Only Four Notes!
Writing music is a deeply rich experience. It's also hard to get started. Many times, with all 88 keys staring back at us, we have no idea how to get started. Seriously, we get lost with the sheer possibilities of what we could write.
Just like games on the playground, it works better if we setup some rules. Some parameters to help us see the forest for the trees. When you get started I suggest selecting only four notes.
Literally any four notes. Start experimenting with them.
- Focus on other aspects of music such as rhythm, dynamics, tempo.
- Use the notes in different melodic structures.
- Use the notes in different Inversions (check out Wikipedia for Inversions).
- Play the notes over and over until you find something you like.
With that you can develop different chord structures, riffs, melodic ideas, and even song structure. It's amazing how limiting yourself to a set of notes can really open up what you are able to write. It could be something fantastic.
I have one student who really tried to annoy me at the beginning of each lesson. He wouldn't say a single word, and as I was trying to start a lesson, he would play a dissonant set of notes over and over and over again, nonstop.
I finally realized that this was a perfect opportunity. I trained as a 20th century composer in college, the dissonant and experimental was right in my wheelhouse. So I picked a different set of dissonant notes, and started playing off what he was doing. We started improvising a very strange but beautiful song. As I introduced different notes and new rhythms he started copying me and extending our song. By the end of our improvisation he was smiling and ready for lessons to begin.
You can have this experience too. By starting off your compositional efforts with limitations, such as the four note rule, you'll understand the power of limits in your music.