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 (in any manner) are welcome. More importantly, you should be able to provide a recorded version of your assignments as an .mp3 audio file for each class meeting. Any level of music theory knowledge (or none) is ok, and students are encouraged to compose at whatever level they feel comfortable.


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 (via .mp3s & .pdfs, or links) assignments prior to each class meeting. I will post these on our class website unless you ask that I not.


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 challenging, 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 your assignment by Wednesday evening (the night before class). 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.




Topic  & Class Materials

(subject to change as the class evolves)

Assignment Due/ Student Examples


June 22

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


Composition Overview





June 29

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 6

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


Micky; Modeled after

Vy: Modeled after

Andrew; with vocal effect

Katherine; Modeled after

Enger: Modeled after


July 13

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 20

Rhythm only: motif/density/dynamics


JK: Rhythm (audio)  (score)


Melodic motif with variations









July 27

Melody and text


JK: melodic version  instrumental version


SS: Romney Quotes  



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








Aug 3

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.)


Vy - score/text

Andrew - score/text




Aug 10

Modern ideas (time permitting)

Short composition in a specific form utilizing contrast







Jono - Chant For G.L.

Gregorian chant

Ligeti Ostinato

Pianist discusses Ligeti Piece