How to Learn Music

1 Study the musical alphabet. The musical alphabet is made up of only 7 letters (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), but it’s the basic language that musicians use to write and talk about musical notes. Between these 7 notes there are also 5 other notes that are either sharp or flat. Sharp notes are 1 note higher in pitch than the regular letter that it uses, while flat notes are 1 note lower in pitch.

  • For example, the A-sharp note is slightly higher in pitch than a regular A note.
  • These notes are always in alphabetical order, going from A to G, on any instrument. When you go past the G note, the next note is just another A note and the entire order is repeated.
  • If you play a musical instrument like piano, you can map this alphabet out on your instrument. For instance, memorize where the “C” note is played on the piano and then you’ll also know where C-flat, C-sharp, B, D, A, E, and F are on the opposite sides of the C key.

2 Get to know the basic elements of reading sheet music. Sheet music is written on a set of horizontal, parallel lines called the staff. Other small figures and lines are written on or around the staff to indicate things like which notes are played, how long each note is played for, and what rhythm the music should be played in.

  • Clefs are various shapes written at the very beginning of a music staff, which tell you what pitches are on what line or space of the staff. The treble clef looks sort of like an ampersand, while the bass clef looks like a backwards C with 2 dots on top of it.
  • The key signature appears next to the clef and is composed of 1 or several # (sharp) or b (flat) symbols on individual lines of the staff. These symbols indicate that all notes played on that line should either be played either sharp or flat.
  • The notes on the staff lines indicate which notes to play on an instrument and are made up of 3 parts: the note head (a black oval that is either open or closed), the stem (the vertical line attached to the note head), and the flag (the curved stroke at the top of the stem).
  • Note that not all notes contain all 3 parts at the same time. Different combinations of open or closed note heads, stems, and flags tell you how long to play an individual note in terms of beats or fractions of beats. For instance, an open note with no stem or flag is played for 4 beats, while a closed note with a stem is played for 1 beat.

3 Learn the difference between scale and pitch. Pitch refers to how high or low on an instrument you play a certain note, such as the “C” note. There are 7 keys of difference between 2 different pitches of the same note (e.g., on a piano, you can play an A note in a higher pitch by moving 7 keys to the right). Conversely, scales are sets of notes that sound particularly good when played sequentially and are thus commonly used in songwriting.

  • When you change the pitch of 1 note, you have to also change the pitch of any other note that you play with that first note in a scale.
  • There are major scales for each of the 7 notes. There are also minor scales, which are similar to major scales, except the 3rd note in the scale is a half step lower than it is in the major scale.

4 Familiarize yourself with chords. Chords are formed when 3 or more notes of the same pitch are played at the same time. After you’ve learned the different notes on your instrument, the next thing you should do is learn some of the most common chords played on it.

  • For example, the C, E, and G notes are commonly played together across a variety of instruments as a single chord.

5 Make sure you’re aware of the importance of rhythm. Rhythm, in terms of music, refers to the consecutive arrangement of notes or beats placed at equal intervals of time. This means that you have to allow for the same amount of silence in between each musical note, or else the flow of the piece can be ruined.

  • The rhythm at which a piece of music should be played is indicated on a staff by a time signature, made up of 2 vertically placed numbers next to the clef. The top number indicates how many beats there are in a measure of music, while the bottom number represents the note value which makes 1 beat.
  • For example, a ¾ time signature would indicate that each measure in a piece of music contains 3 beats, while each beat contains 4 notes.

How to Start Creating Music

1 First tip is to Listen. The more music you listen to, the more inspiration you’ll get, and the more creative you can be. I guess if you want to make music you already listen to loads, but diversity is another cool thing that will make your music more appealing and exciting – listen to as many genres and artists as you can. Listening to more music makes your mind ready and can help you complete a 3 note pattern into a riff. It also greatly enhances your internal metronome which is one of the most important things a musician should have. Also by having a broad musical knowledge, you can easily attract more audience as music is a matter of subconscious as it is a matter of emotions. So you need to get your subconscious musically adapted!

2 Choosing an instrument: Start with an instrument you like, don’t look for “easy instruments”, there is no such thing. Any instrument requires frequent practice and study. Choose the instrument that best suits the genre you want to play. Piano and Guitar are great for many genres and are very popular songwriting tools so you can easily find lessons online and start practicing (I’m a guitarist so maybe I’ll be posting a guitar guide too). So choose your instrument, but don’t spend a lot of money as it’s not wise to spend a lot on something that you may not want to continue. Set a budget and buy a nicely built affordable instrument. If you have a friend who plays that instrument you may want them to try it for you they can tell you if it has something wrong. And always research before buying. If you have a certain instrument that you like and suits your budget, keep on researching for days and weeks for more info, reviews, demos about it and its alternatives. Google it, YouTube it, look it up at musical stores’ websites, as much as you can and be patient so that you can be sure you’ve got the best that suits your budget and don’t regret buying this and not buying that instead. Enjoy!

3 Learning Your Instrument: Learning a musical instrument, like anything else, requires patience and the key to mastering it is nothing but practice. Practice as much as you can, and if you practice daily for at least 15 minutes every day you’ll get better results than only practicing 3 hours one day and not practicing others. So practice regularly.

4 If you can afford to have a private teacher do it. It is a shortcut, as everyone can have a different experience with the instrument and a teacher will prevent you from acquiring bad habits. Joining a music class is also a good choice. And you can always look for lessons on the Internet. Just make an email account (a precaution) and join free newsletters of sites that offer lessons for free, then read and watch. If you can pay, after checking the free lessons, go with what you feel has best helped you. One important thing…. NEVER GIVE UP! There are times when you’ll feel that you are not progressing, all musicians have this feeling often, but don’t let this get you down. Listen to some music, it may re-inspire you to keep practicing! Hang out with musicians, go to concerts, watch videos of your favourite artist, it’s all good to motivate you, just keep practicing, challenge yourself and try new ideas. Don’t bore yourself, you must enjoy it, isn’t this your passion?! Be sure that the more you work on it, the more you’ll get in return.

5 Now that you’re starting to get better at your instrument, you may want to start composing. Here are some simple ideas to help you on your way.

6 Two things to keep in mind: 1 – When you create a song, try to make it have a theme, not just a mix of unrelated stuff. 2 – Try to have your own sound. This means that when someone listens to your music, they should be able to know that this is yours. However, creating your own sound usually comes later on and takes some time.

7 Composing music by ear: For some people, it’s hard to get all of those music theory concepts memorized. And if they already have a good ear for music, what a person like them would do is to use this great tool (their trained ears) to start making their songs. They may have a certain song idea, riff or a chord progression, in their minds, then they would transfer it to the instrument and continue building on it. For some people this is easier than music theory, it may not do well critically, but it can be popular with listeners.

8 Composing to another song: If you listen to a song you like, it could inspire you to make a song of your own. It may give you a musical idea or a certain beat or melody to start with, so it’s a very easy way to help you start making your first tracks. Just listen to the music and get inspired. Think of things you can add to it or a change you can make, it may turn into a completely different song! you can change the key of the song (you’ll need to know more about key signatures), change the beat…. etc, the point is to experiment with it.

9 Composing to a sample: You can find many online sites that offer samples or loops like a drum beat or a riff, try some out. Maybe one of them can trigger your musical head into action!

10 Composing to a riff: Scales are one of the best ways to make riffs. If you jam with a scale you can come up with a riff, then use this riff as a base for your song. Many artist make riff based songs, especially rock artists, even hip hop can contain a repeated guitar riff or bass loop.. try it.

11 Composing to a scene or a situation: Imagine you were asked to make the soundtrack for a movie, and then imagine that movie – the scenes, the story, the atmosphere. What kind of feeling does it give you? Try to express that in music.

12 Composing with Lyrics: If you experienced a situation that you want to express, write it, then rewrite it but try to get it more into phrases and try to make these phrases more rhythmic. Then you can try to put similar ending words…that’s it, you have a basic lyric form! What you want to do now is to give it a melody, descend and ascend with them words, if you can make a musical phrase with them…. Great! Just get them to feel like a song to your ears. Then you might want to experiment with a chord progression, find one that suits these words and the mood you want them to sound like, eg. Happy (major), Sad (minor).

13 Building it Up: Now that you have some ideas, start thinking of the song’s structure. The very basic can be intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge or solo, chorus, outro You can make it even simpler. Be creative, you can make a song with no chorus, give it a strong structure. If you feel a part is weakening the song, remove it. Add bridges and mini bridges, some variations of the verse and chorus will make it more exciting. The small things can be greatly useful, some mini riffs and melodies make it more exciting. Don’t forget the hook, it’s the part of the song that stays in your head even when you’re not listening to it. It can be the vocals or an instrument that makes the hook.

14 Keep it simple, Your composing abilities will get better by trying and listening.

Music We Play

1. Knoxville Rag (from burnett & rutherford)

3. Devil’s Dream – Last Chance (from mike seeger – hobart smith)
4. Milwaukee Blues (from charlie poole/roy harvey)
5. Eadle Alley (from melvin wine)
6. Old Christmas Morning (from french carpenter)
7. Charming Betsy (from land norris)
8. Jake’s Got a Bellyache* (from the hammons’ family)
9. Riley the Furniture Man (from the georgia crackers)
10. Tupelo Blues (from hoyt ming & his pepsteppers)
11. Chattanooga – Sheeps & Hogs Walking Through the Pasture (from bruce molsky/chris coole – buddy thomas)
12. When the Good Lord Sets You Free (from the carolina tar heels)
13. Baptist Shout (from frank jenkins)
14. Bob McKinney (from henry thomas)
15. Life’s Fortune (e. marshall)*
* with guest Daniel Lapp on fiddle (15) and bass (8)