Music Composition with the Piano: Ultimate Keyboard Theory
- 8 hours on-demand video
- 3 articles
- 13 downloadable resources
- Full lifetime access
- Access on mobile and TV
- Certificate of Completion
Get your team access to 4,000+ top Udemy courses anytime, anywhere.Try Udemy for Business
- Unleash your composing & songwriting with tools to unblock the writing process and generate material with ease
- Express yourself and your musical ideas fluently, at the keyboard and DAW
- Use extended music theory without reading a line of music
- Compose different styles of music; filmic, classical, jazz and mainstream through a fundamental understanding of harmony
- Build interesting chord progressions and choose from hundreds of other options when something doesn’t sound quite right
- Teach others the fundamentals of music theory and composition and keep teaching yourself well
- Much, much more in terms of the granular details!
- A piano or keyboard is all that's required. No prior musical knowledge is necessary.
- If you're familiar with it already - production software (Logic, Ableton etc) to implement the writing exercises.
This music composition course has four core elements:
An extensive introduction to piano technique, theory & arrangement
Fundamental & advanced harmony & music theory at the piano taught & learned in a practical way you can start using immediately. (as opposed to learning how to read, which isn’t as efficient as a learning strategy.)
A look at powerful compositional techniques and strategies to help you generate material and problem solve when you get stuck
Conventions and structures of piano chords, progressions and songwriting, so that you can analyse and grow your knowledge of building songs & tracks.
Many composers, producers and songwriters feel restricted by their lack of ability and knowledge of music theory at the piano. Without doubt, one of THE greatest things you can do to supercharge your composing and songwriting abilities is to gain greater technique and experience in modern day harmony at the piano.
The aim of this course is to give you a powerful and extensive compositional vocabulary, from the ground up - right up to advanced music theory, chords & harmony. And it does it all through a practical, hands on experience of theory at the piano, and it’s all accessible without having to read any music.
This course was designed for three types of musician, the beginner and intermediate
Composer (Film & Games)
For the beginner, this course takes you from literally ground zero into the building blocks of what makes music work, right up to advanced harmony - without skipping a beat. You’ll learn to write a wealth of different material at the piano and start your composing journey off right with a powerful skillset at the piano.
For the intermediate composers, producers and songwriters who are already serious about their craft but feel restricted by never really getting their head around piano & theory - this course covers almost everything you need to know. It’s built from thousands of hours (literally) of experience in private teaching with composers, producers & songwriters with a highly experienced teacher. For those of you who feel your writing ability is held back by your piano, arranging, compositional strategy & harmonic knowledge this course is completely designed for you.
And even if you’re basically semi-pro, but think your piano technique, voicings and harmonic knowledge are missing a trick, I still know the course will be of value to you. We cover extended Jazz Harmony, thematic writing, non-diatonic chord relationships and more.
At the end of this course not only are you going to feel more strong and fluent as a writer, you’re going to be able to solve critical problems on the fly whilst composing; things like:
‘Where do I start? How do I generate material?’
‘I have a chord progression, how do I make it more interesting?’
‘How can I make my chords sound more sophisticated?’
‘I have a chord progression, but I don’t know where to take it next’
‘What’s the musical science behind why that sounds like it does
‘I have chords, how do I add a bass line?’
‘I have a melody, how do I add chords?’
‘I have chords, how do I add a melody?’
‘I have a bass line, how do I add chords?’
‘My melodies sound a little dull, how can I make them more interesting?’
‘If my chords are going to stay the same, how can I make them sound different or more inspiring for the next section?’
At the end of this course, you’re going to be able to:
Express yourself and your ideas fluently
Know how to compose well & use extended music theory without having to involve yourself in reading music but by understanding simple patterns at the piano.
Unleash your writing with tools to unblock the writing process and generate material with ease
Be able to write anything from classical music, to jazz music to mainstream music - because the fundamental building blocks of harmony are largely the same.
Build interesting chord progressions and choose from hundreds of other options when something doesn’t sound quite right
Alleviate a lot of writer's block!
Have specific principles, techniques and formulas for making music work at your fingertips
Teach others the fundamentals of music theory and composition and keep teaching yourself so that you can learn and master piano more and more.
This course contains many piano tutorials on piano scales, piano chords, exercises and is the perfect way to learn piano online.
More of the elements we cover:
How to write a song
How to compose music
How to improvise
All the most common piano chords and how to create them instantly
How to play jazz chords on the piano
The most common chord progressions and how to manipulate them into your songs
How to write music compositions for film or games
How to write themes for characters in films or musicals
The fundamentals of musical composition
How to compose piano music
How to play keyboard scales
What chords sound good together
How to modulate between different keys
How to create different feelings with literally hundreds of different scales (I’m not talking about different root notes here with just minor, major, blues etc - this is a whole other level of scales you’ve probably never used.)
How to transpose between different keys and transpose the songs you love into the right key for you or someone else to sing to
How to accompany singers
Many different accompanimental patterns to suit different circumstances
How to analyze music
How to read chord symbols
How to find the key of a song
Why the favourite sounds of your fav artists are so
How to write effective melodies that are really interesting
How to structure your compositions well with harmony
How to voice and arrange and play your chords in interesting ways
How to write bass lines
How to write effective voice leading with 3 or 4 parts for orchestral string writing
How to create pretty much any chord from scratch, including: major, minor, diminished, augmented, suspension, major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, diminished 7th, 9th chords, 11th chords & 13th chords.
How to reharmonize and make your progressions rhythmically interesting
The power of tension and resolution in music writing
This course has A TON of theory in it. But the goal is not to turn you into a theory monster who composes theoretical music. The goal of this course is to give you fluency and OPTIONS so you can choose who you want to be and how you want to write, and express yourself in your own unique way.
Above all, you should know that I obsess about teaching effectively - there’s no rambling, tangents, wasted space or filler. It’s not 30 hours (yet) because I’ve made every video super condensed and to the point, whilst trying not to rush. I also care deeply about and teach you how to think & learn music effectively.
I hope to see you on the inside
- Beginner and Intermediate; Composers, Producers and Songwriters who feel stuck with their music theory, writing and piano skills.
The fundamental starting point for all music theory: the grid represents pitch and time on a pattern-based structure which we can get our head around without having to read music. In this video we introduce this concept and its foundational importance for all of the music theory and “complexity” to come.
For those who are beginners with music theory, starting with something simple like the grid vastly improves your learning abilities and musical retention. The reason is because we can immediately start to understand the fundamental elements of music and think about how the building blocks fit together immediately.
When we get to the later parts of the course, this thinking will help you - because even complex theory remains just as simple in terms of the building blocks. Everything you learn and compose will fit into this idea of the grid, so get your head round it before continuing.
If we are to think of things on a grid, we need to know the basic building blocks of that grid. The chromatic scale is the next stage in our journey into music theory. The chromatic scale is simply all notes in order and in this video we go over it’s theory and how to play around with it on the piano.
We also touch on intervals briefly and explore jumping spaces that are made up of more than 1 square or small interval (otherwise known as a semitone).
Now that we understand the structure of the grid, what we can do is start learning new patterns or “formulas” and apply that pattern all over the piano and keyboard to create that structure wherever we want. The first formula or structure we will learn is the major scale which will eventually lead us to creating all chords inside of every single key and then onto minor keys as well. It’s a great starting point for music theory!
By learning the major scale formula we also encounter tones and semitones and start becoming more familiar with these basic building block intervals.
We then look at creating three major scales: G Major Scale, C Major Scale and F Major Scale.
In this video we cover how to create chords inside of a major scale. We understand the concept of root notes, thirds and fifths. We play chords on every degree of the scale and start to understand the numerical nature of chords and the concept of playing chord 1, chord 2, chord 3 etc…
You can actually compose without knowing the note names, because really all music is is patterns. However, to learn other people’s music, write your own and work with anyone - you have to be able to refer to notes with names. In this video we start learning all of the note names and assign a practice to make every single note an orientation point. We also learn sharp and flat notes.
This is a vital step for your learning in music theory and one you should definitely do full heartedly! Do not skip this or do it partially, it will come to bite you again in the future if you do.
In this exercise, we put our new knowledge to work in an un-pressured project/assignment through writing a simple ambient piece of music. This allows us to just play simple chords in our left hand and a simple melody in our right - letting us truly explore the idea of ‘composing in a key’ otherwise known as ‘diatonic’.
In this video I talk a little about why it’s so important to be planning and composing at the piano and also a little bit more instruction on how I would think about creating this simple ambient track. We then go into the DAW (Logic Pro X) and look at an uber simple production of this track.
Western music is built on the idea of gravity of keys and modulating between them (or not). In this video we go over this core concept of harmony as it relates to major scales.
You’ll have experienced musical gravity your entire life, but in this video we start to grab a hold of it theoretically and will start to see how powerful it can be.
The best way to visualise tonal centres is via the circle of fifths. It allows us to make harmonic decisions and could be described as our musical compass as composers. It’s incredibly powerful as a map of our harmonic landscape.
In this video we break down its complexity to the most simple element - the circle - and build it up again bit by bit. Along the way we will also understand more things like:
- The interval of a fifth
- The musical alphabet
- Key signatures
- Flat and sharp signs
- Similar keys - i.e keys that work well together
- Modulation (moving gravity)
We then look at playing chords in different keys and moving our center of gravity to different places at the piano and the harmonic effect it gives.
The great thing when you realise it is that inside of every major scale is a minor scale. In this video we work out how to find the relative minor of a major scale and then go through the concept of minor keys in general.
Later in the course we will go over other types of minor scales like the harmonic minor, melodic minor and also things like the gypsy minor! However in this video it’s just the natural minor scale that we will be looking at.
We also look at the fundamental formula for the natural minor scale.
In this video we look at the circle of fifths from the standpoint of minor harmony. This also gives us the opportunity to cover it’s value from a number of other angles.
Understanding the circle of fifths and modulation to close keys helps answer the questions like:
What chords do I use?
How do I move to a different place?
How do I create a new section?
How do I make something sound similar and work but also be exciting and moving onwards?
In this video we talk about the value of understanding all major and minor keys for the art of music composition. It will also really help you understand the later parts of this course.
It solves also our goal of wanting to think simply in patterns. By learning all keys intimately, the theory or at least the struggle with music theory drops away and we can just ‘draw’ music without thinking about theory etc. We can in other words, just focus on being creative.
What we’ve learned so far is actually quite a lot. It’s enough to be composing with right now - before going any further. And this is the point, you should really, really apply what you learn before moving on - by writing lots. If you don’t, you can end up on the theory rat race - where you think that the next complex thing you learn will make you a better composer. Sadly, in most cases it wont - you need to master where you are right now before you can move on.
In this video we actually go into the studio and compose a track, pulling apart the theory so you can understand how to build a track with all the material we’ve learned so far.
This chapter starts to look at the technique and physicality of using the piano, not to make you a classical performer, but so that you feel comfortable and at ease when composing. The main thing remember is that we can feel in flow when we’re writing, and gaining greater technique and facility at the piano will help you do that.
We look at the first steps: good core, relaxation, impact, dropping and using gravity as opposed to pressing.
We also look at hand positions and the position of function.
The piano is really an extension of your thinking as a composer – that is why you have decided to get better at it. Using it as an interface in your process of composing will enhance your ability to write music. Therefore, understanding how to really move (think!) on it well is vital. Hand positions & fingerings at the piano are the building blocks of piano and keyboard technique & how we move around. In this video we go over them step-by-step and how to move between hand positions.
Just a quick video to explain the downloadable resources in this chapter which are the wandering hand backing tracks. The aim of these audio files are for you to get comfortable jamming inside of your three major/minor keys.
Just focus on moving around the piano inside of these keys and enjoying the sounds that you make. Don’t try and think about making sophisticated or cool music – some of it may sound quite cheesy or not to your liking but just enjoy the feeling of moving around harmony with ease at the piano.
We start to realise in this video is how powerful the wandering hand/improvisation exercise can be to start generating ideas for us to then do more things with.
An assignment to use the wandering hands exercise to generate material that you then transform into a production or composition or song.
In this video we go over an introduction to diatonic harmony and all of the types of chords inside of a major and minor scale. This includes major, minor and diminished chords. We talk about the qualities of these chords
We also go over the naming of different chord degrees including: tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, subtonic.
This allows us to think about our primary chords in a key - chords 1, 4 & 5. These are the most powerful chords for modulation and establishing gravity.
HookTheory.com is an amazing resource for beginners in understanding how harmony works within tunes. They have an amazing interface which allows you to see the theory of tunes as they are playing – all without reading a note of music. If you’re a producer who’s worked with the piano roll, this will be very familiar to you!
The other valuable thing about Hook theory is that the database of piano chords and harmony is absolutely vast so through empirical data - you can understand trends about harmony. We go over a blog article they wrote which analysed over a thousand tunes and drew answers to questions like “what’s the most common chord progression”, “what chord is most likely to come after this chord…” And more.
We go over more HookTheory resources, including their ‘trends’ area which allows us to answer empirically ‘what chord most commonly comes after this chord’ - a fantastic tool. We also look at their collection of the most common chord progressions, collated by difficulty and all with references to their location in mainstream songs.
We also add more understanding about common chord progressions and conventions at the piano including a recap of primary triads, the chord 5 chord 1 relationship and the circle of fifths.
We hint as well at the secondary dominant, a powerful chordal relationship based on the circle of fifths. Don’t worry if it’s too tricky at the moment however as we will come back to these later.
Here we look at a principle in composition which is relevant beyond the realms of harmony – that of changing something 30%. If we like something we’ve heard or that we’ve studied, we can take that idea and change it 30%. The result of this is that we end up with piano chords or melodies that are almost unrecognisable from the original material. However we as a writer know that that idea came from somewhere else and that we’ve adapted it. We’ve just used that initial chord progression, or melody – to get us going and inspire our composition at the keyboard. By subtly changing it though, we make it unique and our own.
Tension and resolution is a powerful narrative technique in most art forms. In this video we look at how harmony and melody create this kind of effect or “paradigm” within music composition. “Resolving” chords in harmony as a core concept in the classical tradition and we also introduce this here.
Non Chord Tones are the notes in a key that aren’t in the current chord. These give a slight sense of tension because they don’t marry up with the keyboard chord underneath them. In this video we go over non-chord tones in a number of different contexts and talk about how to use them within your melody writing across different harmonies.
Each note above a chord also has its own character. Getting to know these intimately allows you to understand your harmonic and melodic color palette.
We also go over the music theory of diatonic intervals including: 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths and 7ths. Intervals are the building blocks of melodies and so are really important to think about and get your head round.
I also recommend a great YouTube channel called Holistic Songwriting that talks about creating interesting and varied melodies and the theory behind them using intervals.
As you start to write melodies using chord tones and non-chord tones, you’ll want to play around with different layers and patterns so that the interaction between the harmony and the melody is actually more interesting. In this video we talk about these layers and also the concept of overlapping or anticipating chords with your melodies.
Another video detailing the importance of patterns. We take a simple pattern and move around to different places on the keyboard which actually starts to build up a song in a structured/cohesive way. The patterns actually join your harmony and melody together to make it feel “composed”.
The variation and changing of patterns in music compositions and songwriting also helps you distinguish between different sections and give the feeling of change and lift.
Roman numerals are a common notation system for analysing chords and harmony. If you’ve never encountered them in music theory before, they might seem a little old fashioned. However, they are actually pretty useful as we will see in this video and a good theoretical alternative for traditional chord symbols and music notation.
In this video we cover major and minor Roman numerals and how major and minor scales and chords work when written out. You’ll realise how valuable it is to use when thinking about chords relatively when inside of a key.
The structure of music is defined by a lot of things, but one of the most fundamental things that drives the background of music is harmony. As you start to learn more tunes, bringing in harmonic analysis to your thinking can be really valuable.
What you find is that complexity is not necessarily better, but it does have a different effect on the composition as a whole. Planning your composing at the keyboard with harmonic structure in mind will really improve your writing and creating process.
To make a new section in a piece of music, we don’t need to change the harmony necessarily. But if we’re going to repeat harmonic sections, we need to think about changing other things with our piano chords and arrangement - like voicing, high notes, bass lines etc. In this video we look at how best to repeat harmonic sections in your piano composing & songwriting.
In particularly we look at playing high pedal notes and the piano and also low pedal notes. The easiest for of re-arrangement, but one that has a large effect on the piece as a whole.
Even small changes in our piano chords and keyboard playing can go a long way. Here we look at examples of changing our songs with simple changes to the chords and theory behind them.
This hints at something we cover in more detail later which is called ‘secondary’ chords. This really can enhance and expand our chord progressions. We also look at changing one of the chords.
You can actually keep your chords the same but just change your bass line. This has a powerful effect on the music and can create some really sophisticated sounds that you weren’t necessarily intending - without knowing anything about what’s happening with the music theory (yet).
In this part of the music composition course we look at how to add simple changes to a bass line to simple chords and create very different sounds. It's great and easy part of harmony to play around with.
We take another and more in depth look at using chords from different keys and how you can structure your compositions based on different tonal centres. We take piano chords in one key for the verse and then change the key.
First we look at changing the center of harmonic gravity to be the relative minor and then changing the chords so that we actually move into a different key or push out the key.
This is where we start moving from the ‘simple sounding’ building blocks and music theory, to really start sculpting our chords and piano compositions into more sophisticated sounding stuff.
It’s also a video where we can really look at the concept of how to compose music in more detail. We look at an idea of the ‘composers pipeline’ where you build from simple planning stages, past voicing, into arrangement and then finalising in production.
Arpeggiation or breaking up your chords is one of the most accessible and straightforward ways to start arranging your piano music and keyboard writing. In a way arpeggiation is a type of voicing, but it’s also a way to treat melody and create many other elements or parts within a composition.
Many DAWs actually have arpeggiators - midi FX that do this for you - built in. This is one of many examples of composing software and tools that can enhance your writing, but really only when you understand the theory of what they are doing and the theory of what you’re ‘feeding’ them.
Two examples of using arpeggiation in the contexts of tracks: 1 an EDM track with synths and 2 a filmic track with string orchestra.
So far we’ve been practicing closed position piano chords - which sound really simple and are pretty basic piano chords. Now we start opening our music theory knowledge up into the endless world of piano voicing. Combine this with what you learn in the next video and you have VAST amounts of harmonic expressive potential for your composing
Inverting chords means changing the lowest note of the chord to another one of the notes in the chord. It sounds simple, but radically alters it’s sound whilst not changing the essential feeling and function of that chord. It’s a seriously powerful component in this course and great way of thinking about building piano and keyboard chords.
Equally simple as an idea as doubling notes is dropping notes from a piano chord. The most common example of this is power chords on guitar which just use the root and 5th. We also look at other ideas like dropping the fifth and others.
Dropping notes from your piano chords is good for getting the sound of your chords more ‘thin’ or ‘metallic’ - less obvious. It’s another element in our arsenal to help us compose better.
At the heart of great arrangement lies voice leading. Voice leading your chords on keyboard involves treating each note as an individual voice or instrument and thinking about the life of that voice moving smoothly through different chords. The main principles of good voice leading at the keyboard (and in general music composition) are that 1) voices that can stay the same as you move into the next chord do, and 2) when voices have to change, they only move a short distance. In this video we start looking at voice leading harmony at the piano and how well it works in different musical composition contexts.
Accompanying singers is a very common thing that people need to do. By this point in the course you’ve covered pretty much all the groundwork you need to make expressive, dynamic accompaniment which supports and enhances vocals - without overwhelming them.
In this video we look at how to accompany singers with your piano playing, the principles of which are also relevant to other instruments.
Having started to get familiar with voice leading in your composing, we turn it to a common and very exciting context - that of writing for string orchestra. This is where for the film and game composers, all the hard work will start paying off as you realise how much ‘getting your hands round’ the material so far starts to enhance your composing and arranging.
An improvised example of orchestral string voice leading at the keyboard.
Voice leading chords is not just applicable to classical, jazz or film music - it’s relevant to a lot of other genres. In this short video I provide another quick example of chord voice leading that enhances a track (hopefully!) enough so that you don’t miss the fact there is no ‘melody’.
The classic role bass lines are thought of in is ‘supporting the harmony’. Whilst this is not always the case, it’s a great point to start our thinking of bass lines from. In this episode we go over the standard and simple ways to start building bass lines into your piano playing an composition, using chord tones.
Bass lines don’t even have to really connect too much (in your mind at least) to the harmony that’s on top. We can of course have bass lines that are much more centre-stage and melodic in their construction. In this part of the course we look at bass lines at the keyboard that hold their own through confident lines and syncopated rhythm.
A quick introduction to this part of the course, explaining how important it is to think of harmony in this way - i.e. not attached to the gravity of a key. Both ways of thinking; 1) diatonically and 2) non diatonically are equally important to understanding the full range of harmony and why certain songs have certain chord progressions and relationships.
Looking at the (sometimes confusing) realm of chords from scratch can take a while. We start us off with a short presentation detailing the theory behind how to make a major chord from scratch and how to make a minor chord from scratch at the piano. This lays the foundation for all the more complex jazz and film harmony to come.
Suspension chords are really cool. Like upper structures and voicings, they don’t change the harmony too much, but abstract the sound a little from the original feeling of the chord. Using them in your compositions can make the sound more interesting and often more contemporary. In this we go over sus4 chords and sus2 chords.
How to work out the key of a song is a really important skill for writers when studying other people’s chord progressions. Contextualising the chords you are reading/hearing into the greater organisation of the key can really help you think about the chords and notes relative to the key - which in turn helps you think about patterns, which is what composing is.
Modulation really requires chords from scratch thinking. We also can encounter another type of chord relationship, the secondary dominant. The secondary dominant chord is a really powerful thing to squeeze a little bit of non diatonic sound into your diatonic chord progressions.