Composition Lessons

Welcome to my teaching page. I offer online composition and music production lessons (via Skype) covering a range of topics, including harmony, counterpoint, musical form, and orchestration.

Four-Part Harmony

Studying harmony is to look at the basic building blocks of Western music. With the exception of avantgarde music and some contemporary classical composers, most music in the Western canon (classical as well as popular/jazz/folk) is based on a simple set of harmonic principles. Harmony is mostly founded on triads, combinations of three notes stacked in minor or major thirds.

From this basic premise even the most advanced harmonic textures can be constructed. By looking at how the individual components of a chord (i.e. the three notes that make up the basic chords) relate to each other and to the corresponding notes in previous and following chords we get to understand the hidden dynamics behind the feelings, moods and excitement generated by certain sequences and configurations of chords.

In this course we'll start from scratch, assuming no previous notation skills, and gradually build up to write full Bach-style chorales for four voices. This tried and tested approach to learning harmony has been the basis of composition studies for centuries.

Sample lesson: Similar Motion For Dramatic Effect


Counterpoint is the study of how two or more musical lines can relate to each other elegantly. The least contrapuntal starting point is simple parallel movement. When two lines run parallel in 4ths or 5ths as in plainchant, or in 3rds as in some of Mozart's string writing, the lines don't differ in terms of outline, high or low points and other fundamental characteristics. Purely from the point of view of counterpoint, there is nothing of interest to this type of combination.

Where it gets interesting is when we start to prise apart the two lines/voices and end up with two lines that have very distinct characteristics of rhythm, shape, dramatic arc etc. The art of counterpoint is to be able to quickly spot how two voices can complement and help support each other, while giving each other space to breathe and shine independently.

In this course we start with simple one-voice melodic writing in order to hone the skill of writing effective melodies. We then gradually add voices and complexities of rhythm, until we reach the point where we can write full canons in four to five voices.

Sample lesson: Good Melodic Writing

Musical Form

Form is the study of musical structure in time. When we look at the structure of a musical phrase, of how figures are used, or how larger pieces such as Rondos, Sonatas, Menuets and Variations are put together, we're looking at musical form.

This course starts from the smallest components of music above individual notes - figures and phrases. Moving up through sentences, themes/subjects to sections and then to whole movements we discover how a set of simple principles (repetition, contrast, A/B, A/B/A) can be used to form highly complex symphonic movements.

Through examining these "pinnacle" forms where musical structure is at its most complex, we get a sense of the scope and possibilities of simpler forms such as songs, simple ABA structures or thematic forms like traditional film scores.


Orchestration, perhaps the most well-known of the composition disciplines, is the study of how to use individual and sections of similar instruments together in an ensemble context.

In practice, this means isolating the different instrument families one by one and becoming familiar with their mechanics and the challenges they each face for the players.

In this course we'll progress from writing etudes for solo instruments from each family (e.g. Oboe, Flute, Violin, French Horn, etc) through section writing (strings, brass, woodwind, percussion) to finally writing for full symphonic orchestra. Along the way we'll learn about the peculiarities of register and dynamics of all the orchestral instruments and become intimately acquainted with the natural, "idiomatic" sound of each instrumental voice.

Other topics

Other areas also covered on request:

Advanced MIDI orchestration:

Learn tips and tricks for enhancing orchestral mixes and virtual performances

Musical analysis: 

Use advanced knowledge of harmony, instrumentation and form to analyse and learn to compose in any chosen style. 

Skype lessons are usually weekly for one hour, with substantial practical homework set each week. 

More information

Email me now to get in touch for further info or to book a starter lesson.


Contact details Robin Schlochtermeier

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