Tips for getting started

Basic Writing

Hans Zimmer repeats... a lot. Big, small, backwards, inverted— he plays with like like a sand castle where anything could work. So does John Williams. So did Beethoven. Write 12 different versions of the same melody, then shake it up. Most often, repeating yourself well is the craft of music.

A simple synth sound that slowly evolves over time can be very repetitive, yet more interesting because it changes. Be creative about what will make a line more interesting.

Get this synth free here.


Even if you don't want a melody, understand what makes a memorable melody leave its mark on people. Pirates, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars all have simple ideas that get stuck in our heads. Memorable melodies often have a very basic rhythm at the core. Cool beats are fun, but simple is easy to remember. Again, change it over time. Change directions, do it backwards, upside-down, write a syncopated countermelody.

Harry Potter

Hedwig's Theme

Core Rhythm

A sharp, a pitch glide, or a rest can all be unexpected. Simple tweaks to your idea (whether it's a melody or not) can help, but we still need to deliver the main idea to people in the end. Focus on the overall experience of your music, your theme. Prokofiev said "I want nothing better, more flexible or more complete than the sonata form". (in modern music, a simple A-B-A theme).


This depends on your music. In the past, Orchestration involved volume management and giving everyone something to play throughout your music. In film music today, it can be strictly about flavors, but knowing doubling techniques and keeping your sounds familiar through the piece can still inform your writing style and are still used across the biggest scores today. It's as useful as knowing articulations.


Stephen King said "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write." Your brain is a muscle. We all need a good massage. Enjoying music is your brain's massage. If ideas aren't coming, you may not be listening enough. Besides, listening is what got us in to start with. It's what we love.

Some composers are very good at guiding our attention, like a magician misdirecting us from the main event. So don't just listen; play it, transcribe it, or read the score. It all helps to unravel your favorites. Williams and Zimmer are easy to talk about as most know them, but listen to Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, Howard Shore, Danny Elfman, Bernard Herrmann, Beethoven, Mahler, Joplin, Gershwin, or The Shermann Brothers. Listen to the Beatles and ancient motets. Listening energizes our writing muscles.


Keswitches are the wrong answer. A violin is capable of so much more than a button you punch to get a different sound. The orchestra is not a carnival organ with a few stops. A great example of this is Sul Tasto. This bowing placement allows for expressive playing, trills, and several articulations just as Sul Pont and Con Sord do. Sul Tasto sustains seem like a great toolset item for your template, but they've really just limited your writing if you rely on samples to tell you what you can write. We're all not going to be the next Williams, but don't let samples rule you. A sampled instrument ought to still be designed well.

For notation, you can get more from samples if you have natural attacks that don't crescendo. X-fading allows tremolo and trills to be more playable and agile. A well designed sample library can have tons of round robins, take tablet specs to run, and be far more agile. It just hasn't been sampled... yet.

Workflow / Apps

Creativity is about playing with ideas. Just get in the sand, enjoy the sand, and throw it around for a while. Eventually your inner child will want to build a castle and the blank page is gone. You don't find your voice, you use it by playing with the sand. The most important workflow tip anyone can get is to write every day.

StaffPad, Studio One, Cubase, any tool works, but your setup should reflect where you want to write. Using the best sample libraries on a tablet at the park can help many focus on writing more than plugins. StaffPad is the clear winner for this. Write, record, then publish. Simplest process ever!


For film scoring, a DAW with a marker track or even just a simple spreadsheet are all you need to keep track of cues and write music. The best tools help you stay focused on what you love.

Sonic Creation

Try getting a different angle, then automating it. A cello doesn't have to sit in the same spot in the hybrid world. It can move or simply change perspectives using the Haas effect or similar alterations of the right and left mics, then back to where it started. Move things around.

This was originally a brass instrument. Each note moves more from close to tree mics, from solid to a softer attack, has subtle panning automation and randomizing, etc. Change it's shape & the space.

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