I know how to write a short piece, but I am not sure where to go next
Many composers make it through the early stages of a composition, and then find they have real trouble going beyond a main theme, or even a short piece in small ternary form.
This may be you? If you’ve ever said something like
My biggest challenge is seeing how everything fits together and finishing a piece.
I’ve got ten seconds of music I like… Okay, now what?
Then you’ve got a problem with development and form.
But do not fear, for there is a solution. That solution, is mastering a few of the tools available to you as a composer. These tools are:
- Small scale formal units, from tight-knit themes, to hybrid and compound themes.
- A deep understanding of functional harmony.
- The ability to use all of the loosening techniques available.
Let’s talk about each one of these.
Mastering Small Scale Formal Units
It may seem counterintuitive, that if you want to write longer pieces, that you should master small scale form. The fact is, long pieces, such as pieces in sonata form, or concerto form, are made up of many small scale formal sections.
Let’s just quickly look at the exposition in sonata form, as an example. If we take Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 1, Mvt. 1, we can break it down in depth, to see how he composed it.
The Exposition in Sonata Form
The exposition is laid out in the following way.
- A tight-knit sentence, ending in a half-cadence
- A transition, in sentential form, with expansion, and extension as the primary loosening devices.
- A subordinate theme, also in sentential form, with expansion, extension, and cadential deviations as the primary loosening devices.
Notice a few trends here. First, each of the three sections of the exposition are built on sentences, or sentential form, meaning they have a relatively clear presentation phrase, continuation phrase, and cadential sections. Even if they are greatly expanded or extended, as in the case of the subordinate theme (it’s 29 measures, vs the 8 measure main theme), the tools required to compose it, are the same that are required to compose the main theme.
Music Composition 101: The Fundamentals goes into great detail on all of the primary theme types, and Music Composition 201: Sonata Form expands this knowledge by adding the hybrid and compound themes. Both of these courses are only available as part of the monthly or annual Art of Composing Academy Membership.
A Deep Understanding of Functional Harmony
Beyond mastering small scale form, in order to write longer pieces, you must be able to modulate without much effort to many different keys. Now the easiest way is usually through common chord or pivot chord modulation, which is treated in depth in composition 101.
The true key to composing longer pieces, is understanding the use of harmony in large scale compositions. You’ll be receiving an email in the next few days, which goes into detail about the harmonic plans of longer compositions.
Needless to say, being able to easily modulate to many different keys makes this process a lot less intimidating.
The Ability to Use All of the Loosening Techniques Available
If you’re not familiar with loosening techniques, these are tools that you can use on sections of themes, such as a basic idea, in order to make them work in the more complex sections of your compositions. As I alluded to in the breakdown of the exposition, you will use specific techniques, such as expansion and extension to lengthen your themes, but there are many more loosening techniques.
In Composition 201, we cover eight extremely powerful techniques:
- Asymmetrical grouping
- Functionally redundancy
- Functionally deficient
Mastering these techniques will great increase your ability to compose more substantial works. I’ll be discussing some of these in the emails that come through.
Form, Development, and Variation
I really look forward to working with you over the next couple of weeks to build some more skills towards composing longer pieces. Be sure to check your email, and add me to your contacts, so you don’t miss out.
You can add [email protected]
One last thing, be sure to check out my podcast. It is a great way to learn while driving, or just doing things around the house. Below is the episode on Form.