Rules Of Music-making

While there are no creative disciplines that have rules that can never be broken, all of them seem to have a failrly limited set of "do’s and don’t"s. Just a few examples off the top of my head: In writing, don’t mix tenses (present, past, future). In photography, there’s the “rule of thirds”. In movie-making, make sure people engaged in dialogue face each other. All these “rules” are not set in stone, but you generally shouldn’t break them unless you really know what you’re doing.

What I’m wondering is, are there similar "do’s and don’t"s for making music? It would be nice if people could post their ideas about this here, and maybe link to web-pages that go into more detail about why and how.



Rule #1: Do not set up rules when making music ;)

If you want some guidelines though you can always study music theory, there you will find much help. You shall not see music theory as rules though, rather as guidelines that helps you to find suitable patterns and harmonies that sounds good faster than you will do with a trial-and-error method…

I’m at work now but can post links to music thory-sites when I’ll come home.

if you make classical music, don’ t use a bass drum and boum tchh boum tchh boum tchh…


Right, I guess “rules” was a bad choice of words, and it should have been “guidelines” :).

Some links to good sites about music theory would be much appreciated.

well, I think I know what you mean.

I guess you mean rules which produce a “proper” or “commercial” result. for example photography, there are certain rules if you want a “clean” result, for example you need to pick the right film, choose a correct lens, the correct point from where you take the picture, how wide the lid is opened and how long (I dont know the english terms for this stuff, sorry).
now, changing those rules or ignoring them leads to creativity, for example, polaroid pictures look awful from a certain point of view, they are too bright, they have a nasty color-shift, but then exactly this can lead to something we call “art”. but, as I said, it only could lead to something creative, as most of the time it will simply be a “bad picture”.

as with movies, watch for example “adaptation” from spike jonze with nicolas cage, its basically a movie they made for charlie kaufmann, because he wrote a script about himself and the problems to be a script-writer in hollywood. there are some great scenes in there, for example where he is sitting in a writing-seminar, his voice in the off telling us what he thinks about, but then it suddenly gets cut off because the teacher infront of the class yells “and I dare you, never use a voice from the off to tell people what your main-character thinks of, because its cheesy and sucks”. great movie and you might learn something from there :)

I think everyone has its own rules or preferences he follows while doing something or which make him go puke or cheer in joy when consuming something

For example, a few of the things I tend to follow or which make me to like/dislike music :

I hate it if drums dont follow the groove of the rest of the song. if someone makes music with samples like piano, bass and so on and creates a certain rhythm with those and then just puts a drumloop over it which does not at all play the same groove with the basedrum/snare/hihat combinations, I go puke. I hate that and I spend alot of time arranging my drums.
Also, I dont like uninspired/non-thought-of melodies. There are certain kinds of electronic music aswell as some freejazz stuff which is just way too chaotic for me. (especially with the jazz stuff I get kinda disconnected from the music if someone plays a solo where he seems to try to play as much notes as fast as possible, without any apparent connection to the rest of the music going on).
however, there are people who may like exactly that.

and so, if you look at it closer and closer, all those “rules” finally crumble apart, because they might not be important at all if you do something special. (For example, I could say “well, atleast try to mix your song right”, but then again … there are tracks which sound great because the lower frequencies of the basedrum and the bass-sound modulate each other, altough normally you try to avoid that at any cost, and there is so much lo-fi music out there which is just great the way it is, awkwardly sounding).

so I guess the only rule I can think of is that creativity is the bending or ignoring of rules and guidelines, but bending or ignoring guidelines does not automatically lead to creative or good results, mostly it leads to crap.
just because you bend rules doesnt make you creative, you still need to know what you do.

this is actually quite common in classical marches.

Yeah, that’s pretty much what I meant, although not necessarily “commercial” (as in “Britney Spears”). To stick with the photography analogy, many pictures suffer from the “tiny subject surrounded by large open space” syndrome. This is typical for amateur photographers, since the brain tends to magnify whatever a person focuses their attention on.

I guess another way of asking this would be: What are the things that make you realize a track was done by a newbie? And the reverse: What are the characteristics of a track that make you think it was done by a pro (Or at least someone who know what they’re doing)?

This topic was inspired by this page by the way.

Unless you’re Era, and make a living off of gregorian music with beats :).

My first rule when making music: always know your limits! For example, if you just cannot make that piano/guitar/whatever sound real, don’t try to make it sound real. Rather try to make it sound like you INTENDED to have an unreal sound, and if you don’t want that either, simply don’t use it at all.
I think there almost always is some way to make a flaw work for your advantage. It’s like trying to shoot a movie with an old camcorder, everyone will notice that you just didn’t have the proper equipment, so why not try to find a creative way (a la blair witch project) to use the camcorder to your advantage?! :) Everyone would think you used an old camcorder because you wanted to, not because you couldn’t afford better equipment :D

But that’s just my opinion

when the hell did Era become classical music? mozart would personally castrate the whoe Era gang if he had a chance to meet them.

so please… if you absolutely have to make classical style music, avoid doing what modmaker says. because if you dont, you are not making classical style music. simple as that. thats a rule you can write down.

“if you make classical music, don’ t use a bass drum and boum tchh boum tchh boum tchh…”


i’m also curious when trance style beats was used in a classical march? i know they were using marching drums, but huh??

i think there are rulez if you want to reach something e.g. in a emotional way or if you want to make your music interessting and varied. music is a language and there are things like theory of harmony and so on - compareable with the camera movement in movies and so on … but tracking is a thing that break this theoretical rules coz most time totally unskilled people try to make music. everybody defines his own rules and the feeling defines the rules. sometimes it’s hard for me to find an end of a song or a beginning and i would be happy to know more about theory of harmony … but the advantage of less knowledge is the possibilty to create totally new stuff far away from all typical stuff :)

That’s a stupid rule… Classical music is so boring it could use a heavy house beat to spice it up a bit. Surely there have been remixes like this, although I can’t think of one now. But maybe remixes don’t count as making music?

Boring? Boring?! How can something so wonderful be boring? How can something that has the power to mesmerize you, to send shivers up your spine, to make you laugh, or even cry, be boring? :huh: All right, classical music is not your thing, but boring – it is not.

oh well, maybe he hasnt heard the good stuff yet. I have a few classical pieces of music amongst my favourate music ever.

i agree music itself should not have rules.
but if you intend to make music within a specific genre, you must follow certain “rules” … and for instance, its pretty self explanatory that you dont make 4/4 bassdrum/clap/hi-hat stupid trance beat when making a piece of music in the classical genre. if you make trance, BE MY GUEST! :)

Haha, just boomtchboomtch is not the invention of trancers. Although it was never overused in classical music as it’s today, it was only used in certain fragments of some compositions, but I can assure you: it’s not so new as you think.

The problem with calssical music is that it’s incredibly conservative. Why did I heard of only one concert for electric guitar solo? Why so few composers used synths and modern percussions in their tracks? When the classicals wanted to make some revolution they produced dodecaphony, which totally scared off listeners and that’s why today people call it ‘ugly’, ‘boring’ etc. Luckilly the revolution failed, now all the dodecaphonic composers compose tonal things again, but I still think why the hell don’t they use those inventions of last years? Today people don’t remember about it, but it took about 60 years for the composers to start really using clarinet in their compositions. Why? Because it was back then used in folk music! The same was in 20th century with sax. Bullshit. So don’t get surprised when people don’t like this music. Throughout 300 years of symphonic orchestra history very few instruments have been added and the music itself haven’t changed much. It IS boring.

i think classical music is truly an art, other form are just minor art

This music will never die

it’ s the cut of the edge of music

Only very high skilled musicien can do this

If you dont agree, try to compose a symphonie…


Wow… that caused a lot of reactions… :) What I meant was that classical music doesn’t tickle my nerves. I really have no feelings for it at all. Probably because I never tried to listen to it… I’ll do that some day.

modmaker, what is your base of opinion that classical music is the highest art in music? Complexity, personal taste or something else?