Category Archives: Music theory

Music composition, rules and inspiration

Approaching music composition is a goal that lots of musicians or non musicians would like to realize. Is there a systematic method which, if followed to the letter, would make it possible for a person to compose?

Musical inspiration is not really explained by theory. It is simply the creation or combination of sounds in an original way, with a specific goal or simply for fun. If the result is appreciated by others, those can always try to explain why it sounds well, why it is well built, etc. But this “afterwards” explanation can be misleading, because one could conclude from it that the musical work could have been deduced from the theoretical explanation, whereas it is the reverse that occurred.

If it was only related to logic (whereas it is related to esthetics above all), it would be all right to assemble all musical theory rules and integrate them in a software. The computer would then be able to have inspiration. Unfortunately, its “inspiration” will be limited to copy, modify or combine the inspiration of those who, by their esthetic sense, succeeded to really create and whose works allowed to deduce rules of musical theory.

Therefore, do not fall into the trap: inspiration is above theoretical rules. In other words, if you like some measures of your musical composition, keep them even if these measures do not satisfy any theoretical rule at all. The process of music evolution is thus the following: inspiration makes it possible to create musical works. When these works are appreciated, people deduce from it some theoretical rules or musical construction systems. Then these systems and rules are studied by others. Where the latter fail, it is when they think that they will have the inspiration only by studying these systems of logic. They forget to place their share of esthetics in it, the essential source of musical inspiration and sound effects.

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Do not fall either into the opposite trap of rejecting all rules. Rules can guide you, especially when you lack experimentation in composition.

One could look at music as a succession of distinct, small or great sound effects, assembled to form a more global sound effect: a musical work. For example, the passage from a G7 chord to a C chord: it is a sound effect in the field of combination of several sounds. It produces a sound effect that the ear generally appreciates and it produces a specific atmosphere. Similarly, each sequence of two chords is a sound effect. The use of such or such rhythm is a sound effect. Combining two instruments creates a sound effect. Each one of these small effects can combine to create a larger sound effect, which is then characterized by a specific personality.

A melody is only a set of notes in a specific rhythm sequence, each one being a specific sound effect. The combination forms a melody, recognized among all others.

Thus music is a construction of sound effects sufficiently personalized so that a piece is unique and distinct from the others, while communicating what its composer wished to communicate.

The spirit of composition is thus to create sound effects to express something. Any method which produces that is a valid method. If a musician plays by ear and if, by research and work, he methodically manages to isolate the various sound effects of his instrument and if he can then selectively produce them in a sensible way according to what he wants to express, then one can say he composes music.

Let us break this into three phases:

  1. The methodical location of sound effects
  2. The possibility of selectively reproducing them according to what you want to express
  3. The coherent construction of musical work

The sound effects can be located in various ways. Listening to lots of music with an attentive ear will help you. But to do only that is likely to make phase 2 very difficult, even impossible, because you still cannot connect the sound effect to what you need to do to produce it. The practice of an instrument will be complementary, because it lets you associate the desired sound effect to the technique to produce it. Listening and playing will give you basis for inspiration, but you also need some ability to synthesize and listen so as to mentally classify and integrate the various effects your instrument can produce.

Phase 2 is more active. It implies that you have something to express, to write into music. You can start from almost anything (an emotion, a landscape, an idea, an atmosphere…). Then the trick is to find, in the sound effects you assimilated, the right combination that expresses your message and which is specific to you. It is your capacity of choice and creativity.

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Phase 3 requires more experiment and comes gradually. It concerns the ability to develop a coherent work, where every element goes well together. It is the link that will bind the ingredients. One needs a link between the various passages of your work. This link can be rhythmic, melodic or be based on combinations of sound effects. Start with relatively short pieces before writing a whole symphony.

These three phases are interdependent. Only the practice of composition will help you to refine these three phases.

The purpose of any musical rule should be to help the composer to combine sound effects while helping him to free his musical imagination and stimulate his inspiration. Three types of rules could be met, corresponding to the above described phases. And the software tool can be very helpful in this direction. The current version of Pizzicato music software (see already offers various tools. The next versions will continue in this direction, the goal being to help you to compose.

Dominique Vandenneucker

Designer of Pizzicato.


You and Arpege Music Software – Special program for educationalists – Why a partnership ?

Motivations : they are yours

As your students are also your clients, we can suggest to be a part of your ongoing market strategy : do you want to buy software for your students ? Do you want to suggest to your students to buy software ? Both at special pricing.

We offer special pricing for education (discounts of 50% at least). And so what ? If you do not want to offer your time to make it know, it will not be efficient.

We present features, modern tools to help emerging artists to share and publish. And so what ? If expensive marketing campaigns made by the leaders of the market capture your attention, it is useless. And also if we do not position in a realistic way !

So, the real question maybe is : what is the way you want to drive your school or classroom ? and what may be your motivations ? Do these motivations meet our path or not ?

If your main goal are…

To expand the reputation of your school

To help your students

To make benefits with a view to preparing new projects

To open new ways to own creativity

… and that you are decided to give time and some space to present our music software to your network (first your staff then your clients)…

Then we can help you…

To find efficient and original tools

To share (computer) music knowledge with your classroom

To help other demanding teachers and students

And why not to increase your income (for example by creating a music method with our software)

Is your primary objective not on that list ? Then please, explain it to us. We want to learn from you and especially on these subjects :

What is your professional network and how can we help it in an efficient way and so deserve your confidence ?

What do your students need and how can we help you to support their target ?

Frequently heard questions and remarks…

Often we hear :

A lot of teachers feel insecured in front of music software because they think the tool could replace them. And self-taught musicians do not need tools to learn music.

Our philosophy is to ‘bring music to everyone’ however we do not think that it can happen without teachers. Especially for the learning of classical music, but also for other styles.

‘Make the switch’ and get fun tools for young pupils and students who are ‘over-connected’ and will certainly study much more willingly with ‘fun-but-serious’ tools like ‘Harmony and Counterpoint’, ‘Pizzicato Composition Pro’ and ‘Pizzicato Notation’ for example (more information at

music teacher and artist

Gwen (Belgium) is a music teacher however she appreciates that Pizzicato professional includes such a complete music course. Chris (Belgium) is an emerging artist (Belgium) who uses ‘Pizzicato’ to compose and he produces albums for his spouse who has a real audience and makes shows. 

Is your software academic and efficient for teachers who are also composers ?

Composers like Blair Ashby – Denver – and Mona Lei – Geneva – as well as many performing ensembles chose ‘Pizzicato’. Recently a professor in Berkeley ordered the program (he is a hobbyist however an academic person). No VIP however real professionals and their number growths.

composers and chorists

Photo : Blair Ashby (USA), Mona Lei (Switzerland) and French chorists who use Pizzicato

What about the quality ? 

Judge yourself :

Encoding Pizzi by pro

Encoded with ‘Pizzicato Keyboard’ by a professional (click on the image and see the scale of 100%), the typesetting is clear and beautiful…

Encoding Pizzi by student

Encoded with ‘Pizzicato Light’ by a student (click on the image and see the scale of 100%), one little step further in music knowledge…

Also, at home, the student can listen to the result without the teacher, so the acquisition of the knowledge is more easy. 

And we offer extraordinary deals for teachers and perfect technical service. That is why we already have 13 000 customers worldwide.

Teachers and students are not interested in software but only in sheet music / instruments. And we help them to find a publisher.

Often it depends on the fact that the use of a software is suggested or not. There is the question of the time and also the question of the space and the material dedicated to computer assisted music courses. If at least one teacher has the motivation to do it, he will get students.

The fact is that musicians do not need us to learn music of course, but sharing is easier with a software today. It can even be a popular way to disseminate music and get an audience when the young composer has some difficulty to find a publisher.

The software does not bring popularity and complete professional achievement in itself, however it can help the teacher and the musician to present decent sheet music books to music publishers, so it is a help to music publishing and licensing. You see here a method (2 books) created with Pizzicato Professional by Mrs. Nathalie Tagrine and published by Les Editions Van de Velde (France) :

Méthode Tagrine

Tagrine piano method (2 sheet music books) : created with Pizzicato music composition and notation software for the greatest joy of children

And for young teachers and artists who often have to produce music on a budget, they will appreciate cheaper (but high quality) ‘solo products’ like ‘Pizzicato Guitar’, ‘Pizzicato Keyboard’ or ‘Pizzicato Percussion’. If they are comfortable financially, ‘Pizzicato Professional’ can really be their personal ‘auto-publisher’ and help them to insert sheet music into numerous online databases.

Our main purpose is to support a music school and we cannot afford  the price of expensive software even with discount…

We have a completely free educational program for our elementary product ‘Pizzicato Light’ and special pricing for 8 products including ‘Pizzicato Professional’, ‘Harmony and Counterpoint’, ‘Pizzicato Notation’ and ‘Pizzicato Composition Pro’. Money is just a way for us to be sure that we can continue to develop quality products.  (more information at

Now are you motivated to present Pizzicato to your network ? If yes we suggest you to examine page and you can write us at for more information

The Infinite Variety of Music

Little introduction : Leonard Bernstein


The infinite Variety of Music is a very original and personal music theory book written in 1966 by the American conductor, composer, pianist and pedagogue Leonard Bernstein. L. Bernstein (1918-1990) directed during 15 years the New York philharmonic orchestra and also wrote the famous musical drama ‘West Side Story’.

Some chapters of the book are the exact transcript of telecasts and others are analyses, informal lectures but all thoughts come from observations based on the experience of L. Bernstein (career, public relations, …).

L. Bernstein at the piano (1955)


Two and three, opacity and transparency, emotion


Let us give an example of L. Bernstein’s ‘observations’  : in a telecast, he talks about rhythm. Not as a teacher in his class : ‘Pulse is everywhere in our lives’ looks like a calling, a powerful affirmation. Like L. Bernstein’s belief that ‘Much music is triple… the 3-concept is alsmost as fundamental as the 2-concept… almost, because 3, basic as it is in music, is not grounded in our biological nature… perhaps that’s part of our finiteness. Three is an invented number, an intellectual… concept.’

It is the same when L. Berstein talks about atmosphere, ‘a general climate, which is not the same as a totality of a work, because that does not involve the formal structure’, ‘however it is an important thing to have conceived’.

Music can be opaque or transparent, in the first case music notes does not refer to anything else than themselves, in the second they refer to ‘non musical things’, for example the viability of an idea. Indeed, the composer chooses an idea even if choice is not always conscient and choice is linked to communicability. The idea behind the music can be non-musical, for example patriotic : for L. Bernstein jazz is ‘sounding American’. It is so true that serious composers as Milhaud and Gerhswin included it in their work.

When he talks about emotion L. Bernstein begins to talk about his own music and says that he never consciously put emotion in his music, but for sure unconsciously.


The infinite number of choices for the composer and his relationship with the public


L. Bernstein considers that ‘googol’ is the best word to qualify the great number of choices that a composer has because it was invented to shorthand any number consister of a digit followed by 100 zeros. The composer is ‘the mind and heart with something to say, something to communicate through this vast mathematical language’ that is music.

During the baroque, the classical and the romantic periods, the composer had a direct relationship with the public. He was creating pieces of music, he was influencing the public by creating trends : ‘the composer has been the manipulator of musical dynamics, responsible for change and growth, creating the public taste and then satisfying it with the appropriate nutriment ; while the public… has nourished him by simply being interested.’

However this is no longuer true until Debussy, Mahler, Strauss and the early Stravinsky. The situation is now : ‘composer versus public’. And L. Bernstein dares to give his opinion to the ‘why’ of that reality : ‘I cannot resist drawing a parallel between the much-proclamed Death of the tonality and the equally-trumpetted Death of God’. Maybe L. Bernstein did not know for example the work of Arvo Pärt which became clearly christian during the ’80. However L. Bernstein says something about the situation of contemporary music in the first part of the 20th century.


Short conclusion : a main target for contemporary music composers


He also notices that ‘Pop music seems to be the early area where there is to be found vitality, invention, fresh air’. And here we surely discover the main goal of ‘The Infinite Variety of Music’, which is to build new bridges between contemporary composers and their public. A goal that is still current in the 21st century.


“Toward a unitary music theory?”

What is the basic common denominator of all music styles? Why do we like some types of music and not others?

Since about twenty years, these questions guide me toward a fundamental research in music. The subject is not new and Pythagoras already determined that the most harmonious intervals were related to simple mathematical ratios (for instance, a perfect fifth is formed by a ratio of 3 vibrations to 2).

If the structure of the harmonics of a sound and the scale intervals are explained in almost every music theory or harmony course under the sun, these mathematical considerations are quickly forgotten by the student for the rest of his curriculum.

But would these concepts of relative proportions have something else to unveil? I strongly believe so. There must be a small number of basic natural laws that could explain and unite the various elements found in harmony, counterpoint, rhythm and orchestration for any music style, whether tonal, atonal, micro-tonal, ethnic, techno or acousmatic.

Such a theory must provide a more subtle and finer analysis of music than is possible today and bring a much better understanding of the musical phenomenon. I called it unitary music theory.

It is one of my goals in life. Even if I am still far from the final results, I have accumulated some interesting elements and I would like to share them with you. I am also open to – and even searching for – any collaboration in this vast and exciting field of research.

The ultimate goal is a practical theory, not a pure academic knowledge. It happens in the frame of the development of a music composition software that would be really intuitive, where the user would not need to be enclosed in a notation system or learn elaborate music theories when his only purpose was to express himself/herself as an artist. Too many theoretical barriers still exist today and musical creativity should be available to anyone.


Photograph : Pythagoras and Philolaus experimenting musical pipes

Post written by Dominique Vandenneucker (Arpege Music Software Development CEO)

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