"How fast can someone ramp up their skill set in Composition? (or How Long Does It Take To Learn Composition?)”

The other day, I sent you guys an email asking what would be the one big question you had about how to become a composer...

After hitting “Send” I went to compose the themes for a new movie I’m working on and really didn’t give it another thought until I finished at 2 AM.

I was ready for bed! Tired. But I decided to take a quick look and see if anyone responded yet… and…

I couldn’t believe it!! ???

Well, now I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to! I was too curious and had read your questions.
I started with one, then another, and another. Pretty soon I noticed several questions were repeated over and over and over and over again… And I thought:

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if I answered each one of these questions for the next few days?”

So that’s what I’m going to do! I'll be answering the questions that are repeated the most.

But why wait?! Let’s get the first one out of the way today:

"How fast can someone ramp up their skill set in Composition? (or How Long Does It Take To Learn Composition?)”

That’s a great question with a multi-faceted answer that I'm going to try to break down for you. But to do that, I want to give you some context first.

It seems like every day I hear someone harping on the traditional route to education only to find out they’re so against it just because it’s not the route THEY took. In fact - they really don’t have ANY first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to attend a college, university, or conservatory…

… and that always frustrates me.

So, as I give you my opinion - just know, I don’t have all the answers - NOT. EVEN. CLOSE.

If years of traditional study is the route you wanna take - who am I to tell you otherwise. I’ve made plenty of costly mistakes in my life thinking it was the right path - but that’s just life.

What I will tell you is that I began studying music at the age of 6 with guitar lessons…

Followed by conservatory at the ripe ol’ age of 7 years old - that time when boys are usually learning what it is to catch frogs or play sports… I was deep into sheet music… which always made me a little different than the rest of the boys my age.

For the next 13 years - YES -THIRTEEN YEARS! I studied music at conservatory. When I was 20 years old - I finally finished!... well… conservatory at least.

The next two years were filled with 5 courses at Berklee Online.
Done?... Nope! Still more to learn...

After finishing at Berklee I was awarded a scholarship to USC and studied Film Scoring Master.

WHEW!... - nearly two decades of my life spent studying just so I could do what I wanted to do - work as a composer in the film industry.

So… there’s that route… I took it… hundreds of other composers have taken it…

But the truth is - would I do it again? NO.
Why? … the whole truth and nothing but the truth??…

My time at USC was $40k. Half scholarship. Half loan. A LOT of money for me. I had no idea if I’d ever be able to pay it back. Fortunately, I started doing music for movies soon and royalties helped me pay back the loan, but it still took 7 years.

My time at Conservatory cost me 15 years of my life. Now - if all those 15 years were packed with action steps that I could take and use in the “real world” it’d been worth it. But, sadly - that wasn’t the case. There was more useless info than helpful info and most of my time felt wasted. I wanted to be a composer. I didn’t care about classes like music history that - sure, nice to know - but didn’t help me find my first or next project.

My time at Berklee Online was expensive and with little accountability, just tough to stay motivated. I took Orchestration 1 and 2, Music for Video Games, Electronic Music, and Composition for Film 1 and 2 totaling $7k. The biggest problem I found was staying disciplined to show up and do the work.

No one is going to force you to. Full transparency - In some of the courses, I followed through. Others I didn’t. It felt like I was just wasting more money that had taken me years to save. And now - I don’t even have access to that content anymore.

So… back to the question - How long does it take you to ramp up your skillset? This depends on where you decide to study. You can take on the national average of $30k/per year in college - and spend the next 21 years paying off the loans… using whatever you learned that happens to be applicable to your career.

You could attend a music conservatory for 10-15 years, check off the boxes of all the required classes (relevant or not!), and learn from teachers who haven’t been working professionally for YEARS.

Or, you could go a non-traditional route and learn from the experts through Youtube or online courses… but in this field, it’s very very very hard to learn when you’re given the content and then you’re on your own to apply it. Since it’s often not enough to just have one course or learn from one expert you get stuck in the cycle of shiny object syndrome. You keep going from one video to the next one, or from one course to the next one. They keep recommending new stuff you should learn or watch based on their interests and you enter this never-ending loop that makes you feel like you’re never ready to move on.

You’ve probably been there. Or maybe you’re in the loop right now. How many courses have you purchased? How many have you completed? How many have you used?

Frustrating. Right?

I believe that if I’m going to invest my time and money in whatever education I choose, I deserve to learn everything that I’m told I will in order to achieve the result I’m after…

… AND I want to do it in the LEAST amount of time possible…

… AND I want to enjoy myself and walk through the least amount of pain possible during the process to get to the end.

So for me - after suffering through traditional AND non-traditional education I came up with a better way.

It’s what I consider a hybrid education. A fourth option.

??I call it “Challenging Education” or “Interactive Teaching”.

To better “get” what I’m talking about - indulge me for just a minute longer - I know this email is getting long and you’re busy, but it’s important…

… Just a minute longer - I promise.

Briefly think about a moment in your life when you learned something that you can still remember to this day.

Isn’t it interesting that you held on to the knowledge for years, but you may not be able to remember what the last book you read was, even if it was just weeks ago?

That’s because when we read something, we remember 7-12% of it.

If we have a conversation about it, we remember between 20-30%.

If we practice it we retain 50-60%.

Now… here’s the amazing part - if we have to apply what we’ve learned in a problem-solving situation that challenges us, then we not only retain 100% of it but we also make perceptions that go beyond the initial learning.

Isn’t that awesome?

This is because it engages us mentallyphysically, and emotionally.

It educates in an entertaining way and it empowers us because we solved a problem...

… When we solve the problem, we get a dopamine hit (a chemical that creates natural reward circuits in our brain). What’s that all break down to??...

We feel good and we want more of that thing, which equals - we practice it more often and master the skill faster.

Pretty incredible bio-hack, huh?!

And because this is the best and the most effective way to learn things quickly... we modeled this concept when we built Momentum some years ago.

And you know what?! It worked so well with our students. They keep growing every day and their results inspired us to do something even better.