This is coming from a musician that is now about 1 1/2 years into music study. I started by learning about the basic languages and theory of music, and like to just improv (badly, really badly) on the piano. After about 6 months of no progress I spent 1 year learning about 10 songs by ear, 2 of them were on guitar and I transcribed it to piano. These songs all range from difficulty levels of about 4-7 on a 1 to 10 difficulty scale.

After I started taking the diligent and structured approach to learning one song at a time by ear, I suddenly started composing music in my head endlessly. Sometimes I could stop it and control where I want it to go, and other times it naturally flows and I don't bother to edit it as it goes. Sometimes I think about the theory and sounds of all of the songs I learned and I mix around the songs I know in my head. If I hear songs of any variety or genre, my head is always making music along to it. Now here comes the part where I need some guidance in order to ensure that I develop in my ability to improvise and compose in a freely flowing way, as I do in my head, but on an instrument.

I studied Pablo Picasso for a little while when I realized that the only thing stopping me from expressing my own personal flavor of musicality (on any instrument) is years of technical training. Pablo Picasso said that art only flows at its best when all of the technical issues have been resolved by the artist. So my musical anxiety was relieved when I realized that my intuition about my technique needing lots of practice, which was the key to becoming really good, was validated by Pablo Picasso.

So I have to make a decision. In order to maximize my improve/composition repertoire on just the piano, I have been considering just going through the slow process of transcribing what I here in my head into one key (C#) from the simplest melodies and rhythms, to their most complex and technically demanding forms I can imagine, all mixed in with endless and flavorful transitions. I also am dabbling in taking parts of songs that I have learned and putting them into C sharp, and mixing those with my own music, and basically just building up my rhythmic and melodic playing technicality in the key of C sharp for like a year, with the end goal of just being so comfortable with with C sharp and all of the sounds I hear in my head at a moment's notice in my head while sitting at a piano, wherein which I could just musically play for hours without any pauses or interruptions that consist of me thinking about, "Oh where is that sound I'm hearing in my head on the piano, and damn this is a hard pattern to play due to the relation my left and right hand have to have with one another in making the music".

So, based on my own self analysis, progress, vision, do I seem like I am headed in the right direction? Of course my long term goals beyond a year are to be able to learn much more songs difficult and easy by ear and many instruments and to be able to improvise and compose comfortable on all of them in a variety of keys, and record music with all of them.

  • 3
    Can you give use a two-sentence version of your question? (I read your post and am still a bit unclear on what you're asking.)
    – Richard
    Nov 21, 2016 at 20:12
  • haha sorry. After re-reading I could tell it was a bit unclear. Did not re-edit because I thought it might be clear enough. Ok Two sentence version.
    – david
    Nov 21, 2016 at 21:40
  • Put many sections of songs I know into the key of C#. Put what I hear in my head into the key of C#. Spend hours and hours of teaching my fingers all of the techniques and patterns that derive from imaginative sound I hear in my head, until I reach a point where I can basically improvise very well in the key of C# for hours on end.
    – david
    Nov 21, 2016 at 21:50
  • 3
    How about one sentence that ends in a question mark? (No questions in your comments, BTW) Nov 22, 2016 at 0:24
  • 1
    There is no "right direction" in the sense of "the one true path to success". But you have started doing two things right - you are using your ears, and your brain. Just stick with those two "big ideas", and enjoy the ride to wherever it takes you.
    – user19146
    Nov 22, 2016 at 1:05

3 Answers 3


I agree with the comments that as long as you enjoy what you are doing keep it up. However, if you want to take Picasso as an example and work on your fundamental technique you can start by practicing scales and arpeggios in all keys. This helps build a basic foundation of muscle memory in the fingers. If that is too stifling try practicing in the context of improvising. Then try all the different intervals. Try singing them then playing them and try singing and playing at the same time.


Play along with other songs. Grab an instrument and play over background music. Match, harmonize, work at coalescing seamlessly.

The best way to improve your composition skills is to pick up an instrument. I recommend spending time learning a stringed instrument, a brass instrument, a wood-wind, and drums. When you get the basic aspects of a "full band sound" together, your ear will improve dramatically and so shall the depth and appreciation of your compositions.

Consider learning bass, like cello or bass guitar. If you have the time and the resources, it becomes a great task. First you start like a baby, then you learn to crawl, then you learn to stand, and finally to walk and to sing. If you can invest some of your life time in learning new aspects/facets of the musical intervals then you will have that much more range.

Also, the twelve-semitone octave is a western advancement. Really, if you want to delve deeply into composition, look for relationships between notes.

For example, playing an A at 433Hz and an A at 866Hz is a perfect octave. All the tones in between are within the octave, and there are infinitely many such tones. We divide them into 12 compartments by convention, but the really interesting learning comes in understanding the relative relationships of tones. What is resonant on an instrument is not necessarily accepted by modern convention, and you can delve into learning music more deeply by adopting different worlds traditions on music, such as carnatic music (the sitar and so forth).

So in short:

  • Pick up instruments that operate in intervals you don't hear as clearly as the rest, and this shall train your ear and your mind to compose in those intervals.

  • Explore microtonal and fretless instruments and compositions to expand your acoustic horizons

  • My understanding of intervals is solid in the sense that I have learned many pieces on guitar and piano using interval knowledge to figure out all the songs by ear (chords melodies and timing between both). My mind is always composing music using sounds and intervals and rhythms that seem to appear from nowhere, and sounds and intervals taht I have learned already or have heard from some random song. My "improv sense" is strong because I can always imagine chords and countermelodies along to songs I can hear. The point of my question was to just to make sure that
    – david
    Nov 24, 2016 at 4:38
  • this understanding I have is the necessary and solid foundation, for
    – david
    Nov 24, 2016 at 4:43
  • moving in the right direction of being a one man orchestral improviser that just needs to build his technique to a level in which, whatever he hears, he is already playing on the instrument without having to figure the notes and rhythms one step at a time like when figuring out a song by ear. The example of Picasso was used to show that the music and understanding, and potential of further understanding is already within me, and i just need to go through the
    – david
    Nov 24, 2016 at 4:46
  • hours of technical practice that leads to my fingers having the spatial memory on the instrument linked to musical radio in my mind, just as my fingers have the spatial memory of the English alphabet on the keyboard I am using, and whatever concepts I wish to describe using words and sentences in English, are easily transferred from language center of brain to spatial center of brain, to motor functions connected to muscles, bones, and nerves in hands and fingers.
    – david
    Nov 24, 2016 at 4:46

I'm a piano player too. I started in C then moved to F since it was on the opposite ends of the keyboard. Looking back I should have choose G since it's more popular. My point is that it is good to learn one key and do it well, but you should really learn something on the opposite end since a lot of songs sound much better on the opposite end.

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