Music Composition Techniques

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. It’s the same with writing great songs. Here are some amazingly effective methods to employ (in your song-writing, leave the poor cat alone).

Let the work flow.

It’s not always easy knowing where to start. If you’re lucky, an idea will come to you in the form of a melody, riff, bass-line or even just a drum beat. Whether you’re playng it on an instrument or just humming it in your head, it’s great to have a starting point com from within.

For many composers, it’s not so straightforward. Trying to compose without inspiration can be a frustrating experience, but there are ways to fake it. You can ‘borrow’ ideas from your favorite songs, or use a sample to get the ball rolling. You might start by laying down a sample and building around it… even if you eventually remove the initial sample. Some composers set out to copy other songs, knowing that natural deviations during the songwriting process and selection of instruments and timbres will ultimately lead to an original track.

However you get your ideas, how do you turn them into songs?

It’s all about workflow.

Captain Plugins 5
Award-winning AU + VST plugins for music composition.

  • Use Captain Plugins to write your own Chord Progressions, Hooks, Melodies and Basslines
  • Export to your DAW
  • Available on Mac and Windows.
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Composing music shares some similarities with cooking, but there are some big differences, too. For instance, you can’t ice a cake without making the cake first. Not so in music composition. You can start the process with any piece of the puzzle you want – drums, chords, bass or melody. With Captain Plugins it couldn’t be easier, or faster, to get straight to a workflow that suits you. Let’s take a look at some brilliant techniques to compose better music.

Chords first

Chords first.

This is a common approach among guitarists and keyboardists. Getting a great chord progression gives you the foundations for the catchy parts like melodies, riffs and hooks.

In Captain Chords this is super simple. Just open up the plugin, set your key and scale (you can change this any time) and start trying out chords! There are tons of awesome progressions to choose from, or you can create your own usng the chord pallette or Play window. Captain Chords tells you all the chords that suit your current key and scale, taking the guesswork out of composing an awesome progression.

Once your chords are down, you have a pallette of notes to work with to then write your melodies. It can really help to know that your melody needs to sound good aganst a particular chord, as it straightens out ideas and keeps you focused.

Adding melodies that match your chords is simple and exciting with Captain Melody. You can connect it to Captain Chords, and it will work with the chord progression to help you create a melody that suits it perfectly. You control the number of notes, types of rhythm, scale degrees and more, while Captain Melody helps keep you grounded in music theory.

Melody UI

Lead with a lead.

You can also start with a lead – whether that be a vocal melody, guitar riff or keyboard line.

Traditionally, the difficulty in doing it this way is establishing with accuracv what key your melody is in, so you can write chords and bass around it. Fortunately, Captain Melody takes the guesswork away.

One awesome method is to import a MIDI file to Captain Melody. The plugin analyzes it, and tells you what key it’s in. You can then choose to either transpose it, for example if you already have a sample or chord sequence in a different key, or leave it as it is.

You can then edit the MIDI file using all of Captain Melody’s parameters.

Once you’re happy with your awesome lead line, open Captain Chords. You know what key the melody is in, so building chords to match is fast and straightforward. Before you know it, you’ve got the foundations of a hit!

Of course, you don’t need a MIDI file to import. You can get straight into melody creation simply by creating an Idea box, and experimenting with the powerful tools inside.

You can also use Captain Play to create your lead line. Captain Play removes all the bum notes from your keyboard, so whatever key you play will be in your chosen key and scale. It’s like having stabilisers on your bike – no bum notes means you you can start a song with a melody, lead, bassline or hook, and the plugins will subtly ensure you’re in key across your entire song. You can express your creativity without worrying about music theory rules. Captain Plugins takes care of the theory, and, because you can see how the notes all work together, it teaches you while you write, too!

The Pegasus method.

Rhythm first, melody later. That’s the fundaments of the Pegasus method. It’s a super cool way of compartmentalising your composition process. You can apply the method to any part of your songwriting, from chords to bass and melody. Here’s how it works:

Using any MIDI enabled device, tap out the rhythm of your melody on one note, to capture the MIDI rhythm. Pay no attention to the pitch whatsoever. It might seem strange at first, but what we’re trying to achieve is the exact rhythm of your melody before addressing the music is itself. You can edit your rhythm until it’s spot on, and when you’re happy, you can drag the MIDI notes to your desired pitches. On a regular MIDI plugin, this is a process that can be a little laborious. Dragging each note into place with only your ear to determine whether it’s the right note isn’t as easy as it could be. Fortunately, Captain Melody has your back. Check out this short video showing you how quickly you can create a stunning melody using the Pegasus method:

Using the Pegasus method with Captain Melody.


Basing a track around a sample.

Sampling is te art of lifting an audio snippet from somewhere, often anther song, and re-imagining it in a new song. It’s a surprisingly similar workflow to starting a song with a melody. You need to know the key of the sample first, as you do with a melody. And that is traditionalyy where difficulties can arise. Creating chords, melodies and bass-lines around a sample with only your ears to assist you takes a long time to master, and can still be really tricky to pull off. Maybe that’s why so many old school hip-hop tracks have one note bass-lines!

Fortunately, times have changed, and Mixed In Key have some incredible tools to help you match the perfect samples to your track. Check out this video that shows exactly how to use Mixed In Key 8.5 to get the key of a sample, and then use Captain Plugins to build a song around it in the same key.

How to write a chord progression around a vocal sample

Since the making of that video, we have developed an incredible new version of Mixed In Key called Mixed In key Studio Edition. It’s a VST plugin for your DAW that analyzes samples in real-time, making the process lightnin-fast and super accurate. You can see exactly what notes are present in any given audio sample, as well as the overall key! This video shows how you can use Mixed In Key Studio Edition to find the key of a sample, and how to adjust it to suit your track.

Of course, this process can be executed in reverse if you prefer to start the song with a sample.

Explore these composition techniques with Captain Plugins

It’s super easy to create your own ideas from scratch. Visit the official Captain Plugins homepage to see how these plugins can help you write your own original productions