Can someone point me to the right resources (books/videos/anything) that can get me at least started in the right direction on understanding how to compose music and apply music theory to guitar soloing. I'm talking instrumental rock/progressive metal. (The kinds like Jeff Loomis, Steve Vai)

I've gone through some music theory books and I don't feel they help me enough with composition. I've always practiced improving my skill but now I want understand the science behind being composing music.

Should I be memorising where each note is one the guitar, learning scales, or doing something else? Everyone might not have the same approach to composing music but would be nice to know how people have tried doing this.

Edit: To be more clear, I'm hoping if someone has adapted a definitive step-by-step approach. Something like: Step 1. Do this , Step 2. Do that ...

Sure there are sure plenty of resources, but it's all scattered and I don't know which one to pick up after I'm done with one. I'm looking for advice on a program that I can follow.

Edit: I found something similar to what I'm looking for here Progression path from an apprentice to a guru in music theory?

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    Asking for recommendations for specific books or resources is off topic here. I studied music theory in college and afterwards, and at least consciously, I never use it for composition. Learning to play a bunch of songs, making the playing of music easy, learning patterns, learning how other musicians have broken those patterns, and just practicing coming up with ideas is how I learned to write. I also opened myself up to my inner voices and I dont try to write to a genre. If it comes out happy, that's what I'm writing. If it comes out angry, that's what I'm writing. My genre picked me. Apr 19, 2017 at 13:31
  • Any suggestion, if not exact resources, on how and what to practice would be good because nothing I've tried has helped me in learning composing music.
    – tushar
    Apr 19, 2017 at 13:36
  • "Should I be memorising where each note is one the guitar, learning scales" That would be a start - so long as you realize it's only the first step on a long road. You learn to compose by doing it. Your first attempts will be train-wrecks, just like everyone else's first attempts. Figure out what's wrong with then, and try again. Rinse and repeat!
    – user19146
    Apr 29, 2017 at 23:07
  • Take a look at the book "The Guitarist's Guide to Composing and Improvising" by Jon Damian. It contains tips on starting points for composing (and improvising), like e.g. three note motifs. Quite inspiring read. May 5, 2017 at 12:29

2 Answers 2


I am unsure of books, physical resources etc. However, learning scales fluently is a must when improvising and composing (which are, in essence, the same thing).

Something that helped me, practicing songs/pieces over and over, not just so you can play it, but so you are comfortable with the feel of the music. You should be able to add notes in, take notes out, add or adjust little ideas within the pieces and have it still sounding good. Once you learn to improvise/compose around other pieces, improvisation and composition from scratch is so much easier.

As to your mention of the science behind composition, music is not a science as such. You should learn keys and what chords go with each key: this really helps with improvisation because so long as chords are within a certain key, it will sound good.

However, with composition, you should also break some of these rules, not all the time, but occasionally. As said by Hans Zimmer:

"If there's a rule, break it, that's the only way to move things forward."

For example, where you 'should' (theoretically) resolve to a minor chord, switch it to major, push the boundaries and see where it takes you, this way you will discover your own style, as well as discovering what sounds good.

For learning keys, the quickest and most efficient way is 'brute force'. Do not use acronyms as in the long run they slow you down. Simply learn the lists. This is what my theory teacher taught me and it has stuck with me since.

Learn the order of flat and sharp keys so that you can say them in the order out loud without thinking, make it instinctual. Flats: (C), F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb. Sharps: (C), G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#. Then if need to know how many flats are in the key of Eb, you just count on your fingers: C (0 flats), F is 1, Bb is 2, Eb is 3 - 3 flats in Eb major.

You can similarly learn the order of sharps and flats this way. Flats: B E A D G C F. Sharps: F C G D A E B.

You should learn that to convert a major scale to a minor scale you simply add 3 flats to the signature (or remove 3 sharps).

To work out which diatonic chords go into a key, practice the scales by selecting a random note and playing the major and minor scales of it. Then build triads off of each degree of the scale, playing around with inversions.

By practicing this regularly you can VERY quickly get used to keys, chords, scales and therefore composing/improv.

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    Thanks for the answer! Science was just a metaphor. I understand that I should learn keys and chords that go well together but what I want is advice on how to achieve that.
    – tushar
    Apr 19, 2017 at 17:59
  • I will make an edit in my post to include this!
    – Ben Hughes
    Apr 19, 2017 at 20:05

Compose your music first, derive a 'theory' afterwards, if you feel the need.

For progressive rock soloing, get fluent in the pentatonic scale.

Soloing over a chord progression is not composing. Inventing the progression is a first step towards composing.

If you REALLY want to compose, sit in front of a sheet of manuscript paper and write something. If you feel that that learning the language of music is an unacceptable burden, I suppose we can let you work directly into a sequencer. But put the guitar down for now. It's about composing music, not about learning tricks for playing widdley over someone else's composition. Isn't it?

(I wonder how long this post will survive? :-)


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