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I have been playing electric guitar for 5 years and have pretty decent technique. I have a decent ear too (I'm still improving it). I listened to rock guitar virtuosos like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert etc, and I was influenced by classical composers, especially Bach from the Baroque period, my favorite period. Since I've encountered Bach's music, I have an ambition to compose something, for example Fugues. I know it's pretty hard.

For that I need to learn music theory (harmony and counterpoint). I can't read notes by doing solmization, although I know which note is it when i see the staff, but I am aware of many musical terms like intervals. I am 19.

Is it too late to start learning music theory and composing? I don't have any teachers, unfortunately. Is it possible to learn music theory on the internet and through books and be a self-taught composer?

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    It's far, far easier to learn theory/sightreading/etc. on one's own than technique. – Matthew Read May 8 '15 at 14:17
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    BTW, I didn't start playing guitar until I was 19. Then I started learning music theory, sight singing, bass, harmonica, drums, keyboards, music production, recording, mixing, mastering, etc. I've performed professionally in rock bands and pit orchestras. I've been paid to record and produce as well as mix live shows, and I've taught several different instruments and classes in music. Plus, music is the great love of my life and the more I learn the happier I am. So... I'm pretty sure 19 isn't too late. :-) – Todd Wilcox May 10 '15 at 6:12
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    I've had students start from scratch on their 70s. They had no problem with the technique or theory. – Jay Skyler Sep 12 '15 at 21:18
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    Too late at 19? I didn't start learning music theory until I was 50. And I couldn't real music at all at that time. But learning music theory and composing music are rather different things. – Simon B Jan 20 '17 at 20:52
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Absolutely not late at all. Not only is it never late, but you are extremely young. I started learning classical music at the same age as you (I am currently 28), and I now compose and play piano and am starting music school as a hobby (late night after work classes).

I did all my theory learning via self study. You can definitely find resources online.

I used the following book Harmony and Melody, which taught me the foundations of music. Prior to reading this, I was able to read music, but no expert at sight-reading. Note that that book is very old, however it is good information and very well organized. You can also find any newer books on "fundamental classical music theory", just by doing a google search. For now, do not worry about counterpoint.

Composition will require you to spend consistent time studying theory and composing in order to be "good" at it. Look into obtaining the Finale software, which will allow you to hear your own compositions <- extremely helpful.

I highly encourage you to do this, since I did the same and am very grateful for it! Please let me know if you have any other questions; I am very happy to help you since I know how confusing it can be without formal education.

  • You have encouraged me very much and got happy to hear your post. Is it important to have sight-reading as a skill? I am trying to compose by using MuseScore, I have a melody ringing in my head but it takes me a while to find next note for example.. It is because of my inability to sight read I think. And did you start learning piano at 19? Thank you very much for your time! – user20273 May 7 '15 at 20:43
  • The book is not quite old compared to the music the OP is talking about, namely Baroque counterpoint. This is one of the advantages of studying classical music: your resources don't get outdated very easily. – 11684 May 7 '15 at 21:02
  • @user20273 Specifically on fugues: m.hooning.myahk.nl/analyse/fuga/fuga-tekst-en-red.pdf (Dutch link, English PDF). I should mention substantial theoretical knowledge and solid sight-reading are prerequisites, but it is very much worth it. For me, it was a real eye-opener when I read it. – 11684 May 7 '15 at 21:18
  • @user20273 It is not important to have sight-reading as a skill in order to BEGIN learning theory. As you are forced to analyze notes/chords/harmonic progressions, you will gradually become better and better at reading notation and understanding what you are looking at, similar to how when you read these words, you don't read every individual letter, but rather groups of words. I first touched a piano at age 19 @ a college music theory class in order to help with my production (used to be into DJing). Once I found classical composition, I never went back to production. – lobi May 7 '15 at 22:30
  • Fugues are extremely interesting, and just like you, the fugue is what piqued my interest in counterpoint. I remember picking up Fux's book on counterpoint in order to try to learn the fugue. I also remember trying to write my own two part contrapuntal piece based off of Bach's Art of Fugue. Stay away from the fugue form until you have a solid grasp on fundamental theory (harmonic progression and key relationships, modulation, common melody techniques, etc). Actually this conversation brings back memories of Harmony and Melody, which was an excellent book now that I remember... – lobi May 7 '15 at 22:34
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When you are 19 it is never late for something. If you want to learn music theory and composition you have time until 25-30 after that you still can learn it but your advancing will slow down.

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You can start at any age. I started with

Basically, you can build an arsenal of tricks and rules; your first pieces might be very simple, but they will be pieces. They might not "follow all the rules" yet - if you want them to - but they can still sound remarkably good. Just dive in and start. Like anything else, the more you learn, the more there is to learn. I'm very much a beginner, and I came up with this fairly quickly http://www.youngcomposers.com/music/listen/6611/disturbia-a-fugue-in-d-minor/ The more you read and write, the better you will get.

Finale Notepad is free software you can download.

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I started college two years ago at 23 and despite the age difference between my peers and myself, we are all learning the same material at the same rate. Being 19, from my point of view, puts you ahead of the curve and I would strongly encourage you to get started yourself. So far it seems that you already have an impressive amount of prior experience which you can build off of.

In regards to lacking teachers, to be honest, the most I've learned in college so far has come from Internet research and help from the citizens of the web (thank heavens for the Stack Exchange community). Nevermore guitarist and composer Jeff Loomis commented about his lack of formal musical education in an interview,

"...My definite answer to other kids out there that want to play the way I do is really to come up with your own style and technique and just try to be yourself. Try to be an innovator and try to come up with something that's original. It's very important that you do that."

While his words may not come off as impactful, he has an excellent point in saying that the most important element to composition isn't learned: it's innovation. If you have the drive, there is no such thing as "too old" to get started.

  • If you want to do rock, then you can just "innovate" and not really pay any attention to theory. If you want to compose traditional classical music, you can't innovate until you have a solid foundation in western harmony (contrary to what a lot of "musicians" will say...). ^ in my opinion. – lobi Jan 21 '16 at 22:17

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