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  • Vivian Khor

What's your composition process?

Updated: Jun 22


It seems like I'm ask quite frequently, what is my compositional process?


It is not a one size fit all, as there are many approaches. Just like drawing or painting, if you think about it, an artist with a canvas, there are certain basic fundamentals that go towards the piece * in retrospect, after it's done, the analysis says, that's what's there, after, and not before. I start with an introduction to this process and hopefully as time goes, I'll get into the nitty gritty. Here is a general overview without diving into anything too technical for now, and before you write a note, pitched or un-pitch.


  1. Define your intent, purpose, and goal. Regardless of style and genre, you have to have some idea why you are writing this piece of music, and from there you can create the stream of notes. Is it for a song? a short piano work? a solo trumpet with chamber strings?

  2. If you know the style, that also determines how you write. Example would be if the composition is epic orchestral, the themes would be different from a a dark sad theme.

  3. Choose your structure. Is this an ABA, an AA, or some other structure. Just like making anything, there needs to be a format. If you are writing a story, there is an arc, a beginning, middle and an end.

  4. Make a hamburger! Yeah right! even if you don't like to eat it. No, I'm referring to my process. Here's my main 3 big elements. Melody, harmony and rhythm. Melody first, harmony first, or rhythm first? That depends, you can use all of them or start with one of them. If you hear the beat first, then that defines how you pursue it, oh but wait, you feel some harmony coming as you play around with the chords, then let that lead you, or maybe wait, you also hear a top line. If that is the case, let that lead. Unless it is define for you that it has to be a distinct melody, either way, you could let any and or a combination of the above 3 elements guide you.

  5. So go ahead, I usually put something on top, something in the middle, and something at the bottom. I am a piano player and so the melody and harmony come almost at the same time, sometimes the harmony drives the composition and at times the melody does. It is an ebb and flow. You see a-lot of guitarist strumming chords and singing..they are led by the sound, the feel and the inspiration within, the inner voice.

  6. Talking about the inner voice, if you do not have one. That is OK! You could write from your head also but let your mind do the filtering as to whether the next note you are putting down fits and makes sense. And if you have any taste at all, you might stir away from those notes that don't make any sense. Trust your taste.

  7. Easy peasy! But wait there is more.....later.





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