Sunday, September 14, 2008

What next?

[ N.B. This is a follow-up to the Project 1 Description for Mu3100. Please read that and complete your atonal chord progression before reading this.]

Once you have created chords with which you are content, the next step is to compose a short character piece based on your chords.

How short? Well, there is no exact answer to this, but perhaps somewhere between 1-3 pages of music. Obviously, page length is affected by the number of bars you squeeze into each system, and the number of systems you squeeze onto each page, but the overriding consideration when it comes to deciding how long a piece should be is to determine how long it needs to be. I know that sounds a bit mystical, but that's the way I look at it, anyway. If you feel your composition has said all it needs to in one page, then great; your first piece may well be done! If you feel that, at the end of three pages, it still has more to say, then I guess you'd better keep it going a bit longer! If you're not sure how long it should be, don't worry, because you'll get feedback from your classmates and myself on this issue.

• The description for Project 1 challenges you to create a sense of "timelessness" through your chords. Try to come up with rhythmic values for your chords that don't always emphasize the strong beats in a given meter (i.e., beats 1 and 3 in 4/4 time). This frees up the rhythm, and can cause the listener to be drawn into each sonority more deeply, especially if the chords do not change very quickly.

You may repeat chords immediately, or you may interpolate earlier chords between later chords. i.e., chord numbers 1, 2, 3, 3, 4; or 1, 2, 3, 1, 4, etc.

You may switch registers; I encourage you to consider repeating a given chord in a different register (or in several different registers). Does the colour or harmonic tension of your chord change as the registers change?

Register (range) is one of the variables you can control and play with. For example, you could have a character piece that sits entirely in an upper register (i.e., no notes below middle C). Or you could have a piece that starts high but ends low, and vice versa. Or you could only use the registral extremes in one of your pieces (i.e., only very high and very low notes, nothing in between). Or you could have rapid and frequent register changes. Or you could have one instrument in one register and the other instrument in a different one. There are many more possibilities!

You may re-voice chords (possibly while repeating them and/or while doing so in a different register).

You may add passing tones and other "Non Chord Tones."

Add a melody to your chords,. This may be played on an instrument of your choice, but preferably chosen from instruments that your classmates play (for pragmatic reasons), or it may be played by the piano, or it may be shared between them in some way.

• Many student compositions have the melody instrument and piano starting at the same time, i.e., beat one of bar one. There is no reason you CAN'T do that, of course, but bear in mind that this doesn't usually happen in actual chamber music! Frequently, in music for piano and one other instrument, one instrument begins by itself, and the other joins in fairly soon thereafter. Consider trying this.

• Along similar lines, consider the role of each instrument. Are they in dialogue? Is one more prominent than the other? Do they take turns being prominent and being supportive? Are you using rests?

Silence (rests): Consider using it.

Add dynamics and articulations as you compose. You can always change them later, but try to avoid the temptation to leave them out and then add them after you have finished the piece; dynamics and articulations are an integral part of the composition, not an afterthought.

• If writing for a wind instrument, where will they breathe? If writing for a bowed instrument, what kind of bowing do you have in mind? You may wish to brush up on bowing techniques from your orchestration text.

• Speaking of orchestration texts, you should obviously know the range of the added instrument, but even more importantly, you should review other aspects of that instrument as well, such as how the colour changes in different registers, how loud/soft it can play (and how well it can be heard) in different registers, what some of its challenges are (for example, flutes can't really play softly in their highest register, and they tend to be fairly quiet in the lowest register), how agile it is, what constitutes idiomatic writing for that instrument, etc.

• Somewhere in the midst of all this you need to think of a character for your composition. All you need do is come up with a character for this particular piece; remember that this will be one of three pieces you will be writing. Possible characters to choose from: Nervous, mystical (trance), bombastic, joyful, sad, angry, optimistic, dark, crazy, scary, playful, exuberant, simple, etc.

Good luck!

1 comment:

Philip said...

Dr. Ross, I hope you don't take offence to this, rather, that you take it as a compliment. I love the way that you teach this class so simply. Its not that it makes composition sound really easy, but it makes me realize that it is not out of my grasp. I'm pretty sure you could teach anyone to be a great composer! Having said that, I've also realized how much of a skill composition actually is. Its something that you really need to spend time developing and working on, the same way you work at any musical task. Thanks for offering so much insight in this class!