What Does a Composer Do?

Composer writing music in studio

Music is the rhythm of life. It’s a universal language that enables people to connect with one another across language barriers and cultural differences. Although many people consider music an essential part of life, some are so passionate about music that they decide to make a career of it.

There are many career paths in music to consider pursuing, such as the role of a music composer. What does a composer do, and how can you pursue a career in music composition? This career guide explores some of the many pathways available to students with a music performance degree.

Understanding Composer Responsibilities

A music composer writes and arranges music. Composers work in a variety of environments and for a range of organizations. Some of them specialize in writing scores for television and movies, while others write music for TV or radio commercials.

Many composers write music for theatrical productions, such as musicals and operas. They may also write music to accompany a play or other artistic performance. Some composers specialize in a particular type or style of music, such as jazz, classical or popular music.

In short, composers can write a variety of musical scores — from full-length symphonies to solo piano pieces. The specific tasks that composers perform can include the following:

  • Compose original music for various musical groups to perform, such as bands and orchestras
  • Create new compositions for existing music
  • Write lyrics to accompany music
  • Assist fellow musicians in creating and recording their music

Pursuing a Career in Music Composition

A love of music is an essential prerequisite for a career as a composer, but passion alone is not enough. If you wish to pursue a career in music composition, you will need to plan on acquiring the right academic credentials. A music performance degree can enable talented musicians to pursue the following careers in music composition:


A copyist is like a proofreader for music scores. It’s their responsibility to ensure that the sheet music is as polished as possible before it’s distributed to members of a musical group. A copyist may work on music scores for any type of musical production, such as jazz ensembles, orchestras and musical theater productions, as well as music scores for television and film.

The composer or another music professional, such as the music director, passes the finished music score along to the copyist. The copyist then uses notation software to finalize the score and individualize it for each instrument or musician.

It’s common for music professionals to work as copyists while pursuing a different career. In other words, it’s an entry-level role that can serve as a stepping stone to pursue a career as a composer. Copyists also often work as freelancers.


A career similar to that of a music composer is an arranger. Although they do not write original music compositions, arrangers do apply artistic style and creativity to existing music compositions. They adapt and rework music compositions, such as by changing the harmony, tempo, orchestration or instrumentation.

Like composers, arrangers can work in a variety of settings. They may work on live music productions (such as musical theater), in the recording industry, or they may specialize in film and TV. Because an arranger has the ability to alter an existing music composition to a significant degree, this job requires just as much creativity and artistic vision as that of a music composer.

Assistant to the Composer

Music composers often have a small team that helps them create original music. The composer’s assistant is an invaluable member of the team. Landing this entry-level position can give you unique insights about the field and may give you a leg up in pursuing a career as a composer.

Like assistants in other fields, assistants to composers must complete a diverse range of daily tasks. These can include technical tasks such as updating and troubleshooting audio software, editing recorded audio or notating passages. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn in a music-rich environment, as well as to gain firsthand knowledge about the business side of the music industry.

Music Composer

After gaining real-world experience in one or more entry-level jobs, you may be ready to pursue a career as an employed or freelance composer. A composer may specialize in a particular style of music, and/or they may specialize in a particular medium. For instance, composers can write music for the following media:

  • Television and film
  • Concert and stage
  • Musical theater
  • Video games

In addition to writing original music, some composers decide to share their passion for music by becoming music teachers. A teaching artist is a professional who is an actively working artist — such as a musician — who also serves as an educator. Teaching artists may have residencies at universities and colleges, or in less traditional settings such as hospitals, museums or prisons.

Earning a Music Performance Degree

Although educational requirements can vary from one employer to the next, it’s customary for aspiring music composers to need a bachelor’s degree. There are many types of music degrees and a variety of concentration possibilities, like the Bachelor of Arts in Music with an Emphasis in Instrumental Performance.

You can pursue your passion with purpose at Grand Canyon University, which offers a wide selection of degree programs for students who are artistically inclined. The Bachelor of Arts in Music with an Emphasis in Instrumental Performance degree program instills strong competencies in musical theory and history, while refining students’ artistic style and voice. This bachelor’s degree program is aligned with the standards of the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). 

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to learn more about joining the dynamic GCU learning community as a music student.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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