Resources for music composition & theory

I feel compelled to hype Anton Webern and Alban Berg as two excellent (and very distinct) 12-tone practitioners who each made beautiful, extraordinary music.

Webern’s Six Bagatelles or Berg’s Violin Concerto are great places to start if you’re on the fence about 12-tone or want to see what else can be done with that method.

I feel like Webern is really helpful especially if you’re interested in minimalism in music. That dude chiseled away just about everything. And Berg is great if you’re secretly a Romantic and lover-of-fine-melody but also wish to retain some Avant-Garde street cred.

Edit: Added some more detail. Also, I mistakenly listed Berg’s Wozzeck as a 12-tone piece. Brain fart. Still–listen to it! It’s amazing!


I’ve recently discovered the YouTube channel ‘David Bruce Composer’. So far I’ve found these videos helpful in providing a bit of inspiration - especially if I’m heading down the spiral of sound design, when I want to be thinking about structure. I wish more composers created this kind of content (blogs / videos).


It’s been mentioned on the forum before, but it’s always worth going through Vincent Persichetti’s Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice. It surveys 20th century techniques up to its publication in 1961. Chapter 1 begins with music composition’s prime directive, “Any tone can succeed any other tone, any tone can sound simultaneously with any other tone or tones, and any group of tones can be followed by any other group of tones, just as any degree of tension or nuance can occur in any medium under any kind of stress or duration. Successful projection will depend upon the contextual and formal conditions that prevail, and upon the skill and the soul of the composer.”


One of my favorite harmony texts. I sequenced every example in that book when I was a composition student. Very helpful. Persichetti’s music is worth a listen too.


A friend of mine has put together a comprehensive collection of notes on music theory from the basics which I found extremely useful, I’d like to add it to this thread for anyone else looking for resources such as this.

Sorry for reviving this old thread.


Hi folks! I love playing with norns, synthesizers and other electronic music objects. But I constantly find the thing that hinders me the most is that I have no music education background. I never played an instrument as a kid, and while I listen to a lot of music, and attempt to create a lot of music, I have a constant feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing”.

Over the weekend, I’ve been thinking of taking a dive into the deep end. So, question for you all: If I want to learn the basics of music theory, and give myself a little home-school music education, what should I read (books, blog posts, etc), listen to (albums, talks, etc), watch (documentaries, classes, etc), etc?

Also if folks have suggestions on basic approaches to turn listening to music a more “educational” or “theoretical” way, that would be useful as well.


Other related threads I’ve found:


overall, i think there isn’t a one-stop-shop for aspects of learning more deeply about music. for me, its been a lifelong relationship and a whole language development. a very personal journey and one no other people could build for me.

the biggest aspect of learning music/sound is active listening, getting used to using your ears more deeply. another thing is to help focus on what aspects of the language you are trying to learn as more exists than you most of us can deeply explore at one time.

so a vaguely analytical way to start listening more deeply is to analyze some music. instrumentation, tempo, key signature, general structural bones/roadmap, why x works and anything of particular interest. you can go as deep as you are able all the way to transcription or start much more simply. and then it helps to discuss your findings to see what is accurate and what might be a bit off.


Great question. This isn’t meant to discourage your quest at all, rather to encourage a somewhat oblique approach to the topic.

I’m pretty sure that I am not alone here in being inspired by Brian Eno. He, as far as I know, had no formal musical education. Rather, he studied art.

I love his early rock albums. They sound to me as if he was trying to figure out what the function of rock music was from an alien perspective.

I suspect that his lack of “musical education” contributed in some degree to his ability to rethink “traditional” musical roles and approaches.

In short, don’t sell yourself short due to a lack of formal training. You never know what you might discover outside of that context. :slight_smile:


Interesting! I’ve never done any sort of active listening beyond “this sounds cool, I wonder how they do that”. Do you listen to the same song over and over and take notes? Any albums or songs you recommend for getting started?

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Encouraging! I’ve listened to some of his albums, but had no idea he didn’t have any formal education. Thanks!

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As you start to learn and practice [western] music-theorie you will automaticaly start to listen to music in a different way. This is how I expearience it.
I really like this podcast:


you will listen more than once. but it depends on your specific goals as well as your proficiency. some people can get a lot of info from even a single listen and others will take a few more specifically if you are trying to “play along” that likely will take more repeats. i always tell people to start with simple pieces but something you LOVE and are able to enjoy with multiple listens. it does qualify as work so you must consider what has kept you from ever actively listening to works before in your life.


V true about multiple listens to things one loves.

Another thing I’d suggest to anyone wanting to start playing an instrument or deepening an existing practice is to jam along with loved recordings. It doesn’t matter what level one is at for this to bear nice fruit!


I don’t know how helpful this will be but i figured I would chime in with my 2 cents.

I come from a background in guitar and have been mostly self taught. My only formal education in music theory is an AP theory class I took in high school which introduced me to the concepts of intervals, voice leading, and cadences all of which gave me a better vocabulary to be able to understand what I was doing. I have a pretty good grasp on theory now and am capable of thinking in a “theoretical” way but it’s not my default mode of thinking. Rather its something I turn to if I have a specific way I want something to sound or if I’m stuck trying to figure what would work well next in a piece

I agree with what a lot of people have been saying with regards to ear training and seeing what flavors you can get with different intervals and critical listening in general. I try to do daily ear training with some different apps (Earpeggio on iPhone is really great or Open Ear on Android). One other thing I have found helpful is playing with other people (or recorded music) and practicing being able to hear the tonic note or the “key”. When I’m fairly confident I have the right one, I can apply a scale and play along.

For when I’m more composing, another aspect that I have found powerful is practicing hearing and using cadences for when I want to have tension and resolution in piece. This isn’t a technical definition but I think of cadences as the strongest relationships in music that generally create the greatest sense of tension and resolution. Having an understanding of them will be able to give you the ability to keep the listener on the edge of their seat and finally release which is very satisfying. Practicing being able to hear the relationship of the five (the dominant) to the one (the tonic) of a key in particular was really helpful to me since it is THE strongest musical relationship and is a common musical troupe that I believe can be found in music of all genres but with either of those apps, they will train you how to identify them


[edit: this was originally in response to a thread started about getting started in learning music in general, but was merged into the “resources for music composition and theory thread”]

I’m completely self taught so I may be missing information that others with formal training may have, but I’ve found that learning how to make music could be broken down into a few different categories:

  • music theory and composition
    - the resources for music composition and theory thread that you posted should have you covered

  • sound design and synthesis
    - of course there’s a thread on this also

  • music production
    - I didn’t find a dedicated thread for this, but this covers things like using a DAW, recording instruments and vocals, mixing, and mastering

  • instrument and performance
    - this really depends on your instrument, but in general I find trying to play something, recording that performance then comparing it to what you’re trying to play can be revealing

As mentioned above, active listening will help in all of the categories whether you’re learning a song structure, how to recreate a specific sound, how a sound fits in a mix, or playing technique in your instrument(s) of choice.


Oh this is a great breakdown, thank you!

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to piggy-back on this, something I do a lot in my music is mimicking things I like in order to understand them and make them my own. occasionally this looks like straight up working on a cover or rework of a song or just plunking along on a keyboard to figure out a neat melody, sometimes it looks more like trying to write a piece in the stye of something I like.


Thanks so much for writing this post.


What are people using for engraving “standard” notation these days? I know about Finale and Sibelius, but curious about free/cheaper/open source options… I’ve done a bit of work in MuseScore, and I remember a colleague using some text-based language for a piece but I can’t remember the name.
FWIW I will probably use it to notate some things out, then move it into Photoshop/Affinity and do non-traditional stuff with it.

I’ve just tried Steinberg Dorico SE and it’s quite good and free. I chose it because of the tab editor.