Music Composition Techniques 1: Getting Started
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Music Composition Techniques 1: Getting Started

Demystifying Music Composition Through Practical Exercises and Techniques for the Modern Composer and Songwriter
4.5 (115 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
1,043 students enrolled
Created by Jason Allen
Last updated 9/2017
Current price: $10 Original price: $25 Discount: 60% off
5 hours left at this price!
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  • 4 hours on-demand video
  • 2 Articles
  • 3 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
What Will I Learn?
  • Write and Compose music using proven techniques and tips
  • Create their own music using software, or good old pencil and paper.
  • Generate musical ideas through creativity exercises
View Curriculum
  • Before starting this course, students should know the basics of how to read music
  • Extensive music theory training is not necessary for this course.
  • For those without any music notation background at all, the course Music Theory Comprehensive - Part 1 is highly recommended.

When most people think of a composer, they imagine someone sitting in a dusty attic with a grand piano, big white wig, and the year is 1800. That might have been accurate back then, but the modern composer is just like you and me. In fact, I am one. 

In this course I'll show you techniques I use for writing music in a variety of styles and situations. I've worked with major american orchestras, film studios, and video game designers, so I've got more than a little experience. I'm also a PhD in music composition and a university professor (of music composition). 

Recently I was named as a semi-finalist for the Grammy Foundation's Music Educator of the Year award because of my in-person university classes. Now I'm taking those classes to Udemy in an online format in order to reach more students, and give them the joy of Music Theory.

I'm planning on making several "sections" of this class, and this is only part 1. As the class grows, we will go deeper and deeper into my techniques. This class is focused on the beginning: Generating ideas and getting started. 

In this class, we will cover:

  • My background, and listen to some of my music
  • The different between music theory and music composition (highly opinionated!)
  • Tools of the trade: Software
  • Tools of the trade: Pencils and fine paper
  • How do you start?
  • The process
  • Program music and metaphors
  • Character sketches
  • Writing through canon
  • Form
  • Binary, Ternary, and Rondo forms
  • Starting with a plan
  • Graphic form representations
  • Triads, and basic rules of harmony
  • Chord progressions
  • Inversions
  • Song analysis
  • Melody writing
  • Any much, much, more! 

And of course, once you sign up for this "section" of the class, future sections will come to you at steep discounts! Over half off for all future sections!

You will not have another opportunity to learn Music Composition in a more comprehensive way than this. Start here.

Dr. Jason Allen is an Ableton Certified Trainer, and a PhD in Music Composition and master of Electronic Sounds. His music has been heard internationally in film, radio, video games, and industrial sound, as well as the concert hall and theater. His 2015 album, Aniscorcia, reaching the CMJ Top200 Charts and radio broadcasts nationwide. In 2014 he was named a semi-finalist for the Grammy Music Educator Award.

He currently as an adjunct professor of composition at the University of St. Thomas, and the CEO of Slam Academy in Minneapolis.

Praise for classes by Dr. Jason Allen:

  • "Without a doubt the best explanation and east of use that one can get. It leaves you enough room to go explore. The classes go by quick, so you can be on your way at being proficient. What are you wait for!"
  • "Amazing - Seriously Loved It! I took all his courses and have to say I'm so happy! Learnt loads! Jason is an awesome teacher!"
  • "I have never had any formal training in music at all. Trying to learn all the notes and how everything translated was a serious challenge. After going through this class, Dr. J has totally brought down the barriers. The content was very useful and was easy to grasp for me."
  • "I like these courses because you can get up and running quickly without having to spend hours of time wading through TMI (too much information!). Jason hits the high points but shows you what you need to know. Thanks!"
  • "I've watched many other videos on scales and chords before, however, this one has been the best. I now understand minor scales and chords and even how to analyze songs. It really gave me the confidence to start producing music because I feel like I have some structure and guidelines to follow. AWESOME!"
  • "Clear and Informative - Jason has a clear uncluttered style (with the important dashes of humor) of presentation that is focused on the important key aspects of this course. Recommended for those starting out!"
  • "Dr. Allen does it again with his music theory series. This course really opened up everything I learned from the 1st section, and now I understand more about the composition side of things for music. I highly highly recommend this course to anyone!!! Really opened my eyes to many things I wasn't aware of."
  • "The Best Teacher Ever, who makes you understand the ins & outs of Music Theory by all means without giving what you don't want to know."
Who is the target audience?
  • Anyone interested in learning to write music for fun, or as a potential new career
  • Students who have written their own songs or compositions and are looking to explore composition deeper
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Curriculum For This Course
38 Lectures
3 Lectures 16:18

Lets get started with a quick introduction to what we will cover in this class.

Preview 04:33

A little about me, my experiences, and my background.

My Background

A see a lot of students stumped at this when they start writing music. Lets discuss.

What is the difference between music theory and music composition?
Tools and Methods
3 Lectures 17:03

There are several pieces of software available for composers. I'll talk about the ins and outs of each in this section.

Preview 05:57

Nothing beats some good staff paper and a nice sharp pencil.

Good old pencil and paper

The obvious thing to do is have your instrument handy while you are writing. Or is it? 

To sit with an instrument, or not to sit with an instrument?
8 Lectures 41:48

Some quick tips for diving into the deep end of the music pool.

Preview 02:49

When you are faced with a big empty page and need to start writing, use this tip.


One of the most powerful compositional tools is program music. 

Program Music and Metaphore

Here is a score and program note for the piece I talked about in the previous lecture.

[DOWNLOAD] Symphony Fantastique

One of my personal favorite devices to use when writing a piece is a character sketch.

Character Sketches

Sometimes you just need to go outside, climb a tree, and start writing.

Free Writing

This is a technique I use to explore a melody, and see what I can make with it.


Lets talk about one of the most famous quotes about writing music to have ever existed.

"Good Composers Borrow..."
4 Lectures 35:39

What is form, and why do we care about it?

What is form?

There are a lot of different places to begin with form. Lets look at 4 to get started.

Different form "templates"

Form impacts us as composers because we need to know the shape of what we are writing before we start.

Starting with a plan

This is a trick I do to help me visualize an entire piece before I've written any notes at all.

Graphic form representations
Harmony (A quick lesson)
7 Lectures 59:12

The most basic building blocks of harmony are called triads.

Preview 02:51

The recipe for a triad is root, third, fifth.

Building triads

When we put all the triads available in a key, we have the diatonic chord progression.

Diatonic chord progressions

Triads by themselves don't sound all that interesting. But if we add some inversions, it starts to get interesting.


This is a tool we use to analyze other music so we can figure out how it ticks.

Roman Numerals

Lets look at a fairly simple piece and see if we can figure out how it works.

Song Analysis - No. 1

Next, lets look in a little more detail at this piece.

Song Analysis - No. 2
Writing Chord Progressions
5 Lectures 49:21

You have probably seen this chart hanging on a wall somewhere. Its more useful than you think.

Preview 07:39

Now that we know how this works, lets use it for writing music.

Using the circle of fifths for composition

Now we will look at another piece of music and pick it apart, using what we've learned.

Song analysis No. 3

Not every note in a melody needs to be part of the chord. 

Non-chord tones

One more analysis of a song you've probably heard before.

Song analysis No. 4
Writing Melodies
4 Lectures 24:02

In can be very difficult to just pop off a melody. But there are some tricks to coming up with a good one.

Preview 06:24

This is a technique that is hundreds of years old that usually produces a good, memorable melody.

Antecedent and consequent

If you already have a harmony, and are adding a melody, things before a little easier.

Writing melodies with a harmony

Sometimes the best melodies are all around you.

Using other melodies as influences
Wrap Up
4 Lectures 06:27

Just a few more thoughts on the composition process.

Preview 01:59

This is really only the beginning of this class - so stay tuned!

Coming Soon!

Thats all for now!

Thanks for watching!

You've come this far... maybe you are willing to keep going?

Bonus Lecture: Discount Offers & Mailing List
About the Instructor
Jason Allen
4.6 Average rating
6,722 Reviews
38,814 Students
65 Courses
Ph.D / Ableton Certified Trainer

J. Anthony Allen has worn the hats of composer, producer, songwriter, engineer, sound designer, DJ, remix artist, multi-media artist, performer, inventor, and entrepreneur. Allen is a versatile creator whose diverse project experience ranges from works written for the Minnesota Orchestra to pieces developed for film, TV, and radio. An innovator in the field of electronic performance, Allen performs on a set of “glove” controllers, which he has designed, built, and programmed by himself. When he’s not working as a solo artist, Allen is a serial collaborator. His primary collaborative vehicle is the group Ballet Mech, for which Allen is one of three producers.

J. Anthony Allen teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN., and is an Ableton Live Certified Trainer. He is a co-founder and owner of Slam Academy, a multimedia educational space in downtown Minneapolis. Recently, Allen founded Hackademica – an innovative net-label for new music.

J. has a PhD in music composition, 2 Master’s degrees in music composition and electronic music, and a bachelors degree in guitar performance. Through his academic travels, Dr. Allen has received numerous awards along the way.

If you run into him on the street, he prefers to be addressed as J. (as in, Jay.)