Level 1: Craft of Music Composition

The Truth About Your Ability to Learn How to Compose Music 

Anybody can learn to compose music, but to be an effective composer you need to develop the right skills and you need to practice.  Talent and drive is important, but it's not enough to bring out your full potential as a composer.

While it's true that some composers have created music without knowing how to read music, these composers are exceedingly rare. The truth is, if you're going to be an effective composer, you must learn to read music. In the realm of classical music, there are no composers who have succeeded without learning to notate music.

Before You Begin This Course

This course is for the composer who wants a traditional training program that allows them to move at their own pace.

This is the Second Edition of our highly popular Level 1: Craft of Music Composition course.

The course is released on a regular schedule with two lessons delivered by the end of each month. Depending on when you sign up, you'll get more than one lesson immediately delivered to you.

You'll get any updates to the course that are available for the entire time that you're signed up for the course. Sign up is for a year, so you can download all of the files as they become available.

Expectations of Students Taking the Music Composition Level 1 Course 

This course expects that you can already compose music. If this is not the case, take some time to learn about the musical staff and the notes of the treble and the bass clef.

Before starting this course, you should be comfortable with the following procedures:

1) Build and recognize basic triads and seventh chords
2) Recognize and identify key signatures. Instant recognition is not required, but it certainly helps.
3) Read and write music notation
4) Clap notated rhythms

Essentially, students should understand the basics of music notation, including key signatures, time signatures, note recognition in bass and treble clefs, and common score indicators before taking this course.

This course is not a music theory course. It's designed to take composers from the beginning stages of composing a piece through to the very last edits. Each lesson will focus on a different element of a composition. If you follow the lessons, you'll have a completed work by the end of the course. You'll also learn about the mechanics of composing music along the way.

Level 1: Craft of Music Composition Overview 2nd Edition

When you purchase the course, you're actually buying a subscription to receive the course as it's available. As this course is in its second incarnation, the bulk of the material is already written. 
  • Unit 1: Rhythm  (Release Date: July 2016)
  • Unit 2: Pitch (Release Date: July 2016)
  • Unit 3: Non-chord Tones (Release Date: August 2016)
  • Unit 4: Motives (Release Date: August 2016)
  • Unit 5: Melody (Release Date: September 2016)
  • Unit 6: Form — Part I — Exposition (Release Date: September 2016)
  • Unit 7: Form — Part II — Development (Release Date: October 2016)
  • Unit 8: Form — Part III — Recapitulation Release Date: October 2016)
  • Unit 9: Form — Part IV — Transitions (Release Date: November 2016)
  • Unit 10: Harmony I (Release Date: November 2016)
  • Unit 11: Harmony II (Release Date: December 2016)
  • Unit 12: Counterpoint (Release Date: December 2016)
  • Unit 13: Score Elements (Release Date: January 2016)
  • Unit 14: Editing (Release Date: January 2016)
  • Unit 15: Rewrite (Release Date: February 2016)
  • Unit 16: Final Edits (Release Date: February 2016)

Programmed Music Composition Course Syllabus

The syllabus for this course covers a total of 16 lessons. The goal is to take the composer through the creation of an entire music composition from beginning to end. This is not as easy as it seems since the course is specifically designed to be of use to the beginning and advanced composer. Along the way, you'll develop your technique and improve your skill.

This schedule covers all of the fundamentals of music composition while keeping composers actively engaged in the process of composing. Each unit should ideally last about 30 days, but the composer can extend the time or shorten the duration to suit their specific needs.

Level 1: Music Composition Curriculum

Each unit may take several days or weeks to complete. The length of time depends largely on the students current ability. Beginning students may need several weeks per unit while advanced students may only require one lesson per unit. In addition to the course, each unit provides an ear training exercise that the student is expected to work on daily.

After composers have completed the course, they will have a strong understanding of the fundamentals of music composition. Students that graduate from this course are now ready to undergo advanced music composition lessons and begin working on their own original compositions while developing their unique voice and style.

Unit 1: Composing Rhythmic Elements

Composers are expected to improvise, memorize, perform, and commit to paper individual rhythms that have a recognizable and logical form. Student's are expected to pay careful attention to their rhythms, and free themselves from notation programs during this process.

While more difficult in the beginning stages, getting away from a notation program encourages the development of the composer's mind and intellect. Music notation programs can drastically decrease the time it takes to compose music, but composers must also have the ability to work without the aid of computer playback.

Unit 2: Composing Pitch Elements

This unit focuses solely on the pitch elements that will be used in the composition. Composers are asked to select several pitches that will be used in the final composition. The western musical scale uses 7 pitches for each scale. While this unit is a form of set theory, it's based on the same basic restrictions used in classical musical scales.

Composers should be able to compose a satisfying piece using any series of pitches. Bach once said that with only four notes, he could create a satisfying piece. The goal is not to create a masterpiece, but to challenge the composer to think about music in a creative and challenging way.

Unit 3: Composing Non-Chord Tones

Composers learn how to effectively use non-chord tones in this unit. As the student's composition is beginning to take form, embellishments in the form of non-chord tones are introduced into the structure.
In traditional tonal harmony, a non-chord tone may be a passing tone, escape tone, appoggiatura, suspension, retardation, anticipation, neighboring tone, or changing tones. However, in real-life composition, these categorizations seldom actually matter. This unit teaches composers how to apply these concepts in a creative manner.

Unit 4: Composing Motives

After successful creation of the rhythm, pitch, and introduction of non-chord tones, the composer begins work on creating motives for use in the composition. A motive acts as the motor that drives a piece forward.
Composers throughout history have used motives to drive a composition forward, link passages together, and create logic and form in a composition. Motives are one of the most important aspects of a musical composition, and students must learn to effectively edit and manipulate motives to write effective works.

Unit 5: Composing the Melody

The next unit deals with the creation of melody in a composition. Composers learn how to create a balanced melody with an antecedent and consequent phrase. The unit also deals with the most complicated aspect of periods, and how antecedent and consequent phrases are used to build an entire composition. The motives created in the previous units are developed into full-fledged melodies.

Unit 6: Musical Form -- Creating the Exposition

Composers begin to shape their composition in this unit. The exposition is the introductory portion of a classical form. In Classical music, the exposition functions as the initial entrance of the main thematic material. That material can extend throughout an entire movement, section or musical composition.
In this case, the composer introduces the exposition by using the elements they have already created in previous units. Composers begin to build their composition and watch as it takes form and grows.

Unit 7: Musical Form -- Building the Development Section

The exposition provides an introduction to the main thematic material, and in the Classical and Romantic periods it also typically existed within one key center. The development goes through several key centers, breaks the melody up into fragments, reorganizes it, presents ideas in more than one key and takes you away from the home key, or in this case, the motivic material of the exposition. The development is a crucial par of the composition and acts as the middle section in the piece the composer is creating.

Unit 8: Musical Form -- Composing the Recapitulation

In a Classical era piece, the recapitulation typically repeated the exposition in a very similar fashion. The main difference is that the exposition would appear in the tonic throughout the entire recapitulation. Think of the Classical period exposition as getting away from what you knew, and venturing out to experience new ideas and situations. Because of this, it was allowed to go to the dominant as part of that journey or thought of another way, a move away from its home.

The recapitulation in the Classical period was all about coming back home. This meant that the recapitulation almost always started in the tonic and stayed there. Since the composer is not concerned with Classical period ideals, some liberty is allowed and the recapitulation section of the unit takes a liberal approach.

Unit 9: Connecting the Piece Through Transitions

At this point in the course, the composer begins to connect the exposition, development, and recapitulation using transitions. Techniques and methods for connecting these three sections are provided within the unit. As with all units in this program, this unit contains an initial explanation of the concept of transitions, and then the composer works with the instructor to incorporate the transitions within the musical composition.

Unit 10: Adding Harmony to the Composition

At this point, the student has a completed work, but it's only a single melodic line. The student is now asked to add harmony to the composition. Advice on how to create chords, some quick tips for easily creating refreshing and unique chord progressions, and an introduction to the concept of counterpoint are explored. Composers may require several interim lessons to complete this unit.

Unit 11: Advanced Treatment of Musical Harmony

In this unit, composers learn about some advanced methods of incorporating harmony into a composition. The composer is led through analyzing their own work to determine the crucial elements required to effectively create a harmonic backdrop. A discussion of the difference between a chord progression and succession is provided, and composers are expected to enhance and improve the chordal structure established in the previous unit.

Unit 12: An Introduction to Musical Counterpoint

This unit doesn't teach the composer about sixteenth or eighteenth-century counterpoint. The unit instead focuses on a modern interpretation of counterpoint, with the goal of introducing multiple independent melodic lines that work together along with the harmony already established. Composers add a third line to the composition with the help of the instructor. Principles of counterpoint are explained, but ultimately, the composer is expected to use creative license in the application of concepts.

Unit 13: Introduction to Notation and Score Elements

The composer is now expected to go through the composition and add performance indicators, score elements, and begin preparing the score for publication. This exercise allows composers to learn about standard notation procedures, and to begin thinking about how the performer will interpret the composition.
Composers must tread the line between adding too much information, and not adding enough so that the performer will have a good chance of effectively performing the composition.

Unit 14: Editing the Music Composition

At this point, the composer has a completed musical work. However, it's not yet ready for publication. Composers must go through the process of editing and manipulate the work before completing the composition. Some students find that it's helpful to take a break from the composition at this point.

Unit 15: Rewriting the Music Composition

This is quite possibly the most difficult part of the entire process. The composer is now asked to rewrite the entire composition, using the existing composition as a guide. This fulfills two goals:

  • Rewriting the composition ensures that the composer is aware of every note placed in the composition.
  • Rewriting allows a composer to take a fresh look at the composition, fix any problem sections, and ensure that the work has a logical flow.

Most composers find this aspect of the course to be the most time-consuming and intensive aspect of the course. However, by completing the rewrite, composers are left with a fully-polished and effective musical composition.

Unit 16: Completing the Final Edits on the Composition

Now it's time to review the composition one more time, and fix any remaining issues. The composer is expected to fine-tune the composition. Composers are encouraged to submit the work to an acceptable composition contest. 

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