Start Composing Music Music 1
Level HE4 - 40 CATS
This course has been written and illustrated by Patric Standford.
Cover image: Violin, 1911-12, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia
Open College of the Arts
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About the author
Patric Standford is an award-winning composer, a teacher and lecturer of repute, a writer and music journalist, occasional broadcaster and a musician who has played a major role with many British musical organisations – he was the chairman of the Composers’ Guild and British Music Information Centre from 1977 to 1993. He is perhaps best known as a composer. His 1st Symphony gained the Premio Cittá di Trieste in 1972, and a large scale oratorio Christus Requiem earned him the Yugoslav Government’s Arts Award after performances in Skopje in 1976; his 3rd Symphony has the Ernest Ansermet Prize from Geneva, and he received the First International Composers’ Award in Budapest in 1997 for a choral masque The Prayer of St Francis. He has awards from Spain, Finland and Belgium. The BBC commissioned his 5th Symphony in 1986. He worked as an arranger for West End shows in London, composing and directing light music recordings and an album for the jazz group Continuum, and ghost writing for Rod McKuen’s classical American recordings. A regular visitor to Hungary and France as a jury member for choral competitions, he taught composition and orchestration at the Guildhall School of Music in London for 15 years, moving to Yorkshire in 1980 to become Head of Music at the Leeds University college at Bretton Hall.
Course overview Course outcomes Starting the course Music theory Notation software Keeping a listening log Project and assignment plan
1: Exploring rhythm Introductory note
Project 1: Percussion solos Project 2: Duets Project 3: Three and more instruments Project 4: About structure
Assignment 1: A composition for a group of untuned percussion
2: Exploring melody and scales Introductory note
Project 5: Pentatonic melody Project 6: Analysing a solo composition Project 7: Exploring different scales
Assignment 2: A composition for a solo woodwind instrument
3: Rounds, descants, polyphony Introductory note
Project 8: Rounds Project 9: Descants Project 10: A contrapuntal trial
Assignment 3: A little polyphony
4: Exploring counterpoint Introductory note
Project 11: Inventing free counterpoint Project 12: Two-part inventions
Assignment 4: A contrapuntal composition
5: Exploring harmony Introductory note
Project 13: Elaborate cadences Project 14: Improvisation on a dominant
Assignment 5: Harmony in the round
Appendix A: suggested reading Appendix B: suggested listening
Introduction Course overview It is widely thought that teaching the creative process in any of the art forms, whether through the medium of visual forms, language or sound, is not only near impossible, but quite unnecessary. Being a creative artist is, perhaps like medicine and teaching, a natural gift. People are themselves created in just such a way that unknown forces propel them into a need to express themselves in a particular fashion. Nothing can teach the instincts with which an individual is born. But acquiring the craft required to achieve the imagined goals can be assisted greatly by forms of instruction that make the journey rather easier. Being a beneficiary of the broad experience of a good teacher (that is, one who has found some successful routes through a forest of mistakes!) can point the way more directly. Students can then move more quickly through their own forests of mistakes and discoveries. They should do so on a firm foundation. In this course, an exploration of the craft of musical composition begins with limitations. Even the frustrations of being confined will challenge ingenuity and should provoke the discovery of unexpected solutions. With limited means, the creative process must be at its most inventive. Throughout the course, challenges to ingenuity and inventiveness will lead to an approach to composition which has breadth. The constant questioning of contrasting means to achieve an end is an important ingredient of compositional skill. Trying a quick passage slowly, a loud passage softly, or changing the instrument playing it all – these aspects of ‘lateral thinking’ are all part of the composer’s skill. Becoming aware of this process and being able to apply it to all creative situations will, it is hoped, be the most lasting outcome.
In addition, there is a wealth of practical information and demonstration designed to broaden a composer’s horizons.
Course outcomes Upon completion of Composing Music 1 you will be able to: • write short pieces for untuned percussion; • compose melodic lines, add descants and explore less familiar scales; • write counterpoint more freely in two and three parts; • make some explorations with harmonic progressions.
Starting the course What to do first Begin by reading the introduction and then look through the whole course. Make a note of any questions you might have and consider a rough timetable you can work from to complete the course.
Student profile You will find in the Student Handbook a form called Student Profile. Use this to tell your tutor a little about any past experience you have and how confident you feel about learning some of the skills. This is an important document. It is your first link with your tutor and gives you the chance to introduce yourself. Give your tutor as much information as you can about your previous experience, your reasons for exploring this subject and what you expect to achieve from taking the course. OCA tuition is on a one-to-one basis and so it is possible for our tutors to angle their advice to meet individual needs; but only if these are defined in the Student Profile. Your tutor will write to you, introducing him/herself and suggesting a date for the submission of your first assignment in line with your timetable. Please note that this date is given as an indication and that there is a degree of flexibility. If
you feel you can complete the section earlier, then by all means do. If you feel you need a little longer, that's fine. If, however, there is going to be a considerable delay we would appreciate your contacting the tutor and giving an anticipated date for the submission of your assignment. The most important thing is that you gain the maximum pleasure and satisfaction from taking the course. When you submit an assignment your tutor will comment and advise on your work and answer any questions relating to the course. Once you have looked through the course and sent off your student profile, you can begin to start your first project.
Music theory The OCA expects students on its Composing Music courses to have a basic grounding in Music Theory. It would be extremely difficult to achieve any progress with the craft of composition if there was an additional need to interrupt the series of projects frequently to explain the fundamentals of musical notation. To this end we are recommending the AB (Associated Board) Guide to Music Theory by Eric Taylor, published by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Part 1 of the Guide is particularly relevant to Level 1 of the course, Part 2 is an essential background to Level 2. The chapters in the book are referred to as appropriate before each Section in the course, and it is expected that the student will read and revise this material before proceeding with each group of projects. It will be most advisable to invest perhaps a couple of months in making sure you are thoroughly familiar with Part 1 of the Guide before commencing the course. Do discuss this with your tutor if you feel you need more information.
Notation software You will need a means of hearing your own work and sharing it with your tutor so that recommended revisions may also be returned to you and played. The best means to this end is to acquire a good music software package, and set up an email connection so that the software files can be sent direct to your tutor. This is a matter that should be discussed with your tutor as it is important that you should both have compatible software. Here are some suggested programmes to find out about:
Sibelius Software www.sibelius.com
Finale Notation Software www.finalemusic.com Others include:
• Score Writer • Allegro • Noteworthy Composer • Overture and Cakewalk
It will be worth finding out more from school, college and university music departments or from friends, and doing some research through websites (www.hitsquad.com/smm/cat/NOTATION)
These are two of the best and most widely used professional and student programmes – but they are quite expensive. If you expect to continue composing it would be well worth the investment.
Keeping a listening log For the Composing Music courses, the learning log will primarily take the form of a listening log. It is vitally important for all composers to have a solid experience of music through its major developments: from Ancient, Oriental and Medieval music, through the Renaissance and the age during which Opera and Church music rose to a peak during the 17th century, to the repertoires of the Classical, Romantic and Modern times. There is so much to hear, and so much that can be learnt from listening and, where possible, borrowing or somehow acquiring copies of the music heard. Nor should reading about the history of music, as well as its techniques, be neglected There are both recommended reading and listening lists included as relevant to each section of the course, but these will only be a small representation of all that is available from libraries or the internet. The OCA will assist this with access to CD collections, but the responsibility is ultimately with you, for no one else can listen for you and gain the experience. The listing should also include radio listening and live concerts, and especially focus on music that is unfamiliar to you – whether or not the experience results in you liking what you hear!. The purpose is to know what is out there, and to know what the experienced listeners, your audience, will inevitably be comparing your work with. Also included should be your comments on the listening, for you will probably have forgotten your initial reactions when later you come to the same piece again and discover your reactions are quite changed! Including commentaries on heard experiences therefore is also important. After any session of listening or concert visit, make sure that you have made a note of page number or index words as an aid to memory for future reference. Always read books with a pencil and note pad available; it is almost impossible to find again a choice phrase, comment or paragraph after you have progressed a few chapters and closed the book. Keep the listening log up to date and in good order. It is always possible that
your tutor, or the OCA, or a validating authority may wish to see it alongside the work you may wish to submit for assessment.
Project and Assignment Plan 1: Exploring rhythm
Project 1: Percussion solos 10 Project 2: Duets 10 Project 3: Three and more instruments 10 Project 4: About structure 10
Assignment 1: A composition for a group of untuned percussion 20
2: Exploring melody and scales Project 5: Pentatonic melody 10 Project 6: Analysing a solo composition 10 Project 7: Exploring different scales 10
Assignment 2: A composition for a solo woodwind instrument 20
3: Rounds, descants, polyphony Project 8: Rounds 10 Project 9: Descants 10 Project 10: A contrapuntal trial 10
Assignment 3: A little polyphony 30
4: Exploring counterpoint Project 11: Inventing free counterpoint 15 Project 12: Two-part inventions 15
Assignment 4: A contrapuntal composition 40
5: Exploring harmony Project 13: Elaborate cadences 15 Project 14: Improvisation on a dominant 15
Assignment 5: Harmony in the round 40
Listening and Reading 90 TOTAL TIME 400
1: Exploring Rhythm Introductory note Before beginning each section, it will be necessary to make sure you are familiar with all the music theory which underpins the section. The references will be to The AB Guide to Music Theory – Part 1 by Eric Taylor. This gives a guide to all the theoretical information needed for the performance of instrumental and vocal music graded by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music from Grades 1 to 5. Appropriate chapters in other guides will however be similarly helpful. You should first read Eric Taylor’s Preface which defines music theory clearly. This helps to make clear the distinction between the theory of musical notation and using all that information in the process of composition. This OCA course is about Composing. It needs the support of a thorough familiarity with music theory. Check your familiarity with the content of Chapters 1: The Basics of Rhythm and Tempo; and the appropriate parts of 3: Continuing with Rhythm and 5: The Grouping of Notes and Rests. Your knowledge of Reiterations and Repeats (Chapter 13) will be expected. It will also be assumed that you are you have refreshed your knowledge of Chapter 10: Tempo, Dynamics and Mood. There is also an invaluable Appendix A on Irregular Divisions of Time Values, and the Glossary of Foreign Words used for Performance Directions will be invaluable throughout the course.
Focus on rhythm The course begins rhythmically. The focus is on compositions for percussion instruments and, to begin with, untuned percussion.
About untuned percussion Most untuned percussion instruments are allocated a single line stave, and it is suggested that this be done for all the following: Place the metallic instruments first, highest sounds at the top:
• Triangle; Cymbal (high and low, suspended and played with two beaters); • The less controlled cymbal ‘clash’ is produced with two cymbals brought
together, either lightly or heavily. • Gongs; Tam-tams.
The tambourine is a hybrid and might therefore appear next. Among the wooden instruments would be castanets, and some instruments that will need more than a single-line stave. Wood blocks are usually made to two contrasting indeterminate pitches and would be allocated a two-line stave. Temple blocks are sets of five ornamental hollow wooden skull- or clam-shaped blocks in different sizes approximating to a pentatonic scale, and are most conveniently notated on a five-line stave.
Then the membranes from the highest: Side drum (or snare drum - snares are ON by default); Tom toms; Bongos; Tenor drum; Bass drum. The Drum Kit (Drum Set in America) is usually notated on a 5-line stave, although notation is generally at a minimum as most jazz drummers find it easier to improvise than read. Ex.1
More careful indications may be necessary if you want a realistic computer playback. Your computer programme may have its own distribution of instruments over the stave. The sticks or beaters are of the greatest importance with all percussion instruments, though ‘clashed’ cymbals do not need beaters, and tambourines are usually played with the hand and fingers. There are three types of beaters: hard, medium and soft. The harder the stick, the thinner and brighter (not necessarily louder) the sound produced. A metal beater for the triangle is usual. Large soft headed sticks are normally used for gongs and the tam-tam – but for these instruments, wooden side drum sticks (for instance) would create a sound quite different from what is normally expected. Wood blocks and temple blocks would be played with marimba mallets or snare drum sticks.
Untuned percussion notation The duration of notes for sustaining instruments (cymbals, gongs, tam-tams) must be accurately indicated from start to the point of finish, when the sound is dampened and stopped. The drums have very little resonance, and there is virtually no difference between a staccato semiquaver and an unmarked crotchet. Percussion players take the tremolo to indicate measured notes. The trill on untuned percussion is a multi-stroke unmeasured roll. Ex.2
Practical matters Indications of speed and dynamic are essential, even in the rough sketches for a piece. Without knowing about how quickly or slowly, how loudly or softly the composer intends the performance to be, no adequate judgement can be made of the notation or what it all adds up to. It is not unusual that a composer may feel it interesting to make decisions about whether to use a group of crotchets at a fast tempo, or semiquavers at a slower speed. In Ex. 3 the sound of each passage is exactly the same – but the psychological effect of the notation is quite different for both composer and performer. The expectation of a slower tempo when longer note values are used can be both useful and confusing! Complexities are sometimes made more apparent with
The speed at which music moves from note to note is set by indicating the number of times a fixed note value (minim, crotchet, quaver etc.) occurs each minute. An adjustable apparatus that f irst helped to set the tempo in this way was the metronome, a clockwork device patented by J. N. Maelzel in 1814. Digita l metronomes are now widely avai lable with a variety of useful applications. Read chapter 10/1 in the AB Guide.
greater space, yet some composers enjoy making their notation (and their music) complicated. Ex.3
Dynamics should be carefully thought through and indicated. A triangle ff is no match for the cymbal or the devastating tam-tam with the same marking. All crescendos and diminuendos should have a clearly marked start and finish dynamic; the player’s technique will be adapted to the different requirement. The first group of Projects will together make up a substantial series of short Studies for untuned percussion instruments.
Project 1: Percussion solos The first undertaking on the course is to compose four contrasting short pieces designed to demonstrate the different characters of some untuned percussion instruments. The pieces should not be made to challenge percussion players, but rather to challenge your own creative ingenuity. ‘Short’ means trying to maintain interest from 8 to about 16 bars.
The following examples illustrate: the military character of the side drum, Ex. 4
the more sombre quality of strokes on a suspended cymbal with a soft headed stick, Ex. 5
and the rather comical character of interchanges between the higher and lower wood blocks notated – as is usual – on a two line stave. Ex. 6