Six I's of Composing

The 2 Constant I's


  • study counterpoint, theory, orchestration, musicology, performance, dance, drawing, photography, floral design, etc.
  • "I believe strongly in the philosophy of composing by intent, not out of ignorance..." - Dr. Robert Frank (SMU)โ€‹


  • promote your work by meeting with performers, conductors, and organizations
  • be in community with other musicians

The 4 I's Involved in Every Composition Project

Adapted from Scott McAllister's Four I's of Composing as described on pp. 53-54 of Tori L. Patterson's dissertation.


Value this early stage work. It may seem like it takes a lot of time ... and you may feel like you waste time improvising or searching for inspiration ... but know that this is part of the compositional process and your time spent and material created during this step has great value. Ideas come about in one of two ways (or sometimes in a combination of these two ways):
  • Improvisation
    • think of yourself as an explorer discovering (listen!)
    • brainstorm ideas, experiment! โ€ฆ and just write them all down in clusters disregarding the order of the ideas (write notes, words, gestures, motives, colors, textures, dynamics, choreography, etc.)
  • Inspiration
    • only rule = do not sit around and wait to be inspired = inspiration comes through doing!


Value sketches created during this stage = respect your work - you have created valuable, unique, creative drafts.
  • build the skeleton of the piece (form, outline, map, time-line, chart)
    • you may need to go back to Idea to come up with more motives, textures, clusters, etc. to incorporate into your structure
    • write down in words what it is you want your piece to sound like
    • in some cases, it can be effective to begin by planning the end
    • you don't write down or orchestrate all the notes at this point
  • set limitations:
    • create limits for the work (length, instrumentation, form, etc.)
    • create limits for your composition sessions (must compose 10 measures in 20 minutes, for example)
    • proof setting limitations works: it seems easier to compose once you have composed much of the work ... that's because you set limits (the limits being the already composed music)

Inscription (Ink)

Implement the infrastructure ideas by writing down all the "notes" ... in other words: make the work reproducible by creating complete instructions enabling others to perform your work without you present.


Fine tune!
  • examine the piece carefully and critically
  • read through the entire score multiple times (hearing the music in your head rather than listening to what notation software plays back)
    • check if everything is timed well
    • listen for "flow"