Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things to Consider when Composing (3 of 9)

[From a 9-part handout for my introductory composition class.]

III. Getting a Better Understanding of your Musical Ideas

     Inexperienced composers often don't realize the potential of their musical ideas, finding it easier to come up with a series of unrelated musical ideas rather than work out the implications of existing ones.

     There are several things you can do to help gain a better understanding of your musical idea(s). These include:

     (1) Live with it for a while; play it repeatedly both in actuality and in your mind.

     (2) What's it about? Or, put another way, what is its musical character (dreamy, angry, intense, scary, peaceful, hopeful, sad, despairing, naïve, humorous, dance-like (this has numerous sub-categories; slow dance, fast dance, graceful, stomp, etc.), sneaky, playful, etc.)?

     (3) Does it change character? If so, is this okay? Why? If not okay, then fix it.

     (4) What is its function within the context of the piece (i.e. to start with a "bang," a slow amorphous introduction to-set up what is to follow, to create a sense of timelessness, etc.)?

     (5) Structural Analysis: Does your musical idea break into phrases? If so, how many? If not, are you sure, and why not? How long are the phrases? How are the phrases related? Are they balanced? Is there a non-tonal equivalent to question/answer structure, or to authentic, half, or deceptive cadences? Are there pitch centers? If so, what are they, and how are they related?

     (6) Harmonic (or Pitch, Scale, etc.) Analysis: Since we are probably not dealing with functional harmony, classifying the harmony can be a challenge. Consider using Set Theory; look for vertical and linear sets, see how they relate to one another, try interval vectors. What does all this tell you? What intervals seem most prominent? In general terms, are your materials related to one another, or are they quite different? Are you using non-traditional modes or scales?

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