in your head (at least if it's in in diatonic harmony) - you'll probably also be a far better piano player.

    Hope that's helpful! Do feel free to ask questions (can't guarantee there aren't millions of typos up there!).

    Best wishes


  • Hi Retroblueman. Thank you so much for the advice. I have been trying to train my ears for years and have some degree of sucess. I find melody fairly easy but underlying chords I struggle. I managed to finish a cover version of one of my favourite tracks. I could send it to you if you wish. (Working on my second one at the moment)

    Do you live near Harlow?

    I have watched your youtube videos all very good.

    Hope to hear from you soon Eamonn

  • Hey there - be very happy to listen to you track and offer feedback! - maybe DM me a private soundcloud/youtube link if you're a bit hesitant about posting on the forum (or if the track you covered is still in copyright!) - see the little mail envelope up the top right.

    With chords I find the best way to go in the early days is to first find out the key, then work out the top note (usually easy) and the bottom note (also not usually hard) and then fill in the middle - if you know your theory the top and bottom notes will already have given you a fairly big clue on the middle - e.g. if you are in C major and the top note is an A and the bottom note is an F then the most likely candidates for the chord are F major or D minor 1st inversion - then it can be a bit of trial and error to work out the middle voicing. Give those 2 chords a go first and if they fit, great - move onto the next chord, if they don't, put a pin in that one and come back to it. Also, the 25%,50% and 75% speed functions on YouTube are big helps for transcription!

    Glad you liked the YouTube stuff - am aiming for 50 vids by it's first birthday on 21: )