How to Write Music When You Can’t Play an Instrument

How to Write Music When You Can’t Play an Instrument

By Chris Glyde

Obviously, not playing an instrument makes it a bit harder to write music, so if you can learn an instrument, I would suggest at least taking up basic piano. That being said, this article is going to operate under the premise that you’re not going to learn another instrument. How can you write songs with just a voice and your brain?


Singing each part with your voice:

The easiest thing to do would be to learn about counterpoint, which is the movement between individual notes—horizontal and vertical. Then you can sing melody lines and stack them together in order to write the music that you’re interested in writing.

I would also make sure that you spend time on ear training in order to develop proper aural skills.

One artist who sang all of the lines of his music when he was writing it was Michael Jackson. Now, did Michael Jackson spend time learning counterpoint and ear training? I don’t know the answer 100%, but my guess would be no. However, I’m sure that he developed a great ear for the proper melodic motions of the styles he wanted to portray from being in the studio so much as a child with the Jackson 5, and even when his solo career took off as well. The idea is that proper ear training and counterpoint knowledge can help you better understand what you’re doing, find patterns, and then repeat and/or break them when you desire to or when the song calls for something different.

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A lot of people would say that this skill is incredibly hard to develop. However, that’s not exactly true—it just takes time and patience. If you have the drive, you can learn it.

Just create a single vocal line:

I may be a tad bit biased as a vocalist, but melody to me is the part of the song that most quickly catches the ear. As such, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a writer practicing melody writing. You can put that melody to words and then give it to the instrument section. Then, it’s their job to figure out how to accompany this melody (which chords to use, etc.). From that point, you can enter into discussions about form and use your bandmates’ knowledge in order to help you work out a really awesome song!

This seems to be a more common approach. Although, oftentimes it’s done the opposite way as well. In that method, the instrument section devises their parts first and then gives it to the singer to write lyrics and melodies. I find the “instrument section first” method easier, but that’s probably because I’ve done it more frequently.

If you were to write melodies first, it would push the songs in a different direction, because the process you would be using is different, which is creativity in a nutshell. I also find that if I write the instrument section first, it tends to limit what my melodies sound like. In that situation, I’m already stuck in a key, and I can’t experiment to the same extent. More interesting melodies are not a bad thing!

about the author:

If you’re looking for help developing the necessary skills to become a strong vocalist, then check in with Chris Glyde! He’ll help you develop your voice in Rochester.