An Upright Piano with Sheet Music

How to compose music, fast

Have you wondered how some musicians manage to consistently produce music at a steady pace? How about turning a track round in a matter of days or even hours? How to write music, fast. Read on.

The simple answer to what seems like a sleight of hand magic trick is templates. One of the easiest things you can do to speed up your workflow is by creating a template. I don’t mean just one template but lots of them.

In this post I am going to share with you some basic tips on building a template. I intend to make this not specific to any particular DAW. You will learn the best way to set up a template and how to flesh out a basic arrangement map.

Choices, Choices

First thing to do is find several tracks in a number of styles. I would start with a style that you normally compose in just to get a feel for making a template. Once you have done it with something safe and familiar you can then apply the same logic that I will show you to other styles. To avoid any copyright infringements I will demonstrate the process of mapping out the track arrangement using my own compositions.

Before we set out on our journey a little tip. When mapping out arrangements you will find that a lot of the arrangements are built on 4, 8, 16 or sometimes 32 bars before something changes and transitions on to something different to keep the piece fresh and moving. It is no coincidence why this is so as we human beings, sorry for any aliens that may have dropped in to read this,  love evenness and hearing our music with a little symmetry. There’s nothing to stop you experimenting with an odd number of bars within your loop. It may, however, make the track sound imbalanced and uneven.


Lets take a listen to the track first of all :-

Open your DAW of choice and locate the markers track. You may have to insert this as a new track or it may be in a view menu. Globetrotter has a steady beat and you can map this out in one of two ways. Either import the track into your DAW or listen and map it out by ear. I would suggest the latter as it helps develop your analytical ear.

The instrumentation is quite minimal in this track but it still sounds like there is a lot going on what with the counter melodies and sequences. We are not however going to map out the absolute minutia, just a basic map to get things started.

To make the template you need to only map out the bare bones of the track. For example when the pads start or you add a new drum track. When you have finished your marker map it will look something like this:

Globetrotter Map
Click to see full image

By way of kicking things off we start with a layered atmospheric sound. This segues nicely into a layered pad sound. As the marker suggests the chords change once every two bars. So although the track tempo is around 120 bpm it actually feels half this speed. As an aside, this is a handy tip to step up tracks on the second half without playing with tempo maps.

Simple Tip

Just focusing on this for a minute you could set your metronome to 140 bpm. Start your track by playing a chord every 2 bars, giving the feeling that the track is at 70 bpm.  The listener is lured into a false sense of security thinking this will be a slow burner of a track. Then if you have a track split between part A and B, the second half changes to one chord every bar. By doing this you have doubled the feel of the track but without altering your tempo map.

Okay, back to the Globetrotter track. After an eight-bar section, we set off the bass sequence that will underpin the whole track. We next bring in a subtle drum track to support the elements we have already built up. Around 32 bars later an arpeggiator is brought in and follows the general chord structure of the track. All we are doing is marking down when these elements make their appearance. It doesn’t matter what they are doing in terms of notes as you will be adding your own composition to this map.

We continue to work through the track jotting down notes and adding markers at the main points something different occurs. Once finished you will have a basic map of around 10 marker points.

Building the template further

Building a template by mapping out the track using markers is only the start. You can go one step further by adding your go to synths and drum modules. For me, I always start my tracks using Omnisphere and StylusRMX. So why not insert these into the track, set up all the outputs so they are routed to separate audio outs ready for bouncing down to audio.

I will address the reasons why I always bounce my MIDI tracks to audio in a separate article. But once you have inserted your go to synths you can save the track as a new template.

Templates in Practice

Lets take a look at another track called Epoch of Realisation:

Epoch Track
Epoch of Realisation Part 1

You can see in the above image that the map for this track is not complex. I have mapped this track out to start with an ambient pad noise that moves into a synth line. This second entry comes in after only 4 bars and continues on. We then have a third entry to bringing in a piano sound with a drone pad underneath. 

Now, if you have listened to the track you will be thinking that the map does not bear any semblance to what is going on. This is because although the track started out with this simple template the ideas pulled it in another direction. When we move to the second half of the track it moves further away from the map.

Epoch Track
Epoch of Realisation Part 2

This is an example of how, although you have a template, you do not have to stick to it rigidly. There is always room for you to take your idea on a different path.

So there you have it a simple method of helping you speed up the composition process. If you do this with a couple of tracks from different genres you will have templates to get you up and running when the muse strikes.

Closing Out

This is an article I have been wanting to share for some time and I hope you have found it useful. If you enjoyed this post then please follow me on Youtube, Twitter or like my Facebook page. If you have any ideas of your own or questions then pop them in the comments below and I will get back to you.

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