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Creating New Stuff

Creative Composition for every Music Classroom
Digital Edition - Student

The Composition Process

Fun with Composition


Using Bass Lines

Evaluation Time

Published by Noteable Music

Noteable Music, Melbourne, 2013



The Composition

The Process
Often the hardest part of writing a composition is working
out where to start. This process is different for everybody
but here are some basic steps you will need to go through
to create a piece.

Check Your Task.

This could be: write a jingle, or a love song,
or music for a specific purpose. Make a list of all
the musical elements to create the correct mood
using instrumentation, melody, style, dynamics,
harmony rhythm and form.


Mess Around!
This is the most important bit. Start playing
or writing, whichever is your chosen creative
mode. Come up with ideas.
Record or write them down
Dont discard anything.

Your ideas need to be sorted into sections. See

if some go together and can combine. It may need
some transposition or some working around.
Start thinking about your form.


Really work on your melody. Make sure it has

enough repetition and intensity. Take some of
your ideas and develop them. Take small sections
and move them up and down to create a
Put your piece together. This is where you add
your introduction and sort out how you are going
to end. Make sure your form is clear and have a
proper climax and shape
to your piece.
Play Your Piece

You have created your very own
masterpiece - well done!

By now you have probably lost a bit of

perspective. So play your piece to someone musical
you trust. Get their feedback. Also record your
piece and try to listen back critically. Rework
your piece.

Baking your Composition

If you want to bake a cake there are standard ingredients you will need. There are things you will
have to do to it as well, like bake it in the oven. Changing the ingredients will change the flavour of
the cake.
When writing a composition there are ingredients that we need to use just like when we bake a
cake. The ingredients we use will determine the type of cake we make, or for us, the style of music
we are composing. In music the ingredients are called the elements of music and changing the
elements will change the style of the music.

The basic ingredients:

Baking powder

Pop, Jazz, Rock, Classical,

Country, Baroque,
Hip Hop, Romantic etc
The basic elements:
Time signature
Harmony - Chord changes

Cream butter and sugar

Sift flour and baking powder
Add all the other stuff
Make icing for later


Develop your ideas into strong

Mix together with the form.
Allocate appropriate ideas to
instruments and layer to create
Add a splash of dynamics to taste.

Put in oven until you cant

stand it any longer and have
to get it out and eat it!


The special ingredients depending on

the style of music:
Type of Rhythm
Type of Timbre/Instrumentation


Then special ingredients

depending on your type
Vanilla essence
Food colouring
The icing on the cake!


banana, marble,
fruit cake, sponge etc







Record, listen, experiment and practise

until it is ready for consumption.

Warning!! Please do not try to make this cake at home.

The author is a music teacher not a cook.

My Composition Plan
Thinking about your composition is one of the best things you can do to ensure you create a quality
product. This is a useful plan, one that you can add to and change as you go along.
Composition name or your task:



Write some ideas for how your piece is going to create the following:





Working with Themes

Brain storming is a great way to start any creative adventure. Themes, ideas, titles or topics can
often lead to great compositions and help tie your piece together while creating a sense of unity for
both you and your listeners.

Stuff to do:

1. Use a brainstorming or graphic organisation tool that will work best for this form of
brainstorming. It needs to have mind mapping ability with ideas coming from other ideas.

2. Brainstorm some themes that you could use to create a piece of music. There are very
few rules to this and your ideas need to be highly varied. You can have anything from
emotions to nature, from space travel to pets.

3. Once you have produced your original concepts try and work with a few of them to come
up with musical ideas that might fit with each one.

4. Now select your best two themes (your favourites) to use.

Here is an example of how you can turn your theme ideas into music. You will see that the elements
of music are used to create the specific effects that are needed for this theme. You would never
use all of the ideas from your brainstorm so just go ahead and be free to write down anything that
comes to mind.

Theme: Rivers
Titles and associated words:

Running river, River flow, Waters flow, River deep, On the river, Trickle, Splash, Swirl, Wet.

Possible instrumentation:

Piano, Guitar, Brushes on drums, Clarinet, Vocals, Rainmaker, Vibraphone, Harp


Arpeggios, Scales, Constantly moving melody never stops, Motion, Tempo changes for
swirls, repeated bass note to drive the feel.


Through form? Keep momentum, develop ideas, changing, ABACA like the turns of the river.


Calm yet energetic? Fast but relaxing Humm? Varied depending on place in the river

Other Ideas:

Maybe draw the river first with what is happening along it to give shape to the

Now it is your turn. Select your two best ideas as a basis for your composition. Write down any
ideas the titles give that could help you develop that theme. Think about the instruments that
would best represent your theme and also what those instruments play to create a sound picture.
You can complete this below or on a separate program.

Theme 1:

Theme 2:

Titles and associated words:

Titles and associated words:









Other Ideas:

Other Ideas:

The Difference Between.....

We can start composing by being given a theme or an idea. This could be from a teacher or an
employer. The hardest part of writing music is being able to represent an idea or emotion in the
music. For example what does love sound like? Or hurt? Or broccoli?

Stuff to do:
Here are some sets of topics or ideas for music. Some contrast and some are very similar - sound
Discuss the differences between the two in how they would sound.
How would you achieve this?










The future
The past

How Much is Too Much?

Two of the best development techniques you can use in a composition are repetition and sequence.
These two development strategies are used in almost every piece of music ever written. But how
do we know when enough is enough? Where is the line? Repeating material so that the listener
recognizes the tune creates unity and familiarity so is always good. People screaming at you saying
I have already heard that! - is not.
Repetition is easy - just repeat your idea or part of the idea.

Sequence is when you move your idea up or down


(up a step)

A sequence using a fragment of the basic idea may look something like this:

This exercise is about pushing the boundaries to find out how much you can get away with.
Whether you succeed or not will be voted on by your classmates!

Stuff to do:

1. Firstly create a 2 bar riff or motif that will form the basis for your repetition and sequence.
You can use other material but remember the aim is to use repetition and sequence.

2. Now, use your motif to create a piece using as much repetition and sequence as you can.

The person who uses it the most without it driving listeners nuts - wins!

3. At the end have the class vote for the winner. This will be the most effective piece of music
that still uses these techniques. If necessary you may need to have a count of how often
they have used each technique!


The Job Interview

You are applying for a job to write the sound track for a new film. It is a big film and will require
you to write atmospheric music, as well as some big theme songs to help sell the movie. You sent
in your composition portfolio which got you the interview. The creative process for this film will be
very fast moving so the producer and director want to see if you can think on your feet. You will
need to discuss how you will use instrumentation, style, melody, effects etc to create the music for
the scenes they give you. Remember it is an interview so you have to think fast and creatively.

Scene One:
A woman is sitting reading a book under a tree and gradually puts the book down and stares out
into the distance. She tilts her head gently to the side

Scene Two:
A cat is stalking a bird in a comical way. The cat is trying very hard to catch the bird and taking itself
very seriously, but the bird is playing and manages to get away every time making a fool of the cat.

Scene Three:
A man with a knife is chasing another younger man around a sofa. One is trying to stab while the
other is trying to get away and escape. It is very scary.

The producer says Now that you have a good feel for the
film, describe the style of theme music you think would be
appropriate. Good luck!


Fun with Composition


The Cheese Commercial

You have been hired by the Chuckles Cheese Company to compose a piece of music to advertise
their new product line called Chirpy Cheese. The company has put major resources into the
development of this new product and have a large advertising budget. They have said you can use
whichever computer program you like or perform the jingle live. You will be paid very well for a
great jingle!

Job Specifications:
Must be twenty seconds in length exactly
Should have a short section that can be used separately as well as in the major commercial
About 4-7 seconds.
Must have words.
Must be catchy and very memorable.
Must be completely original (copyright issues)
Must be cheesy!


Make sure you perform your piece to the class!


Mood Music
Music is very good at portraying moods and feelings. As composers we need to be able to express
emotion and moods within our pieces. You may like to research some tunes that are based on the
moods below and see how other composers have depicted mood in their compositions.
Choose a mood from the following selection and create a composition that conveys that mood to
your listeners.

Happy Sad Confused Lost Manic

Lonely Depressed Bored Dreamy

Job Specifications:
Brainstorm some ideas of how to create your mood
Must not have words
Must be at least 30 seconds long
Must use appropriate instrumentation
Must not have a title
Your audience should be able to guess the mood.

Ideas Brainstorm:

Make sure you perform your piece to the class!


The Love Song

You have entered a competition to compose a love song for Valentines Day. The competition is
called All My Dreams Come True (Yuk). The competition has created quite a stir with the winning
song being recorded by a huge star and commercially released on the Sony Music label. Before you
start, do some research and listen to some other great love songs. What musical similarities do they
have? Apart from the words, what makes them romantic?

Job Specifications:
Must be at least 1 minute long
Must have words
Must be memorable
Must be completely original (copyright issues)
Must be very gooey and romantic



Pentatonic Pop
A pentatonic scale only uses 5 notes and is an easy way to start composing. Your mission is to write
a piece of music using the notes from the scale below. These notes can be used in any order or
any octave. You can either use an acoustic instrument or a computer program/ website to create
your composition. This is not just an exercise, there are many pieces in the world that have the
pentatonic scale as their basis.

Job Specifications:
Must be at least 1 minute long
Use only the five notes of the pentatonic scale
Must be memorable
Must have an original title


Must be a pop tune


Must be completely original (copyright issues)

The Scale:

Title: ____________________________


The Graduation March

You have been asked by your music teacher to compose the music for this years school graduation
march. This is a very formal occasion for the school, paying tribute to those who are leaving school
and heading for the world beyond. It is a march for the teachers and graduates to process into the
auditorium as the formal part of the graduation begins.

Job Specifications:
A formal march will be slower than normal - about 90 bpm
Needs to be in 2/4 time
This task should be completed using a program that allows you to compose using appropriate
It needs to be quite repetitive as it will have to keep going until the last member of the
procession is in place
Must not have words
Must be formal and stately
Must be completely original


Scary Keyboard Composition

You are to create a composition that builds a feeling of fear in your listeners. It is for a keyboard
composition competition to create The scariest music in the world! You will need to think about
the elements of music and how you are going to use them to make the music sound scary. Most of
the time you will be using tempo (speed), dynamics (volume), timbre (sounds) and notes moving
up by step to create scary effects but you will find there are lots of ways to make music frightening!

Job Specifications:
You can only use any keyboards to complete this composition
Choose an appropriate timbre (instrument sound) for your composition
You can use sound effects (squeaky doors etc) but only if they are part of the music
Use the record button to record your piece
It should be about 1 minute long
Choose from the following titles:

Cat and Mouse

Killer in the Choir

Death on the Doorstep

Vigilante Vampires

The Haunting

Your own: ___________________________________

Murder in Maths Class


Baroque Suite
You are going to compose a movement of a baroque dance suite for Flute, Strings and Continuo.

Before you start:

Research the dance suite and the various dances it includes.
Research the Baroque period and ensure you utilise these
characteristics as well.
Try and make your composition as authentic as possible.
Choose the movement you would like to compose.
Explain some of the characteristics and how you intend to use

The characteristics of the Baroque period:

Your chosen movement: ______________________________

The characteristics of this movement:


Writing for your Own Instrument

This exercise is a form of individual brainstorm before you start writing a composition specifically
for your own instrument. The titles are designed to kick start ideas and give you a place to begin
when faced with writing a composition for your own performance instrument.
Your Instrument: ______________________________
List things your instrument does well. Example: a flute plays fast notes well.

List special things specific to your instrument. Example: Trombone plays glissandos.

List the styles of music your instrument often plays well. Example: The Guitar - Rock

Do you want or need to have an accompaniment to go with your piece?

Yes No Possibly

Come up with some ideas for a title and/or theme that
would suit your instrument.


C Major Melodies
Use the rhythms provided to compose your own short melody using the C major scale.


Start on a C and end on a C

Use the rhythms provided
You will need to use a notation program or pencil and manuscript
as the notes need to be annotated correctly.
Use the notes from the C major scale
Make sure you play each one and that you like them!
Follow the SMS rule for Melody writing. (Simple, Memorable, Singable)


Music has an amazing ability to build tension, suspense or drama. That is why it is used with good
effect in so many horror and drama movies. There are certain compositional techniques that
will help to create this feeling in your piece. One of the most successful pieces of all time to build
tension is the theme from Jaws by John Williams. Have a proper listen to this piece and work out
why you think it was so successful.

Stuff to do:
1. In small groups come up with 6 ways that you can use to build tension and suspense in a
2. Choose two of the best ideas from above and explain why you think they would be the most
effective at creating the feeling of anticipation.

3. In your group, practise and demonstrate your best 2 ideas to the class.
4. Create of a suitable title for a piece of music that could use the
ideas you have come up with.
5. Compose and perform this piece to your class.


Animal Crackers
Your task is to write a piece of music based on an animal. It is to be played to small children. It will
need to capture the childrens imagination as well as the characteristics of the animal you choose.

Stuff to do:
1. Which animal would you like your piece to be about?
2. Why did you choose that animal?
3. Name 3 features about that animal that you will need to include in your composition. For
example - the elephant would need to be slow and solid.
a) ________________________________________________________
b) ________________________________________________________
c) ________________________________________________________
4. Below are a list of words. Which ones best describe what your animal composition should sound
like based on the animal you have chosen? Make a list of the ones you think would best suit your
animal and come up with another four words of your own.

Medium tempo,




Stops and starts,



Changing volumes,
Big intervals,

Gaps between notes,




Long notes,

Step by step,

On the beat,

Dotted rhythms,
Drawn out.

Off beats,


Gaming Music
Gaming continues to grow with games now being marketed to young and old. As every game
comes with its own theme tune, some of which have become quite famous in their own right, it has
become a fast and lucrative market for young composers.

The music is usually fairly repetitive so that it doesnt matter where you get to in the game,
you can always start again without noticing the change in music.
It also needs to be catchy as the aim is to add to the players gaming experience, so that they
play more.
It needs to be memorable without driving everybody nuts! Some games fail at this!

Stuff to do:
1. Listen to at least 3 different game theme tunes on You Tube. Choose two and explain why you
think that each is a successful gaming piece and any compositional features you noticed.
a) Piece: __________________________________________________

b) Piece: ___________________________________________________

2. Create your own piece of game music. Spend some time coming up with the type of game it
would be for and some of the important features you would like to have in your piece.


Murder, You Wrote

Murder She Wrote was a 1980s murder show about a nice old lady author who wrote murders.
Coincidently, she often found herself involved in real life murders and of course turned out to be
very good at solving them. It had a very nice theme tune. Listen to it on You Tube. Your job is to
come up with your own theme tune for the show, to be played at the start and the end of the show.

The Show:
So, Jessica Fletcher was a nice woman who lived in a sleepy little town called Cabot Cove, Maine in
America. They had a nice, but a slightly dopey sheriff who did his best and solved most cases with
Jessicas help. So you get the picture - it was nice - except for all those unfortunate murders. There
was nothing very scary but Jessica always solved the crime, which was always reassuring.

Stuff to do:
Your theme needs to reflect the niceness of the place while still remembering the murder bit. It
was also for prime time television so was watched by a large, mostly older female audience.


The Postcode Tango

A tango is a South American ballroom dance. It tends to be very hot and steamy and is often quite
a dramatic dance between the dancers. The tango has a very strong emphasis on the fourth beat
or on beat 4 1/2 leading into the next bar (often by a half step). In rest of the bar the notes tend to
be short, spikey and on the beat. It is very rhythmic and should go at about 120 bpm. Watch some
people dancing the tango to get a feeling for the music and the dance.

Stuff to do:
1. Write down your postcode.





2. Work out what your postcode sounds like










3. Work out your postcode motif and write the letter names below

___ ___ ___ ___

4. In order to make it more authentic, write a

quaver that is a half step below your first note
on beat 4 1/2 of the bar and repeat the motif.
5. Use this motif as the basis for your own tango.
You will need to be clever about how you use it as
there will be many students who have the same


The Local Jingle

Choose a local shop or business that you go into regularly. Choose a small one that you have never
heard do much advertising - not a nation wide chain. You are going to write a jingle for it that will
be used on the radio. Before you start you will need to think through a few things first.

Before you start:

1. Who is the target market for this shop? Age, gender, culture etc.
2. What type of music do you think they like?
3. What message is the shop/business trying to give?
4. What image are they trying to send?
5. What important information must be in your advertisement? Like the Address? Phone? Website?
Prices? Gimmick? What they offer?

Job Specifications:
Write a jingle with words and music that will be used for radio advertising.
Must be between 28 - 30 seconds long
Must be catchy and easy to remember
Must include all the important information (from above)
as well as the main message.
Must be recorded.


Using Bass Lines


An ostinato is a repeated phrase that is played over and over again throughout a piece of
music. It comes from the Italian term for Stubborn. Below are 3 examples of Ostinato for you
to play and create melodies over. You will need to repeat them several times.

Stuff to do:
Create your own melody to go over each ostinato
Get into pairs so one can play the ostinato and one can play the melody
Create your own ostinato!
Swap over and play each others melodies
A great way to use ostinatos is to:

A - play the melody,

B -take a small solo (make it up)

A -play the original melody again, with the ostinato going throughout.

Ostinato 1:

Ostinato 2:

Ostinato 3:


Using Arpeggios
Arpeggios are sometimes called broken chords. As that is exactly what they are. If you
imagine a guitar and instead of strumming a chord, the guitarist picks out each note in order
bottom to top - and/or down again. If you play a C major chord on the piano it is normally
played together like this:

If it is played as an arpeggio
or broken chord then it is
played like this:

Arpeggios are really handy for creating a composition as you can string them together to
create the underlying pattern for your piece.

Stuff to do:
Choose 3 chords.
Work out which notes are in them
Write them out or enter them. One bar each and return to your first chord for the last bar,
then repeat. You can use any rhythm that you like but it should probably be fairly consistent.
Learn to play your notes or play them back so you can hear them.
Compose your melody to go over your arpeggio bass line.


The Descending Bass Line

Using a descending bass line that repeats can be a great way to get started with composition
and an excellent skill that can create some interesting harmonic points of tension and release.
You will need to work in pairs on this exercise unless you are a pianist who can happily use
two hands independently. The rest of us mortals will need to have one person playing the bass
line while the other composes the melody and then swap over. Even better is if one of you
plays a bass instrument and can play the line on that.

Stuff to do:
1. First create your descending bass line - probably 2 bars long.
2. If you are having trouble the easiest one is:

3. The next step is to create a piece using your bass line as your repeated pattern (ostinato)
underneath. Between 8 -16 bars would be great. You will need to start with one of you playing
the bass line and the other improvising over the top. Remember that you eventually do need
to create a melody not just a solo.


Rock and Roll for 2!

Many styles have a group of chords that are often associated with them. Rock n Roll does.
The chords that are often used are I VI IV V7 . In this exercise there is a basic piano riff for
one person to play and you will need to compose a melody over the top of it.
You may even like to get three people involved. One to play the chords, one to play the bass
line and one to write the melody. Alternatively you can play the chords on the guitar or have a
singer working on the melody.

Rock n Roll Riff



Stuff to do:
1. Learn to play or record the riff above. You might like to work together so one person can
play the changes while you compose.
2. Write your own Rock n Roll piece to go with the chord changes above.
3. Record or perform your piece.
4. Give your piece a truly Rock n Roll title


Over 3
In this exercise you get to choose any 3 notes, but only 3 notes, that you will use as your bass
line. They can be any notes but you need to use them in the same order each time. You can
however repeat notes as often as you like. Once you have chosen your 3 bass notes write their
names in the order you want to use them here.

The next step is for you to write a composition using only your three notes in the bass. You
can use any notes in the treble. The aim is to make fabulous music, not something that sounds
weird. Remember you can repeat your notes as much as you like and you can even use them to
make chords if you are being very creative. Good Luck!!
NB - Try to be creative here and not simply use I IV V chords - be adventurous.


Evaluation Time


Evaluation Sheet
Self Evaluation



Best bit:

What I would do differently:


Best bit:

What I would do differently:


Best bit:

What I would do differently:


Best bit:

What I would do differently:

Mood and

Best bit:

What I would do differently:


Best bit:

What I would do differently:


Best bit:

What I would do differently:

Write a reflection about your work on this composition:


Evaluation Sheet
Peer Evaluation

Initial Reaction:








Fits title

Good in parts




Wasnt one



Hard to remember

Shape Form:

Weak build up
Good use of shape

Great build up

No shape

Sections didnt go

Unusual/ Different

Sort of there

All worked well together

Overall Reaction:

Liked it


Wish I had written it

Not enough repetition

Best Bits:

To be improved

Still needs work


Doesnt fit title

Could be great

Heard it before


Reflection Activity
a) Outline the process you used to create your composition:

b) How would you improve this process in the future?

c) Where did you go/could you go for assistance when you got stuck?

d) What were the hardest bits?

e) What did you enjoy most about the process?

f) How happy are you with your final result?

What grade would you give yourself?