So I have been producing music for around 2 years now, and am an avid listener to many genres of music. I have never been taught music or music theory, but used youtube to get a fundamental albeit basic understanding of theory. I have, again, a limited and basic knowledge of composition. In terms of practical ability I have a great sense for rhythm and enjoy (semi-randomly) improvising on my keyboard - playing scales over backing tracks and trying to come up with cool chord progressions.

Now, I have come to a point where I really want to get to grips with music, and develop/learn a deep understanding of it, so that I can create and write emotional music that I love more seamlessly and with more purpose. I have a particular attraction to the sound of jazz, specifically. My lack of knowledge and lack of direction in terms of learning theory and how to learn to practice piano improvisation more efficiently is hindering me. I cannot afford a teacher, so I want to ask for guidance in the realm of self-teaching. I want to learn all about theory, harmony, composition and be able to apply this to my playing/ composing of complex music. What steps do you recommend I take in order to do so? I have time and am more than prepared to invest in this process, so please throw anything you have at me. Thank you.

2 Answers 2


Keep in mind that I am very much a classical oriented pianist/composer, however I do imagine many of the things I will discuss also transfer into other genres, including jazz.

Their are two effective to learn what you desire that is will discuss, 1. is by studying, learning, and playing other pieces. While having an instructor is extremely helpful (and I fully recommend it when/if you find yourself in a stable position to afford it) you can be successful without it. 2. Quite simply do it.

You should analyze what the greats have done and build off of them. If you want to have a true understanding of what Composer's have done, make sure you have a decent understanding of music theory, however you do not have to be a "music theory guru". Even without the music theory, learning to play the music does wonders. As you go through a piece make note to yourself the patterns, progressions and other elements that build the feel and the style.

Before you start a piece, go through it and analyze the chords, cadences, contour, and any other elements worth noting. After analyzing the piece, start learning it and build your own style off of the music you enjoy. No composer starts off entirely original, they often take influence from musicians of the past, but over time they develop their own unique style. By doing this you develop improvisational skills, composition, theory, harmony, and probably other skills that I can't think of at the moment.

While I am a bit bias, I would still strongly recommend that you study classical pieces as well. There's a reason that classical has it's name, it is the origin of all western music. There you can learn from some of the greatest composers to have ever lived. Just for the sake of time (my time not yours. I'd rather not spend hours listing all the pieces I think you should learn) I recommend you learn/study from Bach's 'Well Tempered Clavier' which is often called the old testament of piano music, and Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, which is known as the new testament of piano music; however, take time to study more than just that, and to study music that you actually enjoy to listen to.

The other method of course is to just do it. The best way to become a good composer is to compose. The music doesn't have to be amazing, because fact of the matter is, every day you will get better. Even on days that you don't want to, force yourself to compose for just a little bit. Some of the best works I've ever done is forcing myself to work when I can't think of anything, or don't want to.

Hope this helped, Good luck!

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    Thank you for this extremely helpful reply - I greatly appreciate the effort and though that went into it! I want to ask you, in terms of practicing and analysing music, how can I do so if I cannot sight read, or have the knowledge about chords to aurally pick up on them? Could you point me towards any books or methods of studying the theory itself so that I can boost my learning process? Before this answer I didn’t know what candences or contour even were! Thank you once again.
    – DPJDPJ
    Apr 17, 2020 at 13:43
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    @JamesDebenham On YouTube there is a channel named "Christopher Brelloch", Dr. Brelloch has recorded the lessons he gives in college and posted them on YouTube. Just go ahead an start watching through his "Dr B Music Theory" playlist. It'll teach you everything you need to know A good place to train your aural skills is on musictheory.net I highly recommend you learn to sightread, however if you are unable to, while you build that up I recommend just slowly going through hands separately. You can analyze music without being able to sightread, you just need the theory knowledge to do so. Apr 17, 2020 at 14:15

If you are serious, I'd suggest taking some music courses (maybe at a community college to start) designed to help people become composers. There are some websites that are useful. I've suggested various free books in other posts (I don't remember them but you might find them by search.)

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