Community Music Center

Composition Workshop



This hands-on class explores general composition methods through a series of weekly, short exercises. In each class we discuss specific techniques and share/critique student work. Knowledge of music notation is not required, but notated assignments are welcome. No specific level of music theory knowledge is required and students will be encouraged to compose at whatever level they feel comfortable. This class will also serve as good preparation (but is not required) for students who plan on taking Davide Verotta's Composition Workshops during the fall, winter and spring quarters.


The goal of this class is to develop compositional skills by studying a variety of established techniques through listening and writing exercises. Class meetings will be a mixture of reviewing student work and discussing specific techniques. Students are expected to record and/or notate (with photocopies) assignments prior to each class meeting–or be willing to provide a live performance. Recordings supplied to me electronically (via email) will be posted on our class website.


In most cases your compositions will be short (i.e. 1-3 minutes in length) exercises that ask you to limit your focus to one or two specific techniques. Because of this, your "exercises" may not feel like "real" music–you may need to exclude (or set aside) ideas that you think "sound good" for the sake of accurately featuring the assigned technique(s). While this may feel frustrating, down the road it could help you develop more discipline and productivity if ever you hit a writer's block within your creative process.


Ideally, to make the class function efficiently, you will email me an mp3 or score/chart of your assignment by Wednesday afternoon. This will give me time to download/evaluate it before our Thursday night meeting. I will then be able to play your assignment in class, although you are always welcome and encouraged to perform your assignments yourselves. If you cannot get an assignment to me by Wednesday afternoon, the next best thing would be to bring it to class on an mp3 player (iPod, laptop, phone, etc.) so it can be played for the class. Of course, if you plan to perform your assignment, a recording won't be required, but you should bring your specific instrument to class.


Printable version of the following schedule



Topic  & Class Materials

(subject to change as the class evolves)

Assignment Due/ Student Examples


June 20

Overview: compositional process; outlining and breaking down a composition into component


Composition Overview





June 27

Imitation (as flattery) and derivation


Chopin: E Minor Prelude / Radiohead: Exit Music for a Movie (modeling the melody)


Field: Nocturne No. 8 / Chopin: Eb Nocturne (modeling the melodic leap and general texture)


Armstrong: What a Wonderful World / Mozart: Ah, Vous Dirais-Je, Maman


Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, 2nd movement / JK: Beethoven 7th/5th symphonies mashup


Diagramming and annotating an existing composition






July 11

Emphasizing/highlighting a single method or idea


Gyorgy Ligeti: Musica Ricercata I (using mostly one note; focusing on rhythm, dynamics and density)


JK:5ths (focusing on the interval of a 5th) (audio) (score)


Bartok: Mikrokosmos No. 129, Alternating 3rds (focusing on 3rds)


Debussy: Pour Les Quartes (focusing on 4ths)


Imitating/modeling another piece





July 18

Motif: variations and development


Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, 1st movement


Rollins: Tenor Madness


Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, 2nd movement


Howard: Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)


Feature a single focus, method or idea




July 25

Rhythm only: motif/density/dynamics


JK: Rhythm (audio)  (score)


Melodic motif with variations




Aug 1

Melody and text


JK: melodic version  instrumental version


SS: Romney Quotes  



Rhythmic/percussive piece organized around a motif, varied density and conscious dynamics



Aug 8

Form and contrast


Beethoven: rondo from Op. 13, 2nd movement

Deathwish: Tailgate (utilizing the slow-fast-slow... technique)


A melody based on a text (poem, etc.)




Aug 15

Modern ideas (time permitting)

Short composition in a specific form utilizing contrast