- Wendi Shi
How to Compose Music For Relaxation
Updated: Jan 10
Background I started composing music for piano in 2013. Initially it was purely for personal enjoyment and creative expression. When I started sharing my composition in 2015, the feedbacks I got from listeners all reflected the following: my music helped them relax and find a sense of peace. I was very intrigued by their responses and started composing more, each time tweaking a few elements (key signature, tempo, rhythm, harmony, etc) to see what kind of response it would elicit. Over the years I’ve made a collection of over 50 pieces (piano and strings) of music. Below I share my personal experience with music composition for relaxation. I've included research literature that support those techniques in my previous blog (see "Music Composition for Relaxation- Review of Literature).
Elements of Music When I compose, I often start with the melody. I usually have a melody in mind before I sit down at the piano. Other times the inspiration doesn’t hit me till after sitting in front of the piano for a while. I like to record myself instead of writing down the score note by note, as this gives me freedom to explore my creativity and space to be spontaneous. Other times when I don’t have a melody in mind but have a certain mood I want to portray, I start with the chords. I would create a chord progression that captures how I want the piece to feel, and then build a melody on top of it.
Tempo The tempo of music for relaxation should be between 60-80. Research shows that the ideal music for stress-reduction should have tempo at or below a resting heart rate (72 bpm or less). Avoid changing the tempo during the song, and if it does change, do it discretely so that it will not distract the listener.
Melody The melody should be fluid and follow stepwise motions. Avoid leaps greater than a perfect 4th or 5th. After a great leap in melody, try to fill in the gap with step wise ascension or descension. The use of the 7th is great for tension and release (V7 resolves to a I chord) but avoid dissonant melody that clashes with the accompaniment.
Harmony Harmony should be pleasant to the ear. This can be accomplished through the use of simple and consonant chords.
Accompaniment: Dynamics and Rhythm Arpeggiate the accompaniment in a thin texture, and in a lower register than that of the melody. The rhythm should be predictable without sudden changes. Avoid loud block chords and syncopations. Avoid sudden changes in rhythm and dynamics.
Articulation The Articulation for relaxation music should be as legato as possible. Avoid extended techniques on strings. If the composer feels like being creative with staccatos, make sure it is not more than for a few lines. Let the staccato voice be in the accompaniment, and make sure there is another voice (melody) that is legato on top of it.
Key and scale Use a major key (Ionian scale) with predictable and consonant chord progressions. The pentatonic scale is also appropriate for relaxation music. Use the minor key with discretion, for it can elicit emotional response from the listener that might be contraindicative to relaxation
Range Use a narrow pitch range, at least for the melody. Repetition and simplicity are the key to enhance the relaxing nature of music.
Tonal Qualities Majority of my compositions are in piano. Sometimes I like to layer the pieces with strings to add texture. Research shows that for relaxation music, use piano, flute or strings (Robb, S. L., 2000).