Getting Started! – Composing Tips

When you’ve never composed for an Orchestral ensemble, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start. Perhaps like me, you have a working knowledge of sequencing in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and are currently into making EDM (Electronic Dance Music), or Solo Piano pieces. Maybe you have little working knowledge of Music Technology, but have a good understanding of Music Theory and are currently gigging with live musicians in a Jazz Band. It could be that you have played an instrument that requires little knowledge of Music Theory and Music Technology but know how to pass on music aurally. If you have knowledge about any of the above, it shouldn’t be too hard to write for Orchestra.

Even so, if you know nothing about music right now, it’s still possible for you to write for an Orchestra. You can learn everything you need to know on the internet. There is a lot of online resources for Music Theory and Music Technology currently. I won’t lie to you… whether you’ve got the knowledge or not… the modern standard for composing is definitely a large investment. Depending on what equipment you already have, you can expect to be investing anything between £1,000 to £4,000 for a basic home studio setup. But don’t be alarmed!!! This small helpful guide should help you through the immense expenses.

Slowly Investing!

The Key to getting good quality equipment without breaking your bank-account is saving! If you you’re not yet in employment, finding a Job is your next step (and will provide at least two roles: earning you the needed funds and developing your work etiquette. These are vital points that will contribute to gaining future work further down the line!). Keep your eye out for any really good deals. If you’re not sure where the good deals are, consider joining a composing community. There are some really supportive communities that keep on the lookout for deals and useful video tutorials.

When purchasing equipment try to buy in the order of importance (unless there is an extremely good deal!). Below I’ve put a list of equipment you may need in the order of importance (first being most important).

  1. PC/Mac (minimum recommended specs below)
    • 16Gb DDR3 1333MHz
    • Quad Core 2.8GHz
    • 1x HDD 7200rpm 1Tb
    • 1x SSD 500Gb
  2. Digital Audio Workstation (the latest versions of any examples written below)
    • Logic Pro X (Mac OS only)
    • Cubase
    • Pro Tools
    • Ableton Live
    • Digital Performer
  3. Midi Keyboard
  4. Headphones
  5. External Audio Interface (must include at least 1 XLR input with Phantom Power)
  6. Condensor Microphone and XLR Cable
  7. “Premium” Courses/Training on Composition
  8. Sample Libraries + Sampler (Some samples come with their own samplers)
    • String Library
    • Woodwind Library
    • Brass Library
    • Percussion Library
  9. Studio Active Monitors
  10. Plugins and Effects

Regarding number 7, it’s a good idea to think about taking courses with those that can offer advice and guidance. Some examples of good places to take courses are ThinkSpace Education and Screen Music Academy. These are great online resources for those with a competent knowledge of music. Places such as these offer thriving online international communities, guidance from professionals already in the industry, advise for sample libraries, critical analysis on your projects, to prepare you for life in the industry and will keep you up to date on new products that could potentially interest you!

I’ve placed it at number 7 because they will usually expect you to have numbers 1-6 already. So if you should choose to start courses after number 6, you can hit the ground running.

How to start writing!


The key to progressing quickly and writing quickly, is to learn from the best! Pick an orchestral piece or soundtrack that you really like (ie. Star Wars Theme by John Williams), then try to narrow down one to two things you like about the piece. This could be anything from his choice of instruments to his harmonic progressions. Then try to analyse why you like it? Is it the combination of instruments like the ringing percussion and the warm brass, is it the iconic leaps in the melodic lines? Every time you make a small analysis on a piece, make a mental note of what they did and try to use the technique in your own piece without copying the composer that inspired you! By doing this regularly on a variety of pieces, you will be adding to your own creativity when it comes to writing. If you are setting out on a particular style of project, try to focus on pieces that are already in that style!

Four Useful tips for composing!

  1. As much as it sounds like the opposite of creative, try out the famous four chord structure! By doing this you will be giving yourself a foundation in Harmony and will be able to quickly work out basic melodic lines in a basic major or minor scale.
  2. During the composing phase it’s important to improvise even if it sounds bad, by doing this you’ll get to know what sounds good and what sounds terrible.Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
  3. Record all of your musical ideas as you go, not as you practice it.
  4. If you play something you didn’t intend to but it sounds nice… keep it! (another reason to record your musical ideas as you go).

If you’ve got some tips of your own, feel free to put them in the comments! I’d love to see them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *