A post by David MacDonald that is worth re-posting; I intend to direct my composition and orchestration students to this in the future.
ALL ABOUT challenges
🎻 = strings only • 🎷 = woodwinds only • 🎺 = brass only • △ = percussion only
Compose a short piece of music (1-2 minutes) that is all about…
The End-Of-Semester Concert
For the end-of-semester composition department concert, you will need the following:
Successful completion of these challenges involves approaching each task directly and thoroughly, avoiding extraneous musical details that do not contribute to the requested sonic effect.
Challenges that must be composed for acoustic instruments with no electronic accompaniment or sonic modification are indicated with a ☀️ symbol. Challenges designed for electroacoustic music are labeled ⚡. Challenges designed for piano or piano-plus-one are labeled 🎹.
Musical sequence seems to be a simple concept, but the term is actually used in different ways, many of which are similar. This post will hopefully lend some clarity to the subject. The kind of sequence I’m describing is defined in the Oxford Companion to Music as: Continue reading What’s a Sequence?
This is a slightly-edited email that I just sent to a class of students in my online course that is designed for graduate students who need to review (or learn for the first time) undergraduate music theory concepts. Course grades had been falling as material became more difficult. This course is made up of fourteen weekly lessons, each of which includes an activity, an assignment (self-graded with automatic release of a key upon submission), and a quiz. Quizzes are available all week, and must be done by midnight Sunday.
I see a disturbing trend: that most of you are submitting their assignments at the end of the weekly unit, and so aren’t making time for asking questions or for study before the quiz. Here’s what I found for the last five assignments:
Goal: To be able to identify all intervals an octave and smaller by ear and to be able to sing any interval above or below a given tone. Continue reading How to Practice Ear Training Elements
A companion-post to this is “Motive: Beyond Simple Identification“.
The song America The Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel Ward is the topic of a lovely NPR feature, Rob Kapilow’s What Makes It Great. It can be heard here. Designed for public radio audiences, it is very accessible to people with no musical training or knowledge of specialized jargon. What Kapilow did was describe the song’s use of melodic motive in plain English. The song is so saturated with motive that I think it’s worth translating the description back to jargon to explain it with more depth.
Here’s the sheet music (click the image to enlarge and click here to download it as a PDF).
The music starts with two motives that we can label x and y.
Notice how neither motive is constricted by bar lines; the pick-up note is part of what makes these motives clear. Also notice that important traits distinguish these motives: x has a distinctive rhythm (Kapilow calls it “short-long… a dot”) and a special downward-skip melodic contour.
Motive y has a plain rhythm of six steady notes, and its contour is different every time it appears. It’s often noted that rhythm is the most important parameter for making a motive identifiable; everyone points to Beethoven’s Fifth’s DA-DA-DA-DUMMMM as an example. But what is noteworthy (no pun intended) about the simple rhythm of America’s six notes? It’s that they occupy a special place in the musical hypermeter — the “location” of these notes in the phrase. In this case, all phrases are in a traditional folky pattern of four bars in length with the music coming to repose (the “cadence point”) on the downbeat of every fourth bar.
Take a moment now to examine the music, labeling each occurrence of x and each occurrence of y. Unlike in most songs, when you are done you will have labeled every single note of the tune as being identical to x or y or a variant of it. Examine how the variants are related to their first occurrences, or to each other. Then consider this question: what else in this melody provides the elegance that has led this song to be a cherished America classic? After you’re done, return to this page and read the rest.