Sounds Like Music

Blog about making digital music by Robert Dawson

Notes from Music Composition For Dummies

While in Barnes & Noble recently, I ran across a great book that intuitively organizes and easily explains music composition, appropriately entitled Music Composition For Dummies. I've looked at several books in this series and have been let down by their quality, but this one is superb, the best I've been. It covers lots about music theory and composition and brings it down to earth for those without much prior musical knowledge. Highly recommended.

It was so good that I couldn't wait to buy it before diving in and taking notes. These cover the first two chapters if I recall.


1. Choose a mood.

  • Fear
  • Anticipation
  • Sorrow
  • Anger
  • Love
  • Hate
  • Compassion
  • Surprise
  • Tenderness
  • Anxiety

2. Tell a story.

Tempo (and bpm) 

  • Largo 40-60
  • Larghetto 60-66
  • Adagio 66-76
  • Andante 76-108
  • Allegro 108-168
  • Presto 168-200


  • Beats per measure
  • Notes per beat (time signature)

Syncopation - putting strong accent on normally weak note 

Rhythmic phrases - sections of rhythm

Tip: Find rhythm in everyday language. 

Musical framework - duration of musical section; amount of time to secure listener's attention

Motif - smallest melodic idea

Melodic phrase - 4+ measures, usually with pauses 

Period - complete melodic idea; usually 4, 8, or 16 measures

Spice up phrases with:

  • Rhythmic displacement
  • Truncation
  • Expansion

Think of conflict and resolution (i.e., a story).

Parts of the story

  • Statement
  • Development
  • Departure
  • Resolution (or Recapitulation)

The scale governs tonality. Chords are made up of notes in a given scale.