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TeachNet USA

From Magpies to Messiaen: Birds in Music

Part IV - Composing

Now that the students have listened to and discussed various pieces of music that incorporate birdsong, and have their own selected birdsong as raw material, they will begin to compose an original piece of music.


Topics covered in this part of the lesson:

- The concept of a figure, motive and phrase

- How to develop figures, motives and phrases

- Form

- Melodic contour

- Texture

- Tone Color

- Use of technology such as software and MIDI controllers to aid in composition and performance


Starting your composition:  

You are now ready to begin composing an original piece of music. This is where you will begin to work in a group. Here are some things to think about before you begin:

- The object of this assignment is to create a piece of music using birdsong as material, not to create a piece of music that sounds like birdsong!

- It is ok to think of the compositions you heard for ideas or inspiration but it is not ok to copy what you heard.

- Think of the thousands of possibilities that are available to you. The more creative you are the more possibilities will arise.

- Remember all of the concepts we have covered in class (i.e. form, harmony, rhythm, tone color etc.) These can all work together in your piece!!!!

- Enjoy creating a new musical work!!!!!!!!!!!



Figures & Motives & Phrases, oh my!!!
We will cover in class the concepts of figures, motives and phrases.
Take a look here for a review of these concepts
Figures & Motives
Step 1 -

To the best of your ability figure out if your birdsongs are figures or motives. This really is a grey area but think of a motive as the smallest possible idea you can use.

You will be using the birdsongs in three main ways:

- To use as actual recordings, original or edited, electonically in your composition

- To use transcribed for other instruments i.e. a flute playing the same pitches or very close

- To use as the basis for other musical ideas throughout your piece i.e. many clarinets playing material that sounds like a flock of birds

Step 2- Have all of your material (figures and motives) in front of you labled in a way that makes sense to you. You can number them, letter them or even use the name of the birds that they come from.

Step 3 - Decide what material you want to use. You may switch throughout the piece but you should have a couple in your head that you definitely will be using.

At this point you may decide to only use a small part of a longer birdsong. This would be almost like taking a figure and taking a part of it to use as a motive.

You can use the material in any way you want!!!!!!!!!!!

Step 4. Pick one motive

Take that motive and vary it in 5 different ways.

We will have a discussion based on how everybody varied their motive. This is a process that you will go through many times throughout your composition process.



Step 1. Now that you have your material ready to go, you need to start creating phrases.

Remember every phrase needs to have a beginning, middle and end.

If you want a reminder of the concept of a phrase take a look at the websites mentioned before, over here to the right.

or listen to a professor giving a lecture on phrases in the music of Beethoven & Mozart with more advanced concepts of how harmony playes a role ( also has musical examples)

Step 2. Begin creating phrases to use in your composition

Reminder of phrase site 1


Lecture on phrase & form in Music of Beethoven & Mozart



A Lecture on Form

Developing your music:  

Step 1. To avoid having your music sound like just a collection of different motives and phrases you will need to develop these motvies and phrases as well as have a form of some sort.

Review of Form - Form was one of the first things we learned this year. Review the concepts of repetition, variation and contrast.

(extra credit opportunity -Click on the link to the right to hear a professor give a lecture on Musical forms of the Classic and Romantic Periods. If you write a summary of what he discussed you will recieve extra credit!)

Step 2. As mentioned above make sure you are using the basic concepts of form (Repetition, Contrast, & Variation) in your music.

When developing your music you take an idea and change it in a way that it is somewhat different but is still recognizable as something that has to do with the original idea.

(i.e. Taking the tune of mary had a little lamb and playing it twice as fast, or singing the tune happy birthday 4 times and starting it on a different note each time.)


A Lecture on Form
A simplified lesson on Form


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