Making music, and therefore composing, is probably as old as homo sapiens. But the history of composition and its development really depend on the art of writing music down. Indeed, we don't know much about ancient Greek or Indian music because we're not sure about its notation - if there was any.
The musical notation now in use around the world is about a thousand years old, so we've had ample time to learn it. Just as we've learned how to use the alphabet - and equally indispensable. For indeed, the world is full of music!

Your very first composition-lesson is to learn to write a little melody.
Close your eyes and hum a little tune, no more than four or five notes.
Then try to write them down, with or without the help of a musical instrument. This is the way most composers start their carrier and if you do so you'll discover soon that you end up with something vaguely 'known', some already existing melody or some part of it. That's quite allright. It is because as a music lover you live in a given musical culture and you've heard and absorbed a great many melodies already. They live and develop inside your musical soul, ordered in a certain 'style', and they come out when you relax and let go, giving you a lot of musical satisfaction.
So far so good.
But if you feel you could go a step further and discover new ground, you could use a conceptual trick and look for the music that's hidden inside your own name.

If you are the Zeus of music and your name is BACH, and you furthermore live in a German-speaking musical culture where B means b-flat and H means b, you're really privilliged because all the letters of your name happen to be musical notes. But for the rest of us, the less privilliged ones - our names are full of musically 'dead' letters. Like the R,N, O and L in Arnold Schoenberg's name, leaving only nine of his original sixteen letters to be used in a composition. (Like Alban Berg - three dead letters: L,N,R, in his name - used them in his Kammerkonzert for Schoenberg's 50th birthday.) In this purely 'alphabetical' method I myself would have to sacrifice three out of my ten godgiven letters (the P, T and R.) It just seems not fair, not democratic and therefore arbitrary.

So let's look for a better method. Instead of projecting the alphabet on the musical notes (as does the traditional method) it would be better to do it the other way round: project the notes on the alphabet - music first! (The notes of a given tone-system -or 'scale'- that is.)
Worldwide there are basically three tone-systems in use, dividing the octave in either five, seven or twelve notes. They're called pentatonic, diatonic, and chomatic tone-systems,or scales.


We're now going to project these scales on your personal name, starting the alphabet in the month you were born. (To make the result even more personal, and in case you'd have a distant cousin with your name but not your birthday).


Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

In my case my alphabet starts in june:

          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z  
J F M A M J J A S O N D                                        

That is on the sixth note of the three scales:

Alphabet V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U
Pentatonic a b d e g /a b d e g /a b d e g /a b d e g /a b d e g /a
Diatonic a b c d e f g /a b c d e f g /a b c d e f g /a b c d e
Chromatic a #a b c #c d #d e f #f g #g /a #a b c #c d #d e f #f g #g /a #a

The notes are now projected on the alphabet,
producing for the letters of my name the following result:

  P E T E R a S C H A T
Pentatonic a g g g d   e d d a g
Diatonic g c d c b   c a f f d
Chromatic f #f a #f g   #g e a d a

Written in the current musical notation the notes:

(A little programme to make this easy for you is in preperation.
Then you only have to type in your name and the month of your birth.)

Thus the letters of my name are transposed into the three basic tone-systems.
But of course, this is not music yet.

Now comes the handiwork, the real work of a composer.
You'll have to bring these notes to life - with the help of tempo, rhythm and dynamics. You'll have to imagine the character of these melodies, and appropriate them, so that they really become yours.
So work on them till you like them - that's composing!

From the umpteen possibilities of my name-notes I choose
the following simple arrangements:

Alphabetic a

The last tune (chromatic) is the opening tune of this website.




For another example I use the name of Arnold Schoenberg
(born september 13, 1874 in Vienna).

There are again many possibilities to turn these notes into music.
For instance:


It may be clear from these examples that this method produces far richer musical material than the traditional alphabetical transformation, while at the same time it is more universal and less arbitrary.
Besides, you can give an easy-to-hum pentatonic name to children, a more difficult diatonic name to adolescents, and a complex chromatic name to adults.

You never knew you had three different melodies in your name!
They cover your entire life!

So in this first composition lesson you've already learned
how to make your name in music!
Use your personal tune for your mobile telephone!
Teach it to your friends and you will help to musicalize the world!
You will be amply rewarded!


I'm often asked to give composition lessons, and I've done so for years.
But now I want to confine myself to this site - for practical and experimental reasons.
This medium lacks, of course, the touch, the personal contact of a composition class, but it has the advantage of being more concise and more enduring. Through this site I can teach composition even long after I've disappeared, making this section the corner stone of the whole endeavour.

Just like the last 8 foot section of the Arch of StLouis (its corner stone) is kept at its place by the natural thrust of 325 tons of the rising collums: 

so is this part of the ninth hour kept at its place by the content of the rest of this site.
(See also ARCH MUSIC at two o'clock)

You can now begin to make a little melody or motive with the letters of your name - or with those of your loved ones and friends. And if you've absorbed the main musical and conceptual ideas of this site,and know by experience how a tone clock manipulation works, you can begin to develop the material of your musical signature. It is truly yours - even more so than anything else in music!

I'm sure you will be overwhelmed by the richness and variety of the material you thus obtain, and you will always find tone clock elements in it which will enable you further developments - according to the 'blessed rules, that forbid automatic responses'.
(See also at eight o'clock)

The names of six billion people out there (let alone their pets) are waiting for you to be transfigured in music. Composers of the world - unite!

(1 october 2002)

© Peter Schat
© design