Write Like Mozart Closing Notes – Composing Tools

Write Like Mozart Closing Notes – Composing Tools

Below is the last (and perhaps most lengthy) of my Write Like Mozart Notes that I sent my students when we took the Write Like Mozart class together in 2014.  The Write Like Mozart class is online again, starting today (April 11, 2016).

In this installment, I review the composing tools we have learned from the Write Like Mozart class and offer some thoughts and examples of how to develop material.

This is the tenth and final post in this series.

Composing Tools We Learned:

For me, a big part of composing is having an arsenal of tools to draw upon as I flesh out a creative idea. Let’s review some of what we’ve learned these past 6 weeks plus some other tools that weren’t covered as deeply in this course.

  • Form: Parallel Period Form (Question and Answer)
  • Harmonic Movement to Cadences (Authentic (both perfect & imperfect), Half, and Deceptive) ← the basic driving force of moving music forward
  • Sequential Harmonic Motion ← great for getting from one place (harmonic or melodic) to another
  • Changing Inversions, Diatonic Substitutions, and Chromatic Substitutions ← great ways to add interest to the harmony
  • Progressions with Progressions, Cadential 6-4, Pedal & Passing 6-4 chords ← great ways to extend the length of your harmony
  • Four-part and keyboard voicing of harmonic progressions ← great ways to flesh out the movement of chord tones within your piece, and understanding the rules helps you avoid doing things that just plain sound bad.
  • Applying Patterns ← ways to easily flesh out music from the voicing you’ve generated
  • Two-part Counterpoint ← great way to design a melody over an existing harmony

So, what are some of the big things that are missing? A few ideas come to mind:

  • Large Scale Form: Binary (AB), Ternary (ABA), Sonata, Rondo (e.g., ABACA), to name a few. Understanding these forms will help you figure out how to create longer pieces.
  • Large Scale Harmonic Motion: There is a reason the 2nd theme of a sonata is usually in the key of the dominant — it gives the piece a larger sense of harmonic motion. Understand what can work, and intentionally plan your works to move through these larger harmonic areas.
  • Development: How do we generate NEW material that sounds closely related enough to the existing material that it will feel like it is part of the same piece, but NOT boring?
  • Conservation of Material: Closely related to development — this is about keeping things organic, so that you limit the number of ideas you’re working with.

Where to Use These Tools:

So, how might these tools be used while your composing? Consider some of these common situations I encounter while composing:

  • I have a complete question and answer melody, but I sense that this section needs to be longer:
    • I look towards FORM: My current music can become an A section of an ABA form.
    • For my B section, I look towards LARGE SCALE HARMONIC MOTION — e.g., perhaps I set it in the key of the dominant.
    • I develop my B melody by using tools from my DEVELOPMENT tool chest. (Try turning your melodic shape upside down and editing the notes to fit your harmony. Voila, instant B section!)
  • I have a melody, but it seems too short:
    • I’ll likely play with things like RULE OF TWOS to repeat something and then move on;
    • and play with EXTENDING THE HARMONY, so that I can postpone the cadence.
  • I am in the middle of the piece, and I don’t know what to do:
    • and I’ll APPLY PATTERNS from my existing melodic material to create more music.
  • Something’s not quite right in the way my music sounds:
    • I check my VOICE LEADING, to make sure that I’m not doing things that are known to sound poor.
  • I have two sections of music, and I’m not sure how to get from one to another:
    • I look towards HARMONIC PROGRESSIONS which will lead to creating a cadence in my new section,
    • or perhaps a SEQUENTIAL HARMONIC PROGRESSION to move me from one area on the piano to another area.

So, again, these are tools that become part of your bag of tricks while you compose. And, the funny thing, there may be no predicting what your idea might be, and therefore what tools you immediately need to use. For instance, when I compose, an idea can start within any of these contexts:

  • I might have an idea for a form, first
  • I might have a melody
  • I might have a desired texture
  • I might have a harmonic progression in mind
  • I might have a completely fleshed out 2 measures of a piano piece, encompassing melody, harmony, texture

How to Use These Tools:

How do the tools then get used?

If I’m starting with form, I probably will start to develop a melody that will fit the form.  In my previous post, I discussed how to build a Rounded Binary form from melodic phrases.

How can I make the melody interesting? Keep in mind the Rule of Two, and think about the shape he discussed in 2 point counterpoint. Mendelssohn is one of my heroes for masterful treatment of melody. How is it that he can write an answer that extends to twice as long as expected and ends in a different key, without the listener being jarred anywhere along the way? It’s fun to repeat his success…

If I’m starting with a melody, then I need to figure out harmony. I also need to identify motivic elements and play with those. While the course spends little time discussing motivic elements, you can use the sequential harmonic patterns he mentions to develop idea from motivic elements.

If I’m starting with a desired texture, I might try to flesh out a harmony first and then add a melody on top of that. The patterns I identify for the texture can then be applied to the melody.

If I’m starting with a harmonic progression in mind, then the skills he introduced in two-part counterpoint can help. Identify the bass line to your harmony, know your harmony, and then add the counterpoint on top of that. Keep in mind the guidelines he offered on melody.

And, if I have a completely fleshed out chunk of music, then I’m thinking:

  • Find my motifs
  • Identify harmonic progressions
  • Apply the patterns and motivic elements over the harmony
  • Attempt to apply melodic shape that keeps things interesting and moving forward

A Simple Example:

Here’s an example of this last idea:

Prelude for Maria

This is an early piece I wrote in 1996, and, from my point of view, a piece where I still wouldn’t change a note. (My current style is very different.)

One day, when improvising, I came up with the first 4 measures of this piece – pretty much as it is written in the final version. If you read through the rest of the piece, you quickly will identify what I did with this idea:

  • Line 2 is almost a restatement of line 2. It shifts the harmony from the I chord to the ii or V6-4 chord, and there is some extra interest added in the evolution of the LH harmony.
  • Line 3 shortens the melodic idea from 4 measures to 2 measures, and repeats that on a I6 chord and a ii chord. Notice how Line 2 was a passing V 6-4 chord between the I and the I6 – a harmonic idea presented early in the course.
  • Line 4 speeds up the harmonic rhythm to one harmony per measure, and repeats the melodic idea over a I 6-4 to a V chord. The cadence lands on a new phrase start with a more interesting development of the initial melodic ideas.
  • The harmony now moves faster, and it flirts with different keys. Notice that there are number of CHROMATIC passing tones — a concept not covered with any detail in the course, but hinted upon within some of the analysis.

Some things that might be of interest:

  • m. 18 — a V7 / V harmony which leads to a I 6-4 (a disguised V, as our professor calls it) in m. 19
  • BUT, that I 6-4 is revoiced to a I6, which leads to a ii6 (m. 20), which then returns to a I6-4 (m. 21) and V (m. 22),
  • The V is revoiced to a V4-2 leading to a I6 (m. 23), ii6 (m24), I6-4 (m. 25), vi chord (making my I6-4 a kind of a passing 6-4!) in m. 26, and then following with a IV, V4-2, I6, ii6, I6-4, V7, and a final cadence to I in m. 33.

This 37 measure piece has ONLY 2 root position authentic cadences. m. 14 → m. 15, and m. 32 → m. 33. This is one of the reasons that this piece keeps moving forwards — it flirts with cadential material through much of page 2, but keeps backing away from V to I by revoicing chords to AVOID landing on root position I.

THE LONGER YOU CAN AVOID ROOT POSITION I, the longer you can extend your phrases.

This concludes my notes on the Write Like Mozart course. I hope that this series has been a helpful addition to Dr. Edwards’ lectures. Enjoy your final project, and by all means keep composing!

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