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This free 5-Day Composition Challenge is taking place April 29-May 3rd, 2024 to celebrate the launch of the Synthase Composers Academy. Beginners are welcome!

How to Prepare

  1. Join the Discord. If you don’t already know, Discord is a convenient and free app for web and mobile for communities to discuss things in real time. This is where you’ll be able to ask questions (hmmm maybe like “What are the prizes?”), and where we can discuss, troubleshoot, and compare notes before and during the challenge. Click this link to join our Discord community.
  2. Decide if you’ll be using a DAW or notation software. You’ll be able to participate in the challenge with either a DAW or notation software, as long as you can work comfortably with MIDI, including importing and exporting.
    1. DAWS that will work great: FL Studio, Ableton Live, Cubase, Logic Pro, Garageband, Bandlab, Soundtrap (see note below)
    2. Notation software that will work great: Dorico, Finale, Sibelius, Musescore, Flat (see note below)
    3. A note on feature limitations: Some free software options, like the free versions of Soundtrap and Flat, limit your ability to export MIDI. If you use either of those options, we have a workaround for you. If not, consider using something else at least for Day One.
  3. If you’re new to this, pick one of our recommended free software options and get acquainted with it. Throughout the challenge we’ll be offering step-by-step guidance in both Musescore (notation software) and Soundtrap (browser-based DAW). If you’re a beginner, we highly recommend you choose one of these two so you’ll be able to follow along.
    1. If you have a Mac or PC, read music, and want to be able to write for live instruments, pick Musescore. You can download Musescore for free here. Here are some tutorials on how to use it.
    2. If you want to make electronic music, have a Chromebook, or just want the simplest option, pick Soundtrap. Soundtrap is browser-based, so there’s no download. Sign up here (the free tier is fine for our purposes) and check out these tutorialsNote: later when you join the Synthase Composers Academy, you’ll have access to a full, comprehensive Soundtrap course 😉.
  4. Block out some time every day April 29th-May 3rd. In the mornings (US Eastern Time) we’ll release videos with the days instructions. You’ll then work on your own during the day, upload your results, and then watch the livestream for feedback.
    1. Block out at least an hour each day to watch the videos and work. You may want more time if you’re a beginner.
    2. Mark your calendar for our live streams, each day during the challenge at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern. This is where we’ll be able to give you personal feedback on your work and additional tips for composing.


We hope you’re as hyped as we are about this! In case it wasn’t clear when you signed up, this is not a competition—the prizes are being drawn on a raffle basis. You must submit work for at least three steps to be eligible for a prize.

Prizes and Eligibility

While we will feature select pieces in our final livestream, this is not a competition; prizes will be drawn on a raffle basis. Prizes will only be given if a minimum number of participants for that prize is met.

LevelPrizeMinimum Eligible Participants
GrandOne full year membership in the Synthase Composers Academy OR 40% off the Synapse Violin: Summer 2024 Composition Workshop30
SecondSix months membership in the Synthase Composers Academy OR 30% off the Synapse Violin: Summer 2024 Composition Workshop15
ThirdThree months membership in the Synthase Composers Academy or 20% off the Synapse Violin: Summer 2024 Composition Workshop1


In order to be eligible for a prize, each participant must:

  • write a new piece at least 30 seconds long for the challenge
  • submit at least three of the steps, including the final step, by Friday May 3rd at 12pm Eastern
  • use at least 4 musical cells generated for the challenge

How We Got Here

text exchange

It was May of 2021 and the ceremonial had been delayed from 2020 and turned into a livestream. Susie Ling and Nate May were both being recognized with awards, and it was supposed to be a banquet, but Covid changed this, along with so much else. Texting from opposite coasts, it was a chance to reconnect after meeting at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 2015, where Nate was a master’s student and Susie was an exchange student from China.

Huijuan (Susie) Ling grew up in Hengyang in Hunan province. She started piano lessons at age six and learned quickly. By the age of 12, she thought that it was time to start pursuing her musical dream outside of her hometown, and she landed at one of the most prestigious prep schools in a country famous for its musicians, the Music Middle School Affiliated to Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

But instead of majoring in piano, she decided she wanted to make her own music. She thrived as a composition major until artistic disagreement with her teacher led her to some mild teenage rebellion, and a new passion for World of Warcraft.

Nevertheless, her talent and love of music carried her through to a coveted position in the conservatory’s undergraduate program in composition, where she stayed until her exchange program in Cincinnati.

After that, she completed a master’s in Cincinnati, and went on to win international awards for her compositions, including the one from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

This month she completed her Ph.D. in composition from Duke.

While Susie was honing her love of music in Hunan province, Nate was doing so in West Virginia, in the Appalachian mountains of the USA.

Although his family gave him every opportunity they could in his hometown, he didn’t have access to the level of training of his peers in the cities and suburbs. When he arrived as a jazz piano major at the University of Michigan, he realized just how much he had to learn.

His playing was transformed by the strict pedagogy and high standards of his teacher, the late great Geri Allen. He spent his third year in Cape Town, South Africa, learning as much as he could about music of the continent.

After he returned, he began working as a dance accompanist, where he would spend hours every day improvising music to support the movement of modern dancers. He began to have ambitions beyond the jazz ensemble, and decided to pursue composition.

His first composition degree was a master’s from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and from there was accepted to the doctoral program at Yale, the only composer accepted in his year. He earned his degree in 2023.

In the midst of these studies, Susie and Nate were maturing as artists and as professionals, compiling bodies of work that would be performed on five continents in venues like the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. They were writing for orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles, electronics, and rock bands. They were scoring films, one of which landed on national television.

And unlike many of their peers who only wanted to compose, they were becoming passionate about teaching.

It was teaching that they ended up texting about during that ceremonial in 2021, which led to Susie joining Synthase the following year. The Synthase Composers Academy is an outgrowth of this love of teaching. It’s a chance for them to share some of their knowledge and skills with aspiring composers around the world, and it’s coming on May 3rd. Hang tight.