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Help me build a learning plan? | where to even begin (any advice welcome)

whiskers

Perpetual student
HELP I'VE TRIED NOTHING AND I'M ALL OUT OF IDEAS! (jk)

First off, apologies for the wall of text. Thanks in advance to anyone who ventures through this whole thing. This is gonna be a bit verbose, but I'd rather be thorough than not.

I was hoping if people may be so kind as to give feedback on where to even begin when learning to compose and utilize VSTs, etc. I'm a complete noob to all of this.

Figured it would be beneficial to ask others' inputs on this, especially for those of you who have gone through the whole trial and error phase and figured out a lot of stuff from the ground up. I know that much of this is a rather 'find what works for you' process, but having next to no idea of where to start, figured it would be good to get some pointers.

Basically, I'm just wanting to get some pointers of where and what to focus on learning first, and perhaps some advice you wish you had known when you were starting out.

First off, some background: I'm not in any way in a music-related field, i'm in IT. Meaning I have very little theory knowledge, aside from the basics that a few years of piano in middle school got me. I grew up listening to soundtracks, figured music wasn't much of a 'stable'/fitting career, so went into tech. Eventually got to the point where I said 'F it, always wanted to make music, so why not?' Got Cubase and a MIDI controller. Then didn't do anything with it. (Pointless, I know.)

Fast forward a few years. Here I am again. I just got Komplete and a few other libraries and was hoping to approach this in a structured manner. I recognize that this learning will take some time (well, it's continuous) before it starts to pay off and i'm able to make any tracks anywhere close to releasable. That being said, here was the basic order I was thinking of approaching stuff in

  1. Get familiar with Kontakt & get comfortable changing settings within the app (like how do I point Kontakt to external (non NI) libraries and have them save?
  2. Explore some basic sounds/libraries. Get familiar with some offerings, articulation controls, and controller functions
  3. Get familiar with the DAW (in my case Cubase). To be honest, I haven't really poked around in there at all. Seems prudent to learn what's under the hood before I go dinking around with tracks, so that I can have an efficient/effective workflow when the time comes. Does this sound on-point at all?
  4. Study theory. Probably one of the more essential parts, and the most lacking in my case. The software I think I can figure out eventually. Theory is pretty much a big gap for me. I've noticed on the keyboard I tend to subconsciously not be comfortable venturing out of the basic keys (maj/min) and chord structures I already know (I, IV, V). I don't know if it has to do with about wanting to know what notes are going to sound like before I play them, or what, but I tend to not venture into the unknown on the keys. To this effect, I think studying theory will help 'free/loosen me up' rather than serve as more of a constraint (oh I have to remember xyz while i'm doing this.) Also it's obviously very fundamental to composition, so there's that.
  5. Study orchestration. Part and parcel with theory, granted, but probably worth focusing on it's own. To both 4 and 5, i've got some courses from Mike Verta I plan on taking, another theory course from Udemy, and i'm potentially eyeing an Evenant 'Cinematic Music Composition' course. Thoughts or other resources you'd recommend?
  6. Practice. Practice making tracks, layering instruments, messing with voicing, etc. Pretty self explanatory. Hands on learning. The reason I put this so far down was I figure it would help to have a good knowledge foundation, before I just go HAM, make something that sounds like crap, and potentially develop some bad habits. 'Walk before you can run,' if you will.
  7. Later on - learn how synthesizers work (not a top priority.)

Does this order seem sound to you? Would you recommend anything else, or rearranging this somehow? Any resources you found helpful along the way?

And perhaps most importantly, is there any advice or things you learned along the way you wish you'd known earlier, or someone had told you?

Many thanks!

-whiskers
 

jhughes

Member
I think you have it a bit backwards ,if that’s the order you are going in.
Learn how to build a song-basic forms, modulation, and development techniques; otherwise, all the software stuff won’t do much good.
I would almost say get a notation program and learn to write some basic tunes in that before moving on to libraries. It reveals a lot of flaws and allows to concentrate on the composing.
This of course depends on the type/style of music you are trying to learn. The more electronic based, the less you need to worry about notation. For example Some people just improvise into the DAW....
If you do decide to go that route, I would emphasize DAW over say Kontact. You can do a lot with a DAW and built in sounds.
 

MichaelB

New Member
If I’m you, I’ll start by going through all the Cubase videos and get to know Cubase before you do anything else. (Getting started videos). Try everything they show you and see if you can do it yourself. When you’re finished here you should have an idea how to record music. Now you can start exploring Kontakt and watch Youtube videos how to use it. I can recommend a channel on Youtube, this guy basically covers everything you need to know, it’s called ‘Finish Your Song’ and he has a website as well. Once you know the basics, explore explore explore. Try to compose, try to record songs you know and Google eveything you need to know. Before you start buying online courses, see how far you get and what you can do or not do, that will give you a better idea as to what courses to buy. Cubase takes some time to learn, it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s a steep learning curve but once you know and understand the basics, it gets easier and you can learn more advanced stuff. Good luck and enjoy the discovery/learning process. Never give up, you can find answers / solutions online for anything you’ll come across
 

Nao Gam

Dirty little gearslut
Don't learn everything about cubase at once. Just the basics and you'll learn as you go by the way of "how does x happen" or "I wonder if I can do this".
Also watch this
Rick has lots of great stuff and goes very deep into theory.

And modes, don't forget the modes!
 
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MichaelB

New Member
Very good point, Nao Gam, step by step is the way to go. The material Rick is talking about in this video might be far too advanced for someone with very basic music theory knowledge. On that subject, Ilve seen discussions about learning music theory and is it a requirement, I think as long as you know the basic principkes there’s no need to take it to advanced level. I’ve got a friend who has no knowledge of any theory whatsoever and it doesn’t stand in his way to compose and produce great music.

Another question asked, their courses (Evenant Courses) are excellent but be aware, if you take a course like Symphonic Virtual Orchestration (I’m doing it right now) you have to do weekly assignments and compose orchestral music and if you have no experience this might be very difficult to do (but possible). I think the course called ‘From Idea to Finished Recording) is more focused on the composition part and teaching you how to compose.
 

Sami

The Undisclosing
Are you intimately familiar with the last 500 years of music? If not, screw the software, the theory, the online courses and all the other bullshit. Learn music notation (which is a matter of 2 weeks) and sit down with scores and listen to/ scoreread:

Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Liszt, Bruckner, Mahler.
After having done that, listen to/scoreread: the Russian school (some or all of: Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Glinka, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Stravinksy, Shostakovich, Borodin, Myaskovsky...), the British School (Walton, Vaughan-Williams, Elgar, Britten...), the Americans (Gershwin, Ives, Williams, McDowell...), the French (Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saens, Poulenc), some Honnegger, some Schönberg, some eastern european music (Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Pärt), some scandinavians (Nielsen, Sibelius) and a bit of Iberia and South America.

Transcribe and copy those composers and you will find your own voice.

The people who will teach you music are not D-rated composers making money selling online courses. They are the composers whose music is relevant even after 500 years. If you have no sense of history and haven't worked on building your musical taste, I don't think that any other suggestion will be of great value to you.
 

NoamL

Winter <3
Learning to compose

&

Learning to use virtual instruments


these are two totally different pursuits. Of course it's ok to pursue them in parallel. However, I think music theory will pay dividends sooner and greater. Luckily learning it is easy and fun.

Nothing against Udemy (I learned Javascript from it, so it clearly works for programming!) but I think you will be better served by books. There's a lot of information and it's better to read it in a structured format than listening to a podcast or seminar. I'm not aware of any course (including Mike Verta & Rick Beato) that will take you through orchestration or music theory REALLY step by step the way a book will.

For music theory texts there's lots of options. It depends where you are in your music theory journey, it sounds like you already know Roman numerals etc. Try Kostka's "Tonal Harmony." For orchestration, Kent Kennan's book is a really good beginner's guide. After you have completely digested it and if you're really interested in the nitty gritty of writing for orchestra, the Walter Piston text is good too. It's not bedtime reading though!


Also if you don't yet read sheet music - make this a priority before any software stuff. Get scores of your favorite composers once you have the theory essentials down, and you'll learn 10x more that way than all the YouTube videos in the world. To understand full scores you will need to understand transposing instruments, that's covered in the Kennan book.

something I wish I had been told earlier? That piano technique is essential to composing. You play the piano when coming up with ideas, when transcribing music you're interested in, when reading scores, when inputting virtual instruments. Having reasonable fluency at the piano will remove roadblocks to being a better composer.

Don't worry too much about your early writing being too "easy" and "tonal." This is a phase that lots of composers go through. Just keep challenging yourself. One of the fastest ways to grow is to record music that you really like and then transcribe pieces of it. Try and figure out what devices & tools of the trade other composers are using. How do they make music sound scary, sad, tense, uplifting? All mainstream composers are working from the same harmonic language, we just put our own "accent" on the same fundamental dialect.

To sum it all up, if you can:

1. play the piano

2. read sheet music, including orchestral full scores

3. understand music theory

4. really know the orchestra

you will be ahead of the game.
 
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Jeremy Spencer

Senior Member
IMO, don't waste your time learning how to transcribe scores, studying full scores, etc. You will just become overwhelmed and ultimately frustrated. A previous poster mentioned that learning notation only takes two weeks...give me a break. Personally, I recommend enrolling in piano lessons and starting right at the ground level. If you find a good teacher, your musical abilities will exponentially increase; this includes understanding theory, composition, reading music, and your playing ability. Most importantly, it happens over time. If you go this route, commit to the plan and be diligent with practicing daily. Regarding your DAW, just dive in and experiment, and watch tutorials on YouTube, etc. Write, write, write.
 

Grégory Betton

Active Member
You will have so many different advices here (as I guess everyone has to follow their own way), but I do agree with listening and practice (transcribe from ear, feel the groove baby!).

If I can add something pertinent to this conversation, it would be the list of books I've curated (some are immediate and easy lectures, others are planned for the very long term and are high level theory):

Practical Manual of Harmony, by Rimksy-Korsakov himself!

Orchestration, by Walter Piston

A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice, by Dmitri Tymoczko

Scoring the Screen: The Secret Language of Film Music, by Andy Hill

Study of Counterpoint, by Johann Joseph Fux

Hollywood Harmony: Musical Wonder and the Sound of Cinema, by Frank Lehman

Audacious Euphony: Chromatic Harmony and the Triad's Second Nature, by Richard Cohn

I've also bought Piano books such as The Foundations of Technique, by McLachlan, Murray and the two volumes of the J. S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier: Alfred Masterwork Edition to improve my piano skills (which are very low at the moment).

Hope it helps!
 
Rick has lots of great stuff and goes very deep into theory.

Another thumbs up for Rick. In addition to being a good player and theory teacher he has a great knack for music history. He tries to give a context to all the points he's trying to make. Way more interesting than my college music professors!

Wish we had YouTube then, or the Internet, or computers!!.... :)
 
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Sami

The Undisclosing
IMO, don't waste your time learning how to transcribe scores, studying full scores, etc. You will just become overwhelmed and ultimately frustrated. A previous poster mentioned that learning notation only takes two weeks...give me a break. Personally, I recommend enrolling in piano lessons and starting right at the ground level. If you find a good teacher, your musical abilities will exponentially increase; this includes understanding theory, composition, reading music, and your playing ability. Most importantly, it happens over time. If you go this route, commit to the plan and be diligent with practicing daily. Regarding your DAW, just dive in and experiment, and watch tutorials on YouTube, etc. Write, write, write.

How long does it take, in your perception, to learn three clefs worth of notes and the concept of note length and rhythm? Cause it really don’t take much more than that to be able to find your way around a Mozart score (which I suggested OP start with)
 

Grégory Betton

Active Member
Definitively not two weeks. It was a matter of years (perhaps two) to master all the main clefs including the viola clef as I was studying in the French Conservatoire. Yet, we were also studying other theoric knowledge so might be faster if you dedicate all your time to just learn how to read.
 

Jeremy Spencer

Senior Member
How long does it take, in your perception, to learn three clefs worth of notes and the concept of note length and rhythm? Cause it really don’t take much more than that to be able to find your way around a Mozart score (which I suggested OP start with)

More than 2 weeks LOL. I'd say after a couple years of formal piano lessons. And without studying formally, I wouldn't even attempt to find my way around a Mozart score.....that's like getting a driver's license and buying a Ferrari. ;)
 

Alex Fraser

Requires ☕️
My take:
There's such a wide variety of composer backgrounds on this forum. The issue is, we tend to give advice based on what we did ourselves and what personal "tribe" we belong to.

My advice to the OP is spend a little time getting the basics of your DAW down. Once you've done that, just get composing. As you go, you'll find out the areas you want to improve and work on. Simple as that.

Poor whiskers. We've already handed out years of study and we're still on the first page of the thread. ;)
 

Grégory Betton

Active Member
My take:
There's such a wide variety of composer backgrounds on this forum. The issue is, we tend to give advice based on what we did ourselves and what personal "tribe" we belong to.

My advice to the OP is spend a little time getting the basics of your DAW down. Once you've done that, just get composing. As you go, you'll find out the areas you want to improve and work on. Simple as that.

Poor whiskers. We've already handed out years of study and we're still on the first page of the thread. ;)
Haha, so true. There is no single way to compose music. Yet a bit of theory is nice (as it's better to learn history to understand the past, or take some drawings lessons before starting a painting) ;)
 

NoamL

Winter <3
Viola clef:

down a space and then up an octave - that's the note it would be on bass clef

up a space and then down an octave - that's the note it would be on treble clef

;)
 

NoamL

Winter <3
BTW Mozart & other early classical scores are easy to read, and a good place to start, because he doesn't use auxiliary winds much. Just make sure you get a modern score and not the original ones with the horn crooks.
 
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