How to Use Computers for Composing

Composers must have a background in basic music theory to write music.

Modern composers have often left the piano and started using a computer to compose music. Like any new technology, there are advantages and disadvantages to using a computer to compose. The main disadvantage is that the composer can too easily place arbitrary notes in the score without intention. The advantage is that a composer with little instrumental experience can write music that might not otherwise be possible. However, with a competent composer, it is possible to use technology that both enriches and makes writing a less tedious chore.

Select a notation program that fits your needs and your budget. The best programs on the market are Finale and Sibelius, both of which are used by publishing companies. If you are on a budget, there is a free alternative called MuseScore. All of these options are suitable for the composer that wishes to write advanced music.

Learn to use the program by following the tutorials that come pre-packaged with each software program. Spending a few minutes going over the basics will make your writing more productive. Composers should learn how to enter notes, key signatures, time signature, flats, sharps and articulations in the score.

Begin writing by adding a staff in the score. This process will be different for each program, so be sure to check the documentation that comes with your program. Write a melody by clicking on the appropriate note value in the score and then placing it on the staff.

Edit your melody to make sure that it uses proper voice leading and will sound acceptable to listeners. The basic tenets of voice leading require that melodies use mostly stepwise motion, resolve leaps, and skips by moving in the opposite direction and stay within the comfortable range of the instrument.

Add harmony to your composition by analyzing the melody to find out what chords will fit. The first chord should be a I chord. In the key of C, a I chord is C-E-G. Chords build on scale degrees in music, so in the key of C the II chord would be D-F-A. The rest of the chords can be any chords you wish as long as one of the notes in the chords matches with a melody note. For instance, if the main beat of the melody has a G, you could use a I, III or V chord.

Write a cadence to end the melody. The most common cadences move from V - I or IV - I. A final sounding cadence will move from V - I. Experiment with different chords by entering them in the score and playing them back; when you find a chord that works, stick with it. This is one of the advantages of using a computer; you can sit back and listen to your creation.

Experiment with advanced chords by adding intervals of a 9th, 11th or 13th above the root of the chord. The root is the note that the chord is based on. A I chord would have a C as a root and a 9th above it is a D.

Use the computer program like a word processor. You can cut and paste melodies and quickly enter in articulations using the program note and articulation palettes.


While composing with a computer makes it easier, it is not a replacement for knowing your craft. Study privately with a competent instructor to learn more. If you have a repetitive rhythmic figure you can easily copy and paste it throughout the score to save time.


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