How Composers Improve, with Matthew Ellul (School of Composition)

Today we’re speaking with Matthew Ellul, the man behind School Of Composition, an online resource for anyone who wants to learn to compose music, offering free tutorials as well as eBooks and personal tutoring for aspiring composers.

Composing and song writing are often the end goals which inspire people to join our membership here at Musical U and so we’re very conscious of the things which tend to hold people back from really pursuing or succeeding with writing their own music, and we’re always eager to talk with those who specialise in teaching these skills.

Like music theory, composing is often taught in a dry, abstract rule-based way which sucks all the musicality out of it. On his site, School of Composition, Matthew tackles both topics in a way that helps nurture creativity – rather than stifle it.

In this conversation we talk about:

  • Two simple insights which helped Matthew stop comparing himself to others in an unconstructive way
  • The music theory topic which was a big “aha” moment for him and helped stop his own compositions from meandering aimlessly
  • How singing, playing an instrument, playing more than one instrument, and mastering notation software can all contribute in different ways to becoming a better composer

We also talk about the big thing which holds us back from sharing our own musical creations – and Matthew recommends one effective way to fix that.

We often encourage people to try composing or song writing even if they don’t expect to pursue it in a serious way – because just like improvising, composing can be a terrific vehicle for applying your inner musicality and exploring what you’re capable of in music.

Whether you’re currently excited by the word “composing” or not, you’ll enjoy this conversation with Matthew – because there are a ton of valuable ideas and insights here for any musician.

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Christopher: Welcome to the show Matthew. Thank you for joining us today.

Matthew: Thank you for having me.

Christopher: I know a little bit about your backstory from the website, but I don’t know a great deal, and I’d love to understand a bit more. What’s your own background in terms of becoming a composer and starting to teach these things online? What was your own music education like?

Matthew: Well, when I was very young, maybe 12 years old, probably younger even, 10, I just fell in love with music through several forces. One of them was one of my best friends playing the guitar, and I just wanted to imitate. That’s really all. We were obsessed with rock music back then. We were obsessed with the electric guitar, but for some reason someone suggested I start with the classical guitar. I just stuck with it. I fell in love with it and I just stuck with it all those years.

Matthew: Of course, as a new musician I was curious in to what goes in to creating, not just playing it, not just playing some chords but actually writing a piece that makes sense from the beginning to the end. That’s where it really all, the spark, the curiosity really all came from. Then it was pushed by listening to Beethoven, discovering Beethoven’s music at maybe 14 years old. I just was obsessed with understanding how it all works. Why is it making me feel these things?

Matthew: All the symphonies, I remember listening to Symphony Number 7, the second movement the first time and just for some reason I had tears in my eyes. It was just such an emotional experience. From a very young age I just wanted to understand what it’s all about. When I came to the age of choosing a subject at school, I didn’t consider music, because no one thought that’s a career, a career path, especially where I’m from.

Matthew: After struggling a couple of years, I just realized that I had to go with music. That’s where I started with doing the proper education, music theory, some composition, a lot of classical guitar lessons. That’s where I started to do the examinations, and getting the diplomas and eventually going to university, getting some really great teachers which I’m really lucky to have had. That’s really where I got my education.

Christopher: I see. Interesting. I feel like some parts of your story are typical and some parts not so much. I can definitely relate to wanting to play rock and electric guitar and getting pushed on to classical guitar. I think for me it was wanting to play saxophone and cool Jazz, and getting put on to clarinet in a classical orchestra, which did eventually lead to sax. Other parts, you said there that you were interested from early on in how to make a piece that made sense from beginning to end. Which to my mind I don’t think that I would have appreciated that in my teenage years.

Christopher: If I had thought about composition or creating my own music, I would have only been thinking, I think, about that very small scale, like can I make a melody or can I play a solo. It sounds like you were aware from the beginning maybe because of the classical interest that there was a lot more to composition and a lot more in terms of form and structure to be considered.

Matthew: That’s interesting. I never considered that it was something out of the ordinary, but I always appreciated how, especially in symphonies, and I was very familiar mostly with Beethoven’s, how it just made sense from beginning to end, how it’s one dramatic line. I might have not been able to put it in that way, but somehow I just understood that it’s amazing how he takes you on that journey and never loses you.

Matthew: That dramatic line from even in the long term, even on the long range was always a big curiosity for me.

Christopher: You said that you tried studying something else but it was clear after a year or two that it had to be music. Talk a little bit more about that. What were you noticing or what were you feeling that made you make that change in course? I think probably a lot of our listeners can relate to that yearning to commit themselves more fully to music, but often the circumstances of life seem to make it impossible or very challenging. What did that look like for you?

Matthew: That word yearning that you used, that’s the right word. Because I would find myself as a teenager come home, just really either procrastinating on my actual work to listen to music, to read about music, to do music, or just really doing it quickly. Just get it over with, and do what I’m supposed to do, do the music. This is how my life was for those two, three years, I think, that I just had to get everything out of the way to do the music, even though I had the responsibilities as a student to do those other topics.

Matthew: Just as a practical example, I was lucky that my grandparents who have recently passed away, but at the time they lived next to the school I was at. I took my guitar there, I left it there and every chance I got, or sometimes I skipped a lesson or two, but I went to my grandparents, and I just wanted to play. I wanted to practice. I wanted to be with music. It was really a huge obsession at that time. No matter what I was doing with my day, it was always at the back of my mind.

Christopher: Got you. I’m sure we’ll talk more about this later on, but you’ve described pursuing both guitar and composition in those university years. How did the two go together for you? Were you seeing guitar as the vehicle for the thing you really wanted to do which was composition, or did you expect you’d focus on guitar and the composition was just a side interest? How were the two balanced or interrelated?

Matthew: I always thought of the guitar as a way for being literally in touch with the music. I guess composition was always my main focus, even when I was focusing on the guitar because I had to at times. Composition was always my main focus, my main aim.

Christopher: Was there any kind of intimidation at play? I ask because you mentioned getting into classical music fairly early on. I think it’s fair to say that generally classical music appeals less to the younger generations and more to the older generations who develop an appreciation for it. It sounds like that came in to play fairly early on for you. I think whatever age you’re at and whatever your relationship with the classical oeuvre may be, you often find, I think, that people are overwhelmed or intimidated or just baffled by the grand complexity that composing music of that kind can be.

Christopher: Was that something that you felt? Was it always easy for you to consider yourself a composer? How did that go for you?

Matthew: At first in my complete naivete I just was immersed in it. I didn’t really care. When I actually started to improve, I found myself comparing myself to other composers, whether that’s other students in my class, my own teachers or even the great composers. Found myself comparing my work. I think that’s a really dangerous path to go on, because it will never be a fair contest for obvious reasons.

Matthew: If we’re comparing a beginner’s work with a masterpiece from the 19th century, 18th century, it’s just never going to be a fair comparison. We’re all walking our own paths. I think that’s something I emphasize to my students. Because it’s a dangerous path to go on. It can be very negative and very harmful to creativity.

Christopher: For you in practice, what did that challenge look like, and what did you do about it? Assuming it’s no longer a big challenge for you.

Matthew: Well, just to remember and to realize that all great composers started from nothing. Now, whether they started at four like Mozart and Mendelssohn and Chopin, whether they started at 14 or 24, they all started from scratch. I mean if you think about it, at some point Mozart’s father, I mean Amadeus’ father had to sit the young Mozart down and tell him where the middle C was on his keyboard. We all have to start from scratch.

Matthew: That realization to bring the humanity back in to the great masters. That was an important realization for me.

Christopher: I see. Was that something that your university teachers helped you to see? Was it something you came to realize yourself? I think culturally we all inherit this idea that a composer such as Mozart actually didn’t need to be shown middle C. He just sat down one day and composed a symphony. We have that cultural myth. It sounds like you found your way to a more sensible and realistic worldview on that. Where did that come from?

Matthew: I think I realized first when my companions at school were comparing each other’s works. I thought, well, you play the clarinet, you play the saxophone, yours is geared towards that. You’re playing the piano, you’re more classically inclined. Why would you compare and compete? That thought just stuck with me through all this time.

Matthew: If you compare, and I did this back then, if you compare the first works and the last works by anyone, any known composer, you can see a huge difference, that they continued to grow. That’s what we should aim for, I think, this continuous growth. Not comparing my level to someone’s level, or this work to that work. No. Let’s just keep learning. Let’s keep improving. Let’s enjoy the process, and let’s hone our skills, just like the greats before us did.

Christopher: One thing I love about how you approach things at School of Composition is the way you relate composing to music theory. Something you said there, I think, is an interesting point, which is maybe due to the complexity of orchestral works, but maybe it applies equally to songwriting. I think when you’re outside that world and you haven’t studied how to compose or how to write songs, you can kind of look, as you said, at someone’s later works and their early works and be like, “Well, the later ones are better,” but it can be very hard to explain why or to put your finger on anything specific. I think that makes it hard for people to understand how their progression from not so good to great could happen.

Christopher: Maybe you could illustrate or give a bit more detail of what you might notice if you looked at, say, an early composition by one of your students and something they might achieve a few years later. Are there specific things you’d be able to point to and say this one is better, or more sophisticated, or more masterful because X, Y, and Z?

Matthew: I would say it’s the effectiveness of it. How well does it meet its intentions? Of course, that assumes that there are intentions beforehand. That’s a very important point as well. Before a student begins a work, I would say why are you writing this? What are you trying to achieve? It could be you want to create some variations on a theme that you love or a theme that you created yourself. It could be exploring a specific style. Whatever it is, there should be intention.

Matthew: As to what I would look for between early works and later works, I think it’s the way it develops. The later works, the more sophisticated works develop in a more intrinsic way. Nothing feels forced. Early works tend to have this maybe they’re more forced melody after another that are not quite related sometimes, whereas more mature works would just sound more natural. It’s really difficult to put one description to it. I think that’s the best way I can explain it, it’s the effectiveness of it.

Christopher: I see. One of the blog posts on your site that really jumped out at me was, I think, geared towards helping people on that journey from just getting started with composition to having a more masterful ability to create effective works as you say, which was your 15 do’s and 5 don’ts for getting better at music composition.

Christopher: I don’t think we can cram all of them into this conversation, because there’s a lot of meaty ideas there. There were some that I thought maybe we could discuss just because I think it gives a really helpful insight into the practicality of learning to compose and learning to be better, so that it doesn’t just seem like this nebulous thing for people, where they have to do it, and do it, and do it, and hopefully one day they might get better.

Christopher: I think the first one on your list, in fact, was to listen. I think probably depending on how much exposure you’ve had to composition as a topic to study, that might be surprising to people. Why would you begin your list of do’s with listening rather than composing?

Matthew: Listening is really our first experience with music. It’s extremely important. Of course, there are 14 more below it so it’s not enough. It is definitely the start, because without listening there is no music. It is a listening art. What I emphasize there in that blog post also is that we should listen to different styles, different musicians, different eras, whatever it is, just listen, listen, listen.

Matthew: There is something to learn from each and every one of those, especially the ones you don’t like, I think. Because if you start to be more critical, what don’t I like about this? Is it the timbre? Maybe it’s not a musical grammar I’m used to. Maybe it’s just inexperience. What is it? That can be a very effective way of learning as well, what you like, what you don’t like, why, and how you can combine these into your own music.

Christopher: Tell me, how thoughtful does that listening need to be? I think some of what you just said sounds like just expose yourself to a lot of kinds of music and hear a lot of different kinds of music. Some of what you said sounds more like quite consciously and intentionally trying to absorb specific observations from the music you hear. How should people be thinking about that activity of listening if it’s for the purpose of improving as a composer?

Matthew: I would say simply just immerse yourself in the music, and if any thoughts come about it just let them come, let them go. It’s quite tricky. I understand what you mean. It’s quite tricky to walk the line between appreciating it for what it is and judging it. I would say don’t judge it too early. Also, listen with a critical ear. It’s a tricky line to walk. Immerse yourself and have a critical ear.

Christopher: Perhaps it comes back a little bit to what you were saying before about intention being the most important starting point for a composition, that if you listen with the intention of, “I am a composer. I am listening because it will help me be a better composer,” maybe that’s enough.

Matthew: Sometimes I listen and I just think, “Let’s see what stands out.” Could be anything. Could be a pop song. Could be a symphony. It could be just an old woman singing in the street. Let’s see what stands out. I remember some time ago listening. I was at the supermarket doing just very ordinary everyday things. On the radio there was a pop song. I can’t quite remember. I believe it was Jennifer Lopez, but I don’t know the name.

Matthew: I remember thinking and telling my friend what a beautiful long melody she is singing. It’s not typical of pop music nowadays. They tend to have shorter phrases and go along quicker. This one kind of keeps your attention a bit longer, just long enough to notice. I thought that was really interesting that up to that point I had never thought that pop music tends to have shorter phrases, at least recently.

Matthew: That’s the kind of thing that critical listening can teach you, can show you. Things you weren’t aware of before just come to the forefront.

Christopher: Maybe if you could just define that phrase for people, what is critical listening as opposed to listening in general?

Matthew: Well, listening in general is simply enjoying the sound, like bathing in the sound. Whereas critical listening would be to observe how it moves along, how the story moves along, how they are related, how it is one dramatic climb.

Christopher: Got you. We’ve talked on this show a fair bit about active listening in the past, and not [inaudible] those two are synonymous. I think what can trip people up is they don’t necessarily feel equipped to ask the right questions, or they don’t feel like they’re sensitive enough to notice the right things. That maybe touches on the next point I wanted to pick up on in that blog post, which was learn music theory as a way to become a better composer.

Christopher: Now, this can be a bit controversial. Again, on this show we’ve talked a few times about this idea that some people resist music theory because they feel like it will tie them to a certain way of doing things, and it will reduce their creativity, and it will hold back their inspiration. That seems to not be your viewpoint. Maybe you could talk about why learning music theory is essential to become a better composer.

Matthew: Yes. My view is that with music theory you are learning how music works and why it works the way it does. It doesn’t tell you what to write. At most, it tells us what has been written so far. It will not dictate what you must write. I think this misunderstanding comes from four-part harmony where we have specific rules to achieve a specific style. That’s where it stops. It’s with that style. We are learning how four-part harmony worked for Bach and Handel and so on, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s how it should work for you.

Matthew: When you are learning how to manipulate notes, that’s what you take from it. You will learn how to manipulate notes. You can manipulate them in any way you want. That’s just one very specific exercise for a very specific intention, once again. Music theory just teaches you how music works. It’s not telling you how you should write your music.

Christopher: Absolutely. One thing I particularly like about your music theory eBook that you have available on the School of Composition website is it’s quite practical. You start from the very beginning and you cover an enormous amount of ground. You end the chapters with practical exercises for people to actually try some of this stuff. I love that in your 15 do’s and 5 don’ts post one of the ways you gave people to put this into practice and make it a bit more practical was to sing and train your ears as well as studying that theory. Why is that important?

Matthew: I can speak for myself and later what I saw in my students. Back at university, we had the choir that was compulsory. At first many students resist that, because, “I’m not a singer. I’ve never sung. Why would I join a choir?” First of all, there is something very special about making music in a large group. Other than that, just creating the music from your body, your voice, literally from inside of you, there is just so much to learn and so much to feel.

Matthew: I think one of the biggest advantages of singing is that it forces you to think the note first before you play it, before you sing it, sorry. That makes the whole difference. It’s a very subtle difference, but when we play the piano we don’t need to think up what a B flat sounds like, because we will find out as soon as we press it.

Matthew: If I’m playing a G major chord on the guitar, I don’t need to remember what it sounds like because I will find out as soon as I play it, as soon as I strum it. You cannot take that shortcut when singing. You have to think it first and that makes a whole lot of difference. Because first you think it, then a split second later the body is preparing to produce it, and then you actually produce it. There’s a whole lot going on in singing that is very beneficial to all kinds of musicians.

Christopher: What impact would you see that having on an aspiring composer? If we imagine you have a student who’s covered the basics of music theory. They’re up and running with composing but they never sing and they haven’t really trained their ears. If you introduce that into their weekly regime, as it were, what would you expect to see happen to their composition?

Matthew: I think that with ear training it’s really easier to get inspired for some reason. It makes you more in touch with music, just like playing an instrument does, but as we’ve just said there’s more to singing. Being so close to the music, so close that it comes from inside of you, makes it easier to get inspired and makes it easier to think music, makes it easier to create the music. Over time all skills, all musical skills tend to improve after a few months of ear training.

Christopher: Terrific. One thing I really noticed in your writing is how you talk about instruments as a tool or a vehicle to be of use in composing, and also the kind of digital software we have access to these days to put notes on a page. I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about that. If we take that person who’s done the ear training and they’re getting the inspiration, and they’re starting to have those ideas in their head, how would you guide someone to understand when and how to use their instrument, when and how to use software, how much those things matter, and what the advantages are of making use of them?

Matthew: Well, the software is obviously important nowadays, as that’s how we create the music, if you want to create sheet music, if you want to share an MP3 online, if you want to upload your music. The software is definitely very important. As for the instruments, once again, that’s one way of being in touch with music, one way of exploring different ideas and trying different things. What I warn students about is not to compose fully on an instrument, because then we are limited to our technical abilities.

Matthew: Unless you’re playing all of Liszt’s sonatas and all of Chopin’s preludes brilliantly, it’s limiting. Use it as an aid, but not as guidance all throughout. Don’t compose only what you can play.

Christopher: I thought it was really interesting earlier when you said that your contemporaries at university, you could see in their composition that they were a clarinet player or they were a piano player and how that influenced what they were capable of composing. Is that why one of your other do’s is to play a couple of instruments?

Matthew: Yeah. Instruments open up the possibilities, because a piano allows a certain kind of music, but wind instruments allow another. For example, you cannot ever have a crescendo on a long note on the piano, neither can you on the guitar. You have to repeat it. You have to strum it again, you have to pluck it again. On a clarinet, you can start really low and just expand. That’s one really simple example of how different instruments show us different possibilities.

Matthew: Once again, it’s important to use instruments to be in touch with the music. You don’t need to become a master at every kind. Just an idea would suffice.

Christopher: Very good. You mentioned something in passing there, which was one advantage of the software is it lets you create an MP3 and share it online. I know there are people listening or watching who immediately tensed up at the idea of sharing something they made. I know that because I can relate to it. That’s definitely where I come from naturally. I’d love to talk about one of your other do’s which is to join a community. I know that part of that is about getting feedback. How do you help your students be okay with that idea of sharing their composition and getting critical feedback from someone other than you, their trusted instructor?

Matthew: That’s tough. You just have to realize that, take the positive criticism. There sometimes will be nasty comments, but I don’t think they should matter that much. I remember I’ve had them myself. It’s kind of difficult, but you need to be vulnerable to be an artist. That’s a big deal for musicians. You need to share your work, otherwise you’re just creating it for yourself. It’s okay if you want to be a bedroom composer forever, but even then you should have a few trusted friends, a few trusted tutors with whom you can share. Because with sharing you initiate that cycle of feedback, improvement, feedback, improvement, and that’s how we grow. That is also critical to the development of a composer.

Christopher: I’m glad you pointed that out, because I think it’s easy for people to hear the advice of “put your stuff out there and get feedback,” and “music is made to be shared,” and that kind of thing. It’s easy to just dismiss that and be like, “But I don’t want to, so I’m not going to.” As you say, actually you’re doing yourself a disservice, because that external feedback is a critical part of how we improve.

Christopher: We see that in Musical U with our musicality training. Even however good we make the training modules, if someone does them in isolation and refuses to ask questions or look at other people’s advice or experiences, they’re dramatically limiting the amount of progress they can make. Because there’s such power in that community.

Matthew: Definitely. We can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. If it’s a private community, maybe you can start with that, so that you know it’s more trusted in a way, because it’s private. Start with that. It’s very important to get at least a small circle where you can get feedback.

Christopher: I think that’s a really valuable distinction to make, the private community, because the nasty comments you alluded to they’re everywhere online. I remember a couple of years ago I was recording a video about our free trial at Musical U that we had at the time. I was explaining how we, even though it was a free trial, we require payment details. The reason is if we just let everyone in for free with no barrier there, our community would go to hell in a hand basket.

Christopher: At the moment, and still at Musical U we have this really friendly, supportive, nurturing community with none of that trash talk and tear down attitude. We want to protect that. It sounds like you have that same recommendation for your students, to recognize that a private community can provide a much more supportive and constructive environment for an aspiring composer.

Matthew: Yeah. It can be, let’s say, safer. Safer to a composer’s growing ego. Also, just don’t take your music too seriously. Just share it. Just put it out there and just see what happens. It’s not the end of the world if some people don’t like it.

Matthew: People to this day are arguing who’s better on YouTube. They’re arguing who’s better, Mozart or Beethoven. What chance do we stand? If they’re criticizing even those guys, I mean. Just let them argue.

Christopher: Do you have any advice, any specific tips for someone who’s hearing this and being like, “Oh, okay, I can kind of see how a private community would be helpful for me.” How can they find that kind of environment online, or I presume online? How can they find that kind of peer group or community in general?

Matthew: Well, I guess for musicians Facebook is a big one. See if you can find or create one yourself even. We have one for the school of composition. It’s a private group. Anyone is welcome to join. I monitor that closely. I don’t allow any sort of negativity. We allow critique. We allow critique but not if it’s too nasty. If the intention is to tear down, we very closely monitor that.

Christopher: I think that’s great advice, and Facebook groups, that’s the critical thing really, isn’t it, that somebody is paying attention and taking responsibility for keeping it a friendly and supportive environment. I said before, like with us it was about having that distinction between signing up and entering payment details. That was our barrier, because that allows us then to monitor things closely and to have a sense of our community.

Christopher: You equally can have a free Facebook group where as long as somebody is taking that role and maintaining that spirit, it can still be equally supportive.

Matthew: Yeah. We don’t let it grow too big. We have those questions that Facebook allows us to ask people before they join. We’re not that strict but we do monitor who’s in and who goes out.

Christopher: We talked there about some of the do’s in general for becoming a better composer. I know there are people listening who are itching for some kind of more nitty gritty practical stuff that could help them. Were there any concepts or topics that for you made a really big difference to how you went about composing or how effective your compositions were?

Matthew: One big aha moment was the topic of cadences. Now, for the beginners amongst us, cadences you can simply define them as the punctuation of music. It’s where all the musical elements of harmony and melody and instrumentation come. They all come together and produce some sort of ending. Now, the ending can be final, just a complete conclusion, or it can be an ending that just passes by.

Christopher: Why was that important to you? Can you point to maybe how your composition would have been before really understanding this idea of cadences and after?

Matthew: Yes. Before I grasped the idea of cadences, music just went through without any sort of direction, moved along without any sort of direction. With cadences, there’s always the phrase, the section always has a destination to go to. Whether that ending is conclusive or just temporary, it has a place in the big picture as well. That’s how cadences are important on the short range, on the short term, but also on the longer range, for the bigger picture for the bigger piece.

Christopher: You mentioned there how they can be compared to punctuation. I love in one of your articles you literally do, you talk about the comma versus the full stop. Could you explain that a little bit? What’s the analogy there?

Matthew: Depending on which cadences we’re using, some of them have this sense of a strong ending which would be similar to the full stop in a way. Then there are those that have weaker endings. Although they are endings, they are temporary, so we are expecting the music to move on, to give us something else. That’s just like a sentence, a phrase that has a comma, and we are expecting it to give us something more. We’re expecting it to continue.

Matthew: I don’t want to go too deep into comparing music to language too much, because some people read into that too much. Superficially, yes, we can compare the strong cadences and the weaker cadences to commas and full stops.

Christopher: For anyone who’s itching for the full details, we’ll have a link in the show notes to that full blog post about cadences that I mentioned, where Matt goes into a lot of detail on the different types and has audio examples so you can hear it in action. It’s very cool.

Matthew: Yes, the examples help a lot. It’s hard to just explain it without listening. That will be of great help.

Christopher: Tell us a bit more about what you have at School of Composition. Where did that site come from and how has it been developing?

Matthew: Well, I always loved talking about these concepts. Writing is even better, because I can stop and think about how I want to explain something, I want to express something. I just gravitated naturally towards that medium. It’s been growing for past year. There’s a lot of content coming, which I’m excited about. The feedback has been wonderful. We have a Facebook group that also has been really, really useful to me and to the students to see what works, what doesn’t work, what people want more of.

Matthew: I know people have been asking for more composition challenges which I’ve had to pause for a while, because they were really taking a lot of time. I had to focus on other things for a while, but hope to bring those back soon. There’s a lot coming. It’s a very exciting time.

Christopher: Talk a little bit more about the composition challenges. How does that work?

Matthew: What we were doing was just issuing a challenge every month. It’s very simple, like perhaps write a music on a given theme, could have been six notes. Write a piece that ends in this way, and I give the exact two bars that it should end in. These sorts of ways of limiting the possibilities, but they’re open enough to challenge you, so gives you a start, but it’s not overwhelming because you do have some guidelines.

Christopher: Fantastic. For someone who is maybe at the beginning of this journey, perhaps they’re even inspired by this interview to explore composing for themselves, what can they find on the website, before they get to that level of taking a challenge, that might help them along their way?

Matthew: There are the articles for beginners for music theory. If you want to go deeper and step-by-step, there are two books that you can buy. Paperbacks are available as well on Amazon. You can find absolute beginners material just as much as intermediate and advanced. There is something for everyone.

Christopher: We’ve talked a little bit about the importance of having an instructor to guide you and give feedback and help you realize all the different things that could help you become a better composer. Am I right in thinking you offer private instruction in that area too?

Matthew: Yes. If anyone is interested, they can contact me through the website itself. We can set up a program of a few weeks to a few months, specific to their needs, specific to their goals.

Christopher: Fantastic. Well, I know from experience with our members at Musical U, we provide a lot of the musicality training that can be a basis for composing, but composing and songwriting aren’t, at least at the moment, things we cover specifically. I know we have lots of members who would leap at that opportunity who have just been waiting for someone to guide them along that journey.

Christopher: If anyone’s listening or watching who has been itching either to get in to composition or to learn a bit more about the nuts and bolts, or, indeed, to get personal help with it, I definitely highly recommend Matt, thank you so much for joining us today. I think there have been a lot of really interesting insights and ideas here to help someone whatever stage they might be at in their composing journey. Do you have any parting advice for someone who’s interested in composing?

Matthew: I think if I had to give you one piece of advice, it would be this, to learn how to compose you just need to compose. As silly that might sound, there is a lot to it in the sense that you can watch all the videos you can find, you can read all the books, but just jot down something. Actually, that’s one of the tips in that list that you mentioned, the 15 do’s and 5 don’t. Just write something, whatever it is.

Matthew: If you’re starting from scratch, go write a melody. If you’re confident in writing melodies, just harmonize it. If you do that, just always move to the next step, but wherever you’re at, start there.

Christopher: Fantastic. Thank you again, Matt.

Matthew: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

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The post How Composers Improve, with Matthew Ellul (School of Composition) appeared first on Musical U.