The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition

If you liked The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, you’ll love The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition. It’s the next step in your musical education!

You’re no idiot, of course. You know that composing music requires more than humming a few bars and belting out some words. And whether you’re writing a three-minute pop song or a two-hour orchestral movement, the rules are the same.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition will take you note-by-note through the mechanics of bringing your music to life. In this next book by popular author Michael Miller, you’ll get:

  • Tried and true techniques that help you create popular songs, classically structured pieces, film and television scores, videogame soundtracks, and more
  • Instruction on how to compose music both chords-first and melody-first
  • Methods for developing simple melodic motifs and themes into longer compositions
  • Tips for creating interesting chord progressions, using chord extensions and substitutions
  • Advice for orchestrating and arranging your compositions — and creating complete scores
  • Tips on how to employ both traditional and contemporary compositional techniques

Get your music out of your head — put it on paper and get it performed! Here’s more of what you’ll find in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition:

  • Learn the theory behind basic chord construction
  • Discover how to compose a memorable melody — and fit it to an interesting chord progression
  • Create tension and release in a melodic line — and extend the melody with repetition and variation
  • Learn voice-leading techniques for multiple-voice compositions
  • Select the right instruments and voicings to express your musical ideas
  • Apply your skills for different types of compositions — from popular songs to serious concert pieces

What’s In the Book?

Like its predecessor title, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, this book mixes information and instruction in an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand format. The information you can handle on your own — just read the text and look at the musical examples. The instruction is in the form of musical examples and end-of-chapter exercises. You should play through the examples as they appear in the text, and when you get to the end of each chapter, work through each of the exercises. The exercises are particularly important as they both reinforce the techniques introduced in the chapter and enable you to write your compositions based on those techniques.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition is composed of 18 chapters, each of which concentrates on a different aspect of composition. The chapters are organized into five general parts, as follows:

  • Part 1, “Before You Start,” describes various types of composition, and details the tools you need to start composing your own music
  • Part 2, “Harmonic Composition,” addresses the art of composing music, chords-first. You’ll learn how to create a harmonious chord progression, how to use both standard and extended chords, and how to employ chord substitution to create more sophisticated compositions.
  • Part 3, “Melodic Composition,” is all about the melody — to me, the most important part of the composition. You’ll learn various techniques for creating great-sounding melodies, including the use of scales and modes, structural tones and embellishments, rhythm and syncopation, melodic contour and flow, and tension and release. You’ll also learn how to fit chords to a melody — and reharmonize an existing chord progression.
  • Part 4, “Developing the Composition,” shows you how to turn a basic composition into something more substantial. You’ll learn how to develop a short melody into a full-length work, how to use repetition and variation, and techniques for creating multiple-voice compositions.
  • Part 5, “Advanced Techniques,” moves beyond basic composition into more specific — and more sophisticated — musical areas. You’ll be introduced to the topics of orchestration, chromaticism and atonality, contemporary composition, and that unique type of composition we call songwriting.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition concludes with a glossary of musical terms and the answers to selected exercises presented at the end of each chapter in the book.

Corrections and Clarifications

As happens with any printed work, a few errors slipped into the initial printings of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition. These errors will be corrected in subsequent printings.

This page lists all the known mistakes or confusing passages in the book. If you happen to come across any other errors or confusing sections, please feel free to use the contact form located elsewhere on the website.

  • Chapter 3, p. 28: Third paragraph, second sentence, the text reads “Because ii also leads to IV…” It should read, “Because ii also leads to V…” The following chord progression is correct.
  • Chapter 3, p. 28: Working Backward from the Final Chord, third paragraph, the IV doesn’t lead back to the ii chord, nor dues the vi lead back to the iii chord (the IV does, instead).
  • Chapter 3, p. 34: Final sentence on the page, should read “the key of A natural minor” — not C minor.
  • Chapter 4, p. 44: Third paragraph, second sentence, it should read “When you write a chord in the root inversion” — not first inversion.
  • Chapter 6, p. 69: Pentatonic Scale, final paragraph on the page, note that the text states that C pentatonic is C-D-E-F-A. This is incorrect; C pentatonic, as noted in the accompanying musical example, is actually C-D-E-G-A.
  • Chapter 7, p. 86: In the musical example illustrating non-neighboring connecting notes, the second note in the first measure should be an E, not a D.
  • Chapter 7, p. 90: The items in Exercise 7-2 are slightly mislabeled. They should go a, b, c, d, e, as you would expect.
  • Chapter 15, p. 191: In most modern bands and orchestras, the A clarinet is actually more common than the E-flat clarinet. (The B-flat clarinet remains the workhorse, however.)
  • Appendix B, Chapter 13, Exercise 13-1e, the answer is incorrect. The notes should be A#, D#, F#, G#, A#

Author: Michael Miller

Publisher: Alpha Books

Published: October 2005

Page count: 264 pp.

Price: $18.95

ISBN: 1592574033

Purchase at

Comments (2)

  1. Wally Lepore June 20, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Michael, I noticed that in your book titled, Idiots Guide to Music Composition, there are two different covers. One is blue and the other is white. What is the difference and/or which is newer?

    • Michael Miller June 20, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      Wally, the white cover is the original and the blue is from a later reprint. Both covers are on identical books, the publisher just changed their cover design mid-stream and wanted to bring all the older titles in line with the new design. Same books inside.

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