A few weeks ago, I woke up with a silly tune in my head. Normally when that happens, I promptly forget the tune. But this time, I quickly sketched out the tune on a piece of paper and put it on my desk. Later, I took that sketch and scored the tune for a trio of flute, cello, and bass. Once done, I shot some video at the Lemoine Point Conservation Area, and put together a short film. You can view it here:
Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m no musical prodigy. Far from it. But I know enough music theory to be dangerous. And so I fired up a program called MuseScore, and got down to composing. In this post, I describe how I went about creating the music.
To begin with, let me explain a couple of basic principles of music theory. First, a chord is defined as a sequence of three or more notes played together or in close succession. A major chord consists of three notes: the first, third, and fifth notes of the musical scale. In do-re-mi terms, those are the do, mi, and sol. For example, a C major chord consists of the notes C, E, and G.
Second, many songs fall into the category of the “three-chord song“. That’s true for literally tens of thousands of pop, folk, country, and blues songs. Those three chords typically are the major chords based on the first, fourth, and fifth notes of the scale. For a three-chord song in the key of G major, the chords are G major, C major, and D major.
Back to my silly tune, it’s basically a three-chord song in the key of G. Here’s the basic theme:
The flute, scored in the treble clef, carries the melody. The cello simply plays the notes of a major chord, one chord per bar, in the sequence of G, C, G, D, G, C, D, and G. The bass, played an octave below the cello, plays the root note of the chord.
MuseScore isn’t the easiest bit of software to learn or use. But it’s very powerful, and allows you to compose a score using pretty much any musical terms you want. You enter note mode, and then click on where you want each note to go. You can then play back the song and listen to what you composed. You can also tweak each track to get the sound you want.
Once the basic theme was done, I then copied those nine bars, and made slight changes to the theme. I repeated that process multiple times, each time diverging more and more from the original theme, changing mainly the flute and bass parts. Over the course of the entire song, the bass part in particular became more intricate. At certain points, I changed from 3/4 time to 5/4 time, and even to 7/4 time. The piece gets more and more frenetic, but returns to the initial theme at the very end.
Many artists have commented that often when inspiration strikes, it feels like there’s some spirit or muse taking over. That’s how it felt writing this piece. I was amazed at how quickly it came together. Even the intricate bass runs did not need much tweaking once I entered in the notes. In the past, this kind of thing required years of dedicated study and practice. And yet, with the right technology, this rank amateur could whip this out in a matter of a few hours.
If you think the software is expensive, think again. MuseScore is free open-source software. Downloads are freely available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
In conclusion, I’ll just say this: If I can create a piece of music like, I’m sure anyone can. It just takes a bit of knowledge of music theory and the patience to learn a tricky but powerful piece of software.