I am a computer engineer and a passionate music listener. I have been listening to movie scores and soundtracks for many years now and it has really inspired me to want to learn more about music and how to create it. I am especially inspired by Hans Zimmer's work.

I have no knowledge of western music or terms of music of any kind. I want to learn to compose and produce music and I don't know where to start. I basically want to learn how to produce music for film and T.V. Nowadays people are making amazing music using computers and I am wondering: how do they do that? It is not quite possible for me to go to music school to start learning music at this time.


  1. Is music theory necessary to compose music?
  2. I want to compose music on computer (DAW). What are some things that I need to learn that will allow me to do this?
  3. Does learning piano or keyboard give me enough ability and knowledge to start composing music with a DAW?
  • First off, you'll need to invest some money if you want it to sound at all real... Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 14:05

8 Answers 8


What you're asking is similar to "I want to write great software, but I'm not a programmer and have no knowledge of computer science or programming or anything like that. Will I be able to write great software if I just get the right IDE?"

I'm a programmer too; take it from me: YES theory is extremely important for what you want. Given that you are a programmer, I don't think you would need to take lessons in a school; you're probably used to learning new stuff by yourself (new languages, frameworks, tools, etc).

Learning theory helped me greatly in all aspects of my music: listening, arranging, playing with a band, composing, etc. That amazing music you hear in TV shows, etc was made by people who know a lot about music; the DAW or anything else they use to create the music is secondary to their knowledge.

In your case, getting the right reading material would help you a lot. I recommend you get your hands on a copy of The Jazzmaster Cookbook by Jim Grantham; if you find it too advanced to start with, get some other books about music theory so that you get up to speed on the major scale, minor scales, you know how a chord is made, how to make new ones, infer valid chords within a given scale, etc. Then you can move on to the Cookbook, where you can learn a lot about improvisation, composition, arranging, creating melody lines, chord progressions and all the stuff you need to create new music.

Learning some keyboards will also help you a lot; you'll be able to play stuff in real time instead of just creating music with point-and-click. Even if you don't record your final piece by playing, it will speed up certain processes such as testing new sound patches, effects, etc. You don't have to become really good at it, just some basic chords and melody with the right hand will be very useful to you, and you can get a small MIDI controller, 1.5 or 2 octaves (a really small keyboard that you can have on your desktop, connected to your computer, ready for whenever you need it).

Don't be afraid/discouraged/lazy/whatever about learning music theory. It's not that hard, although the way it is often taught may not be the best way for a programmer to learn it, I bet you will quickly pick up on the underlying structure and logic; don't get too entangled on the chord naming schemes and all that nomenclature stuff; what really matters is that you understand how a scale is made, a chord is made, how they relate to each other so you can make your own chord progressions, melodic lines, etc.

  • 1
    Perhaps OP is satisfied writing hacky spaghetti software? ;-) Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 16:24
  • Right heheh... he never said what kind of computer engineer he was...
    – Chochos
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 18:21

I'm happy to hear you're brave enough to start producing music with no musical background but being a passionate listener.

You don't need a lot of money to do great sounds but in the beginning having a sample pack, great VST plugins and full version of a DAW does speed up the process of learning. ~300€ for the software and samples will do fine for more than a year. Don't begin with too difficult DAW. You can always try a demo version before choosing your way. In my early days I did use the free demo version of Fruity Loops for more than a year, it worked fine.

Also, you don't necessarily need to know terminology, music theory or how to use the DAW. I personally know professional musicians with very little knowledge of the theory behind their music. I also think that too much theory does make composing and using your imagination difficult. Your current lack of knownledge can be used as an advantage if you have the time to try and see certain things for yourself. That is the best way possible to learn and begin making music your own way.

If I got your question 2) right, you must be asking "What should I have" and "What should I do".

You already know the soft- and hardware you should have. I can't really say if you should get a MIDI keyboard or not. The keyboard does give you the ability to actually play something and figure out the connection between a key on the keyboard and a certain sound. It's sometimes faster to sketch the outlines of a melody with the keyboard and make a simple melody really fast. If you buy keyboards, consider carefully the amount of octaves you need to be able to play. More about this concern here.

Then again the 'point-and-click' way doesn't restrict you to only composing something you can actually play. For orchesteral and soundtrack -kind of music you are able to pick notes for a chord freely from a wide range. I've done this, it's possible and it's easy. You don't have to learn scales or notes first or buy a keyboard. Besides, it's free.

Having a little knowledge of music theory, you can still train your ear. If you compose music, you have to be able to hear "good" and "bad" notes. Train every day by listening music and trying to copy melodies to the patterns on your DAW either by clicking with your mouse or playing them on keyboard. As soon as possible begin making your own music along with just playing with the melodies and trying new things. Your first song may be a short loop and that's absolutely fine.

The best thing you could possibly do is trying to achieve a certain sound and melody from a song you like. If you put time and effort to it, you will most likely come up with something better, not the exact replicate of the riff. That will also give you a template from which you can easily modify something different by transposing single notes and playing with rhythms.

Something concrete you would begin with would be making a melody with strings. For that you will need a soundbank covering about 8 octaves of string sounds. Concentrate only on making a good atmosphere with long chords, you can move to rapid arpeggiations later. Imagine for example the song played in the beginning of a movie. Play a single note, find another note that sounds good with the first one, play them together. Then find notes played after the first ones that satisfy your ear.

Another style to compose is to pick three or four chords for a bassline. Then improvise a melody played along with the bassline. Always think also from the listeners point of view: would I listen to this or not? What would Hans Zimmer do if this was his song?

Exact answer to your third question is: No. I have a friend who has been playing piano for 13 years. He is really strictly restricted to scales, circle of fifths and other rules not yet being capable of composing music. If you want to learn how to compose music, don't focus on learning something else. I don't agree with the other answers telling you to read books to learn how to compose. You will most likely get bored and not coming up with anything new.

  • yes! theory is useful, but only if it's linking back to what your ears are telling you. Best thing for this person would be to try and produce some DAW "covers" by ear, and learn what's going on in the music they already like. Creating using your ears is what gets someone composing, not reading books (while books are great to take your composing onto the next level).
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 12:05
  • 1
    I'm unashamed to say my first "in" to properly understanding music was through getting a DAW and just messing around. Cheap version of cubase, about 10 years ago, with the default VST instruments and a cheap microphone. Can't say I had the most immaculately produced work haha, but I certainly learnt a lot, and grew massively as a musician from my tinkering. And these days there is so much free information out there, and free VSTs/soundfonts are completely passable, you could probably make some half-decent sounding stuff with little money. Certainly learn an awful lot from trial and error.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 13:47

Is music theory necessary to compose music?

I remember writing a little tune (about ten years ago) just to try out a computer program. At that time, I knew nothing about music, and I had no interest in learning to compose or play music. I basically wrote a couple of measures (I had no idea what a measure was at the time) using only trial and error. It took me much longer than it should have because I had no idea what I was doing.

Theory is important, but I think most people give it more attention than it deserves. Not knowing any theory at all can slow you down a lot (too much trial and error, unless you have ears like Mozart's). Knowing too much theory can restrict your creativity, and keep you from developing your ears. For example, one of the first things you learn in theory is scales. Scales are made of 7 or 5 notes (most often), knowing scales means that you have only 7 notes to choose from instead of all twelve notes. So knowing scales speeds you up. But it also makes it harder for you to use chromatics (notes outside the scale) because you're always expecting the notes to come from the scale.

Short answer: you can compose without without theory, but it would be extremely difficult to compose without training your ears. Focus on ear training, and learn only basic music theory (major minor sales, basic chords).

I want to compose music on computer (DAW). What are things that i need to follow to make me capable of that?

I can't answer this question since I don't use DAWs. I use notation software like MuseScore.

Does learning Piano or keyboard gives me enough ability and knowledge to compose music basically on DAW's?

Yes is does! To be able to write music efficiently, you need good ears. And to develop your ears you need to experiment and try out ideas quickly. Not only does the keyboard allow you to do so, but you can also use it as an input device to your DAW. In fact, I think it's very hard to achieve anything without one (or at least some other instrument). Anybody who's serious enough about composing on the computer uses a midi keyboard no matter what instrument they play simply because it's much easier and quicker than the mouse and keyboard.

PS: Don't forget to train you ears. Try this free ear training tool: Functional Ear Trainer. It's my favorite ;)


  • wonderful wonderful wonderful answer. When I hear people saying you must read and read before trying to create for yourself, it reminds me a little of this youtube.com/watch?v=D_orL8BFFqo
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 13:49

A quick note for when you decide to start using a DAW: If you have a Mac, it has GarageBand on it for free. GarageBand is a full-featured DAW, and since it doesn't cost anything, it's a good tool for learning how to use a DAW (an entire skill set in itself). It isn't as powerful as other DAWs, though, so at some point, you are going to want to buy something better.


Here are the basic answers to your questions:

  1. Technically no, but being a computer engineer it should be very simple for you to learn basic theory. You can get away with knowing nothing about music and making a good rhythm or melody, but music theory will help you understand why it sounds good and will help you if you are creatively stuck.

  2. I would personally get your feet wet first in just basic composition before you star using a DAW. I would recommend getting a trial of finale notepad because it is rather simple and you can do a lot without having to record yourself playing or trying get two samples to act similarly. The only downside is you would need to understand basic theory to make the software useful because it is based off creating sheet music. For that program, you need nothing but your computer. If you are set on doing a DAW though, you would need an instrument of some kind and an interface between your computer and your instrument.

  3. Because most DAW would have you record yourself, you would need to have a good grasp of an instrument before you could effectively write and compose music. I would invest in some kind of keyboard and try to get basic lessons. Keyboard have a wide range of sounds and instrument types.

Like stated above, I would take baby steps and not just try to jump in head first. I will make everything a lot easier if you learn a little at a time and then try to compose little pieces and then move towards your goals.

  • 1
    You don't really need a MIDI or USB keyboard to work with a DAW. It makes certain things easier or faster, but in most cases you can draw out the notes you want with just mouse and (computer) keyboard. I have done it both ways, but now I usually use a grid controller to input notes. There are plenty of good producers out there who don't play keyboard very well.
    – charlie
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 20:42

If you want to get started creating music quickly on your computer, with no knowledge of music, I would recommend looking at a loop-based DAW such as Sony Acid. With these systems, you can download loops, which are bits of recorded music on various instruments, and combine them on your computer to make new music without knowing how to play those instruments.

Acid has a free version so you can get started without spending any money.

To answer your questions: It is possible to create music on your computer without any knowledge of music theory or the ability to play an instrument. However, if you are serious about creating music, learning how to play a musical instrument will help greatly.


If you are willing to learn major and minor scales, and Basic Chords on a keyboard, you can do so by applying these simple formulas.

W = Whole Step H = Half Step

Major Scale: W W H W W W H

Minor Scale: W H W W H W W

You Can Build 12 Major and 12 Minor Scales by applying the above said Formulas

Now Major Scale is 1st note + 3rd note + 5th note

Minor Scale is 1st note + 3Flat (reducing half step) + 5th note in the respective scale.

Other wise you can use another formula to find chords.

Lets take, C major.

Now root is C Count 4 keys leaving C and reach the 4th key on the keyboard

1st Key - C#/Db, 2nd Key - D, 3rd key is - D#/Eb, 4th is E which is the second note in C major Chord. Now to find the third note, Count 3 more keys leaving E, and the 1st key is F, 2nd key is F#/Gb and the 3rd Key is G. Now hold the Ist key C, 2nd Key E and 3rd Key G together you C E G which is the Cmajor Chord.

Like wise for C minor the inverse of C major which is Root + 3halfs + 4 halfs which is C D#/Eb G.

Like wise you have formulas for all 6th chord, 7th, 9th to 13th chords, augmented, diminished, even for Chord progression which i am not able to explain now....

I know this doesn't make any sense to you at the moment, but when you learn how the chords are formed, it is going to be very easy for you to form chords instead of remembering all lot of notes and stuff. I hoe this might help you to some extent to start off....


Since you mention that you're especially inspired by Hans Zimmer's work, you may want to take a look at this:


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