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Topic: Sketching out a composition

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  1. #1

    Sketching out a composition

    I posted this in another thread, and thought it might be useful to composers who have never thought about approaching a new composition so systematically. Some may be adverse to this, but others may profit greatly from it. Feel free to post comments, additions, etc.

    1....Come up with a theme or motive you like. The shorter it is, the more that can be done with it. There are three types of motives one can use, and they are interchangeable if the composer chooses:
    • Rhythmic
    • Intervallic (chromatic or diatonic)
    • A combination of both.
    2....Decide on the basic elements of the piece based on the themes that have been come up with:
    • Length
    • Time signature
    • Key signature (if tonal)
    3....Decide on the structure of the piece:
    • Outline sections of different treatments of thematic material. In other words, the parts of the piece. No need to decide which will go first, second, etc. here. Just come up with as many sections as the theme will allow. If it starts to sound to far away from what has been come up with initially, you might consider putting that material aside for different movements or pieces altogether. Try to pick out the treatments of the theme that are the most closely related to each other without sounding the same.
    • Depending on how many sections you have come up with, now it must be decided what order they will be in and which ones will repeat. For instance, if you came up with three different treatments of the theme, you could arrange them in several ways:
    °Rondo: ABACABA
    °Arch: ABCBA
    °Sonata: ABABCAB (Very simplified)
    •The important thing, is to organize it somehow. This is very important.
    • Decide on the "shape" of the piece. Always try to do this before composing. Decide where the climax will occur (never less than two-thirds of the way through). Pieces without climax will seem very dull. Pieces the climax occurs too soon in will seem overly long (even if they are short). There is some debate on putting the climax later, but I love to plop mine right on the Golden Proportion.. approx. 66% How you create a sense of climax can include several factors: dynamic extremes, range extremes, harmonic tension, etc.
    3....With all of this in hand, a composer should have a perfect "sketch" to work with. It is reccomended that large works be composed as a piano reduction first, then orchestrated. That way you can analyze your own work much easier. Also, composers need not write orchestral or ensemble works first. They should write music for solo instruments (preferably their own), then piano, then quartets or quintets from each section of the orchestra (string, woodwind, brass, percussion), then move up to bigger and bigger orchestrations.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  2. #2

    Re: Sketching out a composition

    I can add some musical samples later, as soon as I am done doing a freaking Schenker analysis of Schubert's "Der Leiermann" from Winterreise.

    .... stupid Ursatz.
    Last edited by jesshmusic; 04-24-2007 at 08:54 AM. Reason: Spelt "ursatz" wrong!
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  3. #3

    Thumbs up Re: Sketching out a composition

    This looks like it might be useful to me, thanks. One thing I have struggled with is the organization my pieces. I usually come up with a theme (or two) and try to vary them, but I never have successfully been able to plan my pieces out in advance. Again, thank you for doing this.

    --Richard

  4. #4

    Re: Sketching out a composition

    Quote Originally Posted by Sharkbat
    This looks like it might be useful to me, thanks. One thing I have struggled with is the organization my pieces. I usually come up with a theme (or two) and try to vary them, but I never have successfully been able to plan my pieces out in advance. Again, thank you for doing this.

    --Richard

    Glad to help. I will likely post more information as it hits me. lol
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  5. #5

    Re: Sketching out a composition

    Quote Originally Posted by jesshmusic
    I can add some musical samples later, as soon as I am done doing a freaking Schenker analysis of Schubert's "Der Leiermann" from Winterreise.

    .... stupid Urzatz.

    LOL. Schenker can take his Urline and shove it up his Hintergund.


    Actually I'm a big fan of Shenkerian analysis.

    Msp

  6. #6

    Re: Sketching out a composition

    Quote Originally Posted by Matthew S Phillips
    LOL. Schenker can take his Urline and shove it up his Hintergund.


    Actually I'm a big fan of Shenkerian analysis.

    Msp

    haha!

    I like it all the way through the middleground. I think it really shows some cool stuff that the old masters did that most people don't even notice. Voice leading for the win!
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  7. #7

    Re: Sketching out a composition

    This is a really nice outline, and one that could be very helpful. But it seems unnecessarily limited to 19th-century style composition, without deference to some fantastic and effective 20th-century developments. If I may, I would add:

    1...Theme or Motive

    Themes and motives can be defined not just by rhythm or pitch content, but also by timbre, texture, harmonic content, tempo, or any number of other musical characteristics. For instance, the "theme" could simply be a sound mass composed of a quarter-tone cluster bounded by C#4 and E5. Such a theme could be varied in a variety of manners.


    2...Basic Elements

    Tonal compositions need not be limited by key signatures. A hundred years of neotonality have shown us that. Tonal centers can be established in a variety of ways that bear little resemblance to the old key system. There's modality for one, but also tonic created by assertion, by unusual scale systems, or simply by strategic placement. A tonic need not even be a single tone- many modern-day theorists identify the tonic as simply the sonority (single pitch or chord) that serves as a home base of sorts.

    I'm not saying you're doing this, but too many people on this forum set up a false dichotomy between atonal and diatonic, common-practice era music they call tonal, as if these are the only choices. There are endless gradients between these extremes.


    3...Form

    The discussion on the climax is great, and pretty much true, but only if you are creating rhetorical music, that is, music that has a dramatic arch. If this is the case, a climax at the golden section or even a little further in can hardly fail. But Debussy was one of the first to show us that forms need not suggest rhetorical motion- a composition can simply "be" a series of pleasant sounds.

    As for sections of a movement being related- even this is no sacred cow in 20th century music. One of the most striking and effective elements of the music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Messiaen, and many others is the juxtaposition or superimposition of completely incongruous blocks of sound (think La Mer, Rite of Spring, and Turangalila-Symphony, respectively). This is sometimes called stratificaiton, and taken to its extreme we get moment form.



    -

  8. #8

    Re: Sketching out a composition

    Quote Originally Posted by Inkfingers
    This is a really nice outline, and one that could be very helpful. But it seems unnecessarily limited to 19th-century style composition, without deference to some fantastic and effective 20th-century developments. If I may, I would add:

    1...Theme or Motive

    Themes and motives can be defined not just by rhythm or pitch content, but also by timbre, texture, harmonic content, tempo, or any number of other musical characteristics. For instance, the "theme" could simply be a sound mass composed of a quarter-tone cluster bounded by C#4 and E5. Such a theme could be varied in a variety of manners.


    2...Basic Elements

    Tonal compositions need not be limited by key signatures. A hundred years of neotonality have shown us that. Tonal centers can be established in a variety of ways that bear little resemblance to the old key system. There's modality for one, but also tonic created by assertion, by unusual scale systems, or simply by strategic placement. A tonic need not even be a single tone- many modern-day theorists identify the tonic as simply the sonority (single pitch or chord) that serves as a home base of sorts.

    I'm not saying you're doing this, but too many people on this forum set up a false dichotomy between atonal and diatonic, common-practice era music they call tonal, as if these are the only choices. There are endless gradients between these extremes.


    3...Form

    The discussion on the climax is great, and pretty much true, but only if you are creating rhetorical music, that is, music that has a dramatic arch. If this is the case, a climax at the golden section or even a little further in can hardly fail. But Debussy was one of the first to show us that forms need not suggest rhetorical motion- a composition can simply "be" a series of pleasant sounds.

    As for sections of a movement being related- even this is no sacred cow in 20th century music. One of the most striking and effective elements of the music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Messiaen, and many others is the juxtaposition or superimposition of completely incongruous blocks of sound (think La Mer, Rite of Spring, and Turangalila-Symphony, respectively). This is sometimes called stratificaiton, and taken to its extreme we get moment form.



    -
    I agree 100%... I just wasn't trying to drop the whole ball of Schillinger on em yet! haha.

    Nice ideas. A lot of my thesis uses texture themes. And even when I write pieces in an actual "key" I never use a key signature because I write so chromatically anyway. lol
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

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