At the Piano
Davide Verotta Composer

Composition Workshop ( 2016 and earlier)

This group class introduces and develops compositional skill and help aspiring composers to find their creative voices. The class has a strong emphasis on composing music: students will be assigned compositional exercises, describe and discuss their work with the class, and work on a final project of up to two/four minutes length. The teaching component of the class includes the description of the basic elements and tools of musical composition (rhythm, melody, counterpoint, harmony), an introduction to musical structures and forms, elements of musical analysis, as well as guided listening and discussion of examples from the music repertoire of our time and of the past.



Class Material

Assignment Due

Workshop I

Sep 10

Overview of the class. Compositional Process. Components of Composition. Musical Shape and Form.

Hand out

Fryderyk Chopin, listen to Mazurka Opus 6 No. 1 in F# minor. Download score

Phil Glass, listen to Koyaanisqatsi (youtube)


Sep 17

Types of melody & elementary forms Phrases and Periods.

Hand out (Homework solution, Phrases, Periods)

Write a short melody using notes of the same duration. Write one or more variations using different note durations. Write one or more variations changing a few of the pitches involved.

Sep 24

Melody continued.

Franz Schubert: listen to Das Wandern from Die Schöne Müllerin. Luciano Berio: listen to Folk Songs V. A la femminisca (rolling score).

Hand out (Schubert text/score, Berio score and melodic Structure).

Analyze the rhythmic and intervallic structure of the melody from Prokofiev 9th piano Sonata. Write short melodies of each of the three period types described in class.

Oct 1

Rhythm I

Hand out. Rhythm, Operations on Rhytms (diminution, augmentation, addition and subtraction, retrograde, negative space), polyrythms, canons, rotations.

Rhythmic phrases and periods Rhythmic phrases and periods for two instruments Additive Meters examples: 11/8 Gankino horo (Bulgaria), 5/8 Paidushko horo (Bulgaria), 7/8 Rupak (India), 14/8 Depchandi (India).

Add a lower voice to the short melodies you composed. Then add a third voice that is in the middle, between the first and the second voice.

Oct 8

Rhythm II

Continue discuss rhythms and associated operations. Steve Reich, listen to Clapping (played by the composer).


Write a short piece for unpitched percussion. Use the form of Das Wandern as a model: first period (A), transition, second period (B). Write a version for just one pitch, and then had one additional pitch.

Oct 15

Rhythm to Melody. Hand out. (Melodic Canon, Reich, Beethoven).Melodic Canon example Listen to Steve Reich Nagoya Marimba. Beethoven Symphony No.9. Play example of simple percussion piece in A-Transiiton-B form. Continue writing the short piece from last week. You can add a section in which you use one of the techniques discussed in class (form will be A-transition-B-transition-C). If you wish you can use pitched instruments instead of unpitched ones. If you decide to use pitched instruments use no more than 4 distinct pitches (e.g. AEDF as in the opening of Beethoven's 9th).

Oct 22

Melody - Harmony - Rhythm

Further discussion of Rhythm and Melody, The concep of Transition, examples from the literature. Continue working on the piece, or start a new one. Same form, relax further the contraint on the number of pitches you can use.

Oct 29

Melody - Harmony - Rhythm

Class Analysis of the introduction of Ludwig van Beethoven Waldstein Sonata (Op.53); download score here. Franz Schubert, listen to Wohin from Die Schöne Müllerin. Download score here, and text here. Continue Composition. Franz Schubert, analysis of Wohin.

Nov 5

Melody - Harmony - Rhythm - Form Discussion of Wohin, analysis handout. Continue Composition. Luciano Berio, analysis of A La Femminisca.

Nov 12

Melody - Harmony - Rhythm - Form Discussion of A La Femminisca, analysis handout. Continue Composition

Nov 19

Form – Structural phenomena

A first overview of the main types of structural phenomena the musical elements that can be used to punctuate musical discourse and help organize larger scale musical pieces. Watch Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers: Too Hot to Handle.Analysis of Too Hot to Handle. Download hand out here

Continue Composition

Nov 26

Listening to Final Projects

Final projects discussion  
Workshop II
Dec 10 Overview of the class. Listen to musical example, nomencalture review, musical form. Download Syllabus. Download score for A Day in the Life (the Beatles). Listen to a Day in the Life.  
Dec 17 Analysis of A Day in the Life. Musical Form. Form of A Day in the Life and form elaboration download. Composing using Audacity. Listen to the elaboration of the orchestral episode in A Day in the Life (sections starting at 2'14 and 3'24"), Look at the Audacity generated waveform at 2'14 and 3'24" Start to prepare material for a "large" scale composition.
Jan 7 Composing with minimal means.
Nature of sound, consonant and dissonant intervals. The effect of distance on dissonance.
Listen to Gyorgy Ligeti's Musica Ricercata #1 (youtube). Download mini-score. Download Consonance and Dissonance. Listen/discuss prepared material.
Jan 14 Counterpoint in composition. Composing with minimal means: early counterpoint. Strict counterpoint rules (i.e. the harmonically richest and most consonant voice leading). Download counterpoint lectures material. Compose an alternative version to Musica Ricercata #1.
Jan 21

Counterpoit in composition (continued)

Treatment of dissonance. Three Voices Counterpoint. Triadic Harmony. Counterpoint homework. Work on original composition.
Jan 28 Counterpoit in composition (continued) The Greek (church) Modes. Artificial Scales. Extended Conterpoint. student compositions: analysis and elaborations. Download edited/elaborated student Composition #1 and Composition #2 Work on original composition.
Feb 4 Form and counterpoint (XVI century). Palestrina Stabat Mater. Emergence of Tertian Harmony. Palestrina Stabat Mater. Listen and Download score. Work on original composition.
Feb 11 Form and counterpoint (XVI-XVII century).

Palestrina Stabat Mater (continued).Download Analysis: Claudio Monteverdi: Cruda Amarili. Download Text, Score, Analysis and listen here.

Work on original composition. Prepare to discuss Stabat Mater (form, counterpoint, harmonies, thematic and compositional considerations).
Feb 18 Form, counterpoint and harmony (XVI-XVIII century).

J.S.Bach BVW 99. Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (Whatever God does is done well). Score of mvt.1 and score/reduction of mvt.6. Listen to mvt.1 and mvt.6.

Work on original composition.
Workshop II - (Continued, Harmonic development from mid 18th to 20th Centuries)
Mar 25 Form (variations) - and compositional Devices G.F.Handel. The Harmonious Blacksmith (Aria and Variations from the Suite No. 5 in E major, HWV 430, listen here).  
April 1 Form (variations) - and compositional Devices L.v.Beethoven. 6 Variations on an original Theme Op.34. (listen here).  
April 8 Form (baroque concerto) - and compositional Devices J.S.Bach Concerto Italiano. Vivaldi Violin Concerto (minimalism anti-litteram).  
April 15 Form (Sonatina and Sonata) - and compositional Devices

Mozart Piano Sonata K545 (listen here). Serenade in G major, K. 525 (listen here).

April 22 Complex Sonata Form - harmonic exploration L.v.Beethoven Op.57 Appassionata (listen here).  
April 29 Complex Sonata Form - harmonic exploration Mozart String Quartet No.19 in C Major (listen here).  
May 6 Sonata Form at the turn of the 19 Century C.Debussy. L'Isle Joyeuse. (listen)  
May 13 Sonata Form at the turn of the 19 Century Scriabin Piano Sonata #8. (listen). Berg Piano Sonata No.1 (listen)  
May 20 Simpler Forms and harmonic exploration. Breaking away from traditional Harmony. C.Debussy. Preludes book 1, No 1 and 2. (listen to No.1 and No.2). Etude No.12. (listen)  
May 27 Simpler Forms and harmonic exploration. Breaking away from traditional Harmony. O.Maessien. Vingt Regards No.2 and No.3.  
June 3/10 20th century explorations. D.Shostakovic String Quartet No.8. (listen)  
    Final Project

Besides Pencil & Paper and a good eraser, below is a list of useful software, and some Web-sites. If you need music paper click here to download.

Notation Software
Sibelius: (not recommended unless you have it already)
Musescore: (not as good as Finale or Sibelius but it is free)

Music Editing
Garage Band: For windows:

Final Cut: or iMovie or similar video program that provides control on the audio tracks.

Musical Scores
International Music Score Library Project:

Music Analysis




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