In order to compose music with clarity you need to have an understanding of the elements of music. These are the components that make up the humanly patterned sound we are listening to.


  • Rhythm – beats, accents, tempo
  • Harmony – chords, extensions, creating the overall mood
  • Melody – phrases, scales and patterns
  • Timbre – the color of instruments and their sounds
  • Texture – the number of instruments layered
  • Form – how the music is arranged


As a band director once told me, “the music is not on the page.” This statement profoundly shaped the way I conceptualize music because whether you are a composer writing music or a performer reading it, you are sometimes too focused on the chart and not on what is happening sonically. This is the reason a lot of players will play out of tune and it is also why some writers will sound too formulaic and not engage the listener personally.

It is with that concept in mind that I want to talk about writing music as a composer. There are many ways to write out your ideas musically and it is important to be familiar with the language, symbols and tools to convey your message. Think of these tools as your painting kit with various paintbrushes, colors and solvents.

  • Chord symbols
  • Note symbols
  • Tempo markings
  • Clefs
  • Key signatures
  • Meter markings
  • Dynamic markings
  • Form markers
  • Expressive markings

You can also think of these items as the plugins of the old world. Before music recording software, composers had to rely on written cues and directions to accomplish what we can now achieve in a few quick key strokes. They essentially used these markings and symbols to “mix” the orchestra. They were the engineers and producers of their day.