This course is for the composer who wants a traditional training program that allows them to move at their own pace.
Level 1 Course Overview
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The composition course takes composers through 16 self-study music composition lessons.
Learning to Compose Music
Anybody can learn to compose music, but to be an effective composer you need to develop some skill. Talent and drive are essential, but you need solid technique and an understanding of basic principles of music composition to make your works stand out.
While it's true that some composers have created music without knowing how to read music, these composers are exceedingly rare. The reality is that if you're going to be an effective composer, you must learn to read music.
Prerequisites: Before Starting the Course.
This course expects that you can already compose music. If this is not the case, take some time to learn about the musical staff and the notes of the treble and the bass clef.
Before starting this course, you should know how to do the following things:
- Build and recognize basic triads and seventh chords (A brief review is included)
- Recognize and identify key signatures. Instant recognition is not required, but it certainly helps.
- Read and write music notation
- Clap rhythmic notation
Before enrolling, you should understand the basics of music notation, including key signatures, time signatures, note recognition in bass and treble clefs, and common score indicators.
The Goal of the Course
This course is not a music theory course. It's designed to take composers from the beginning stages of composing a piece through to the very last edits. Each lesson will focus on a different element of a composition. If you follow the lessons, you'll have a completed work by the end of the course. You'll also learn about the mechanics of composing music along the way.
Level 1: Craft of Music Composition OverviewPlease review the Table of Contents at the end of this product description.
Programmed Music Composition Course Syllabus
This is a programmed course designed for the beginning composer or the composer who hasn't gone through formal training. The syllabus covers a total of 16 lessons.
This schedule covers all of the fundamentals of music composition while keeping composers actively engaged in the process of composing. Each unit should ideally last about 30 days.
Level 1: Music Composition Curriculum
Each unit may take several weeks to complete. Beginning students may need several weeks per unit while advanced students may only require one lesson per unit. In addition to the course, each unit provides an ear training exercise that the student is expected to work on daily.
After composers have completed the course, they will have a strong understanding of the fundamentals of music composition. Students that graduate from this course are now ready to undergo advanced music composition lessons and begin working on their own original compositions while developing their unique voice and style.
Unit 1: Composing Rhythmic Elements
Composers are expected to improvise, memorize, perform, and commit to paper individual rhythms that have a recognizable and logical form. Student's are expected to pay careful attention to their rhythms, and free themselves from notation programs during this process.
While more difficult in the beginning stages, getting away from a notation program encourages the development of the composer's mind and intellect. Music notation programs can drastically decrease the time it takes to compose music, but composers must also have the ability to work without the aid of computer playback.
Unit 2: Composing Pitch Elements
This unit focuses solely on the pitch elements that will be used in the composition. Composers are asked to select several pitches that will be used in the final composition. The western musical scale uses 7 pitches for each scale. While this unit is a form of set theory, it's based on the same basic restrictions used in classical musical scales.
Composers should be able to compose a satisfying piece using any series of pitches. Bach once said that with only four notes, he could create a satisfying piece. The goal is not to create a masterpiece, but to challenge the composer to think about music in a creative and challenging way.
Unit 3: Composing Non-Chord Tones
Composers learn how to effectively use non-chord tones in this unit. As the student's composition is beginning to take form, embellishments in the form of non-chord tones are introduced into the structure. In traditional tonal harmony, a non-chord tone may be a passing tone, escape tone, appoggiatura, suspension, retardation, anticipation, neighboring tone, or changing tones. However, in real-life composition, these categorizations seldom actually matter. This unit teaches composers how to apply these concepts in a creative manner.
Unit 4: Composing Motives
After successful creation of the rhythm, pitch, and introduction of non-chord tones, the composer begins work on creating motives for use in the composition. A motive acts as the motor that drives a piece forward. Composers throughout history have used motives to drive a composition forward, link passages together, and create logic and form in a composition. Motives are one of the most important aspects of a musical composition, and students must learn to effectively edit and manipulate motives to write effective works.
Unit 5: Composing the Melody
The next unit deals with the creation of melody in a composition. Composers learn how to create a balanced melody with an antecedent and consequent phrase. The unit also deals with the most complicated aspect of periods, and how antecedent and consequent phrases are used to build an entire composition. The motives created in the previous units are developed into full-fledged melodies.
Unit 6: Musical Form -- Creating the Exposition
Composers begin to shape their composition in this unit. The exposition is the introductory portion of a classical form. In Classical music, the exposition functions as the initial entrance of the main thematic material. That material can extend throughout an entire movement, section or musical composition. In this case, the composer introduces the exposition by using the elements they have already created in previous units. Composers begin to build their composition and watch as it takes form and grows.
Unit 7: Musical Form -- Building the Development Section
The exposition provides an introduction to the main thematic material, and in the Classical and Romantic periods it also typically existed within one key center. The development goes through several key centers, breaks the melody up into fragments, reorganizes it, presents ideas in more than one key and takes you away from the home key, or in this case, the motivic material of the exposition. The development is a crucial par of the composition and acts as the middle section in the piece the composer is creating.
Unit 8: Musical Form -- Composing the Recapitulation
In a Classical era piece, the recapitulation typically repeated the exposition in a very similar fashion. The main difference is that the exposition would appear in the tonic throughout the entire recapitulation.
Think of the Classical period exposition as getting away from what you knew, and venturing out to experience new ideas and situations. Because of this, it was allowed to go to the dominant as part of that journey or thought of another way, a move away from its home.
The recapitulation in the Classical period was all about coming back home. This meant that the recapitulation almost always started in the tonic and stayed there. Since the composer is not concerned with Classical period ideals, some liberty is allowed and the recapitulation section of the unit takes a liberal approach.
Unit 9: Connecting the Piece Through Transitions
At this point in the course, the composer begins to connect the exposition, development, and recapitulation using transitions. Techniques and methods for connecting these three sections are provided within the unit. As with all units in this program, this unit contains an initial explanation of the concept of transitions, and then the composer works with the instructor to incorporate the transitions within the musical composition.
Unit 10: Adding Harmony to the Composition
At this point, the student has a completed work, but it's only a single melodic line. The student is now asked to add harmony to the composition. Advice on how to create chords, some quick tips for easily creating refreshing and unique chord progressions, and an introduction to the concept of counterpoint are explored. Composers may require several interim lessons to complete this unit.
Unit 11: Advanced Treatment of Musical Harmony
In this unit, composers learn about some advanced methods of incorporating harmony into a composition. The composer is led through analyzing their own work to determine the crucial elements required to effectively create a harmonic backdrop. A discussion of the difference between a chord progression and succession is provided, and composers are expected to enhance and improve the chordal structure established in the previous unit.
Unit 12: An Introduction to Musical Counterpoint
This unit doesn't teach the composer about sixteenth or eighteenth-century counterpoint. The unit instead focuses on a modern interpretation of counterpoint, with the goal of introducing multiple independent melodic lines that work together along with the harmony already established. Composers add a third line to the composition with the help of the instructor. Principles of counterpoint are explained, but ultimately, the composer is expected to use creative license in the application of concepts.
Unit 13: Introduction to Notation and Score Elements
The composer is now expected to go through the composition and add performance indicators, score elements, and begin preparing the score for publication. This exercise allows composers to learn about standard notation procedures, and to begin thinking about how the performer will interpret the composition. Composers must tread the line between adding too much information, and not adding enough so that the performer will have a good chance of effectively performing the composition.
Unit 14: Editing the Music Composition
At this point, the composer has a completed musical work. However, it's not yet ready for publication. Composers must go through the process of editing and manipulate the work before completing the composition. Some students find that it's helpful to take a break from this composition. The instructor will give the student the chance to push through and edit the composition, or take a break and work on the next composition for future lessons.
Unit 15: Rewriting the Music Composition
This is quite possibly the most difficult part of the entire process. The composer is now asked to rewrite the entire composition, using the existing composition as a guide. This fulfills two goals:
- Rewriting the composition ensures that the composer is aware of every note placed in the composition.
- Rewriting allows a composer to take a fresh look at the composition, fix any problem sections, and ensure that the work has a logical flow.
Most composers find this aspect of the course to be the most time-consuming and intensive aspect of the course. However, by completing the rewrite, composers are left with a fully-polished and effective musical composition.
Unit 16: Completing the Final Edits on the Composition
Now it's time to review the composition one more time, and fix any remaining issues. The composer is expected to fine-tune the composition and make the final changes using the tips from the course.
Table of Contents
Unit 1: The Challenge of Composing 10
When Progress Isn’t Fast Enough 12
What This Course Is Not Designed to Accomplish 13
What This Course Will Help You Accomplish 14
Creating a Composition Routine 14
Famous Composers and Their Schedules 14
Why You Need a Schedule 15
Determining the Amount of Time You Need 15
Approaching the Composition Exercises 16
Compose A Fugue for Breakfast 16
The Workbook and Ear Training Text 16
The Workbook 17
Ear Training Exercises 17
Unit 1: Workbook 18
Assignment 1: Preparation and Getting Started 18
Task 1: Creating a Composing Shack 18
Task 2: Starting Your Routine 19
Assignment Duration: 8 Days/30 Minutes Daily 19
Days 1 - 4 19
Days 5 - 8 19
Assignment Tips 20
Unit 2: Rhythmic Elements 21
The Relevance of Rhythm in Music 21
Restriction, Creativity, and Writer’s Block 22
The Elements of Rhythm 23
Tempo Marking List 25
Meter, It’s About Time 26
Choosing the Right Time Signature 27
Guidelines for Selecting the Right Time Signature 31
Unit 2: Workbook 32
Assignment 2: Creating Your Rhythms 32
The Four Stage Process 32
Rules for Notating Your Rhythm 33
Day 1 33
Day 2 33
Stage 1: Improvisation 33
Stage 2: Memorization 34
Stage 3: Performance 35
Stage 4: Notation 35
Unit 3: Pitch Elements 37
Unit 3: Workbook 39
Assignment 3: Selecting the Pitches 39
The Four Stage Process 39
Stage 1: Improvise (Time: 2 days minimum) 39
Stage 2: Memorizing (Time: 2 days minimum) 40
Stage 3: Performance (Time: 2 days minimum) 40
Step 4: Notate (Time: 2 days minimum) 41
Unit 4: Voice Leading 42
Official Voice Leading Rules 43
Commonsense Voice Leading Rules 44
Unit 4: Workbook 45
Assignment 4: Moving the Right Way 45
Melody Editing Process 45
Chord Editing Process 46
Unit 5: Melody - Combining Pitch and Rhythm 47
Unit 5: Workbook 48
Assignment 5: Creating the Initial Melodies 48
The Four Stage Process 48
Stage 1: Improvising (Time: 1 day minimum) 48
Stage 2: Memorizing (Time: 1 day minimum) 48
Stage 3: Performance (Time: 1 day minimum) 48
Stage 4: Notate (Time: 1 day minimum) 49
Unit 6: Motivic Elements 51
Unit 6: Workbook 54
Assignment 6: Creating Usable Motives 54
Stage 1: Extract Your Motives 54
Stage 2: Edit Your Motives 54
Unit 7: Reconstructing the Melody 55
Antecedent Phrase 55
Consequent Phrase 55
Connecting Periods 57
Unit 7: Workbook 59
Assignment 7: Using Motives to Build Your Melody 59
Unit 8: The Exposition - Building the Form 60
The Exposition 60
Creating Three Out of Two 62
Using Motives to Link Melodies 63
Unit 8: Workbook 65
Assignment 8: Creating the Exposition 65
Unit 9: The Development - A Time for Change 66
Unit 9: The Development 66
Working Through the Development 67
Step 1: First Section 67
Step 2: Choose a Second Melody 67
Step 3: Second Section 68
Step 4: Third Section 68
Step 5: Fourth Section 68
Step 6: Transitions 68
Unit 9: Workbook 70
Assignment 9: Creating the Development 70
Final Form For Development 70
Section 1 - Choose 1 Melody From Your Set 70
Section 2 - Combine Two Melodies 70
Section 3 - Choose 1 Melody From Your Set 70
Section 4 - Combine Two Melodies 70
Unit 10: The Recapitulation - Coming Home 71
The Recapitulation 71
Unit 10: Workbook 73
Assignment 10: Creating the Recapitulation 73
First Section 73
Second Section 73
Final Form For Recapitulation 74
Section 1 74
Section 2 74
Unit 11: Transitions - The Glue of Form 75
Types of Transitions 75
Chord Progressions and Sequences 76
Unit 11: Workbook 78
Assignment 11: Creating Transitions Between Major Sections 78
Final Form For Composition 78
Unit 12: Counterpoint - Adding the Bass 79
The Bass Line 79
Steps to Creating the Bass Line 80
Unit 12: Counterpoint - Adding a Bassline 84
Assignment 12: Creating a Bassline 84
Unit 13: Harmony - Creating Chords From the Bass 85
The Types of Triads 85
Major Triads 85
Minor Triads 85
Diminished Triads 85
Augmented Triads 86
Triad Inversions 86
Determining Inversion Symbols 86
Using Numerical Symbols to Create Harmony 87
Tips for Creating Chords 89
Progression, Succession, and Static Movement 90
The Progression 90
The Succession 90
Static Movement 90
Unit 13: Workbook 91
Assignment 13: Creating the Chord Progression 91
Unit 14: Orchestration - Coloring the Music 92
Unit 14: Workbook 94
Assignment 14: Orchestrate the Music 94
Unit 15: Score Elements 95
Score Elements 95
Unit 15: Workbook 98
Assignment 15: Including Score Elements 98
Unit 16: Rewrite - The Three-Stage Rewrite 99
Final Thoughts 100
Unit 16: Workbook 101
Assignment 16: Rewriting the Composition 101
The Three-Stage Process 101
Stage 1 - The Listening Stage 101
Stage 2 - Rewrite 101
Stage 3 - Final Edits 101
Ear Training Exercise 1: Pitch 104
Ear Training Exercise 2: Melody 105
Ear Training Exercise 3: Intervals 106
Ear Training Exercise 4: Chords 107
Ear Training Exercise 5: Harmony I 108
Ear Training Exercise 6: Harmony II 109
Ear Training Exercise 7: Harmony III 110
Ear Training Index 111
Recommended Resources for Composers 112
Music Notation 112
Music Counterpoint 112
Composition and Theory 112