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Fall 2008

MW 11-11:50
Diers Recital Hall

MUS 129/130: Beginning Composition

Rob Deemer, D.M.A., Assistant Professor
Office: Mason Hall Rm. 3149 (673-3133)
Appointments for meetings available on request


An introduction to the technical and creative aspects of music composition. Classes will
generally follow an interactive discussion format with some lecture. Assignments will include
short exercises, chapter readings and listening projects. Pragmatic issues such as orchestration
and notation will also be covered, as well as discussions into the more esoteric and
philosophical aspects of music composition. There are three primary goals in this course: first,
to become comfortable in one’s own creativity; second, to achieve an understanding of the
basic components of music composition (melody, harmony, rhythm/meter, form and color);
and third, by extension, to begin to generate personal compositional techniques. The first and
second goals will be achieved through discussions with the instructor and classmates, score
and text readings, and through guided listening. The third goal will be achieved in turn by
hands-on writing projects that will be sight-read in class.



• Instructor’s Handouts and Worksheets

• Manuscript Paper
• Pencils – You may want to invest in a couple high-quality mechanical pencils that use
.9 leads (the softer the better) and a couple art erasers…I use Staedtler Mars Plastic
Erasers myself.
• McCutchan, Ann. The Muse That Sings. Oxford University Press, New York, 1999.
• Black, Dave and Gerou, Tom. Essential Dictionary of Orchestration. Alfred Publishing
Company, Inc., Los Angeles, 1998. (These two texts are recommended, not required)

Composition Assignments/Projects (Written Work)

Students will create several written composition assignments and projects throughout the
semester; the assignments will focus on one or two techniques or concepts and will be short,
while the projects will be longer and allow them to create their own work. These assignments
will cover issues such as melodic structure and development, writing within prescribed
harmonic and rhythmic parameters, inclusion of pre-existing material, working within and
alterations of traditional formal designs, compositional techniques and other
There will be three composition projects; a work for two instruments (normally flute and
cello), a work for a “flexible trio” (the composer will decide the instrumentation and be
responsible for contracting the performers) and a larger chamber ensemble (either a brass
quintet, woodwind quintet or string quartet). These will not be overly long, with 2 minutes
being the maximum time for each work. This is due to the length of time the student has to
write their works and the amount of time it will take to perform them for the class; each of the
works will be sight-read in a workshop environment (and recorded) so the student can fully
experience the work and be allowed to discuss the work with the instrumentalists.

Outside of Class
It is strongly suggested that you attend the Composition Forums at 4pm on Fridays in Mason
3140 – this is where guest composers, students and faculty give presentations and workshops.
Concerts you should plan to attend include the various concerts presented by the Ethos New
Music Society as well as other pre-determined concerts and recitals. We will discuss these
concerts in class and your ability to join in those discussions will impact your participation

Your Responsibilities:
• Class attendance. Course attendance is important – there will be new concepts and issues
covered every period. The only excused absences are for health reasons and university-
sanctioned events; others must be approved in advance of the date to be missed via e-mail;
if I don’t have an online record of the discussion, it didn’t happen. Two (2) absences are
allowed without penalty, Each absence exceeding the second will lower the student’s grade
by half a letter grade.
• Written work (Grade: 90%). Assignments may be submitted in PDF format via e-mail until
midnight the day they are due. After that, the grade will be reduced by one letter. If the
assignment is over a week late, the grade will be “F”. Projects will be due on the day they
are to be performed with absolutely no exceptions.
• Participation (Grade: 10%). This class will be a bit different than most others; class
discussion and individual involvement is crucial. Therefore should be ready to talk about
their music, the music of others and anything else we happen upon. Participation in
individual meetings is important as well – ask questions, feel free to disagree, but don’t
expect to be given the “right” answer, as those are few and far between in a course such as
• General Well Being. Please be understanding of the personal nature of the work your
classmates do; harsh criticism can be the hardest thing to overcome as a composer.
Conversely, be open to suggestions and take advice and constructive criticism openly.
Grading: Grading scales are as follows: A = 100-92%, A- = 91-90%, B+ = 89-88%, B = 87-
82%, B- = 81-80%, C+ = 79-78%, C = 77-72%, C- = 71-70%, D+ = 69-68%, D = 67-62%, D-
= 61-60%, F = 59% - 0%.
Assignments: 30%
Projects: 60%
Participation: 10%
Total 100%

Semester Schedule (tentative – I reserve the right to get creative with the schedule)
Week 1 Introduction/Short Motivic assignments
Week 2 Harmonic Structure/Formal Structure
Week 3 Notation Parameters/Project 1 preview (private meetings)
Week 4 Project 1 Readings (duet – flute/cello or similar ensemble)
Week 5 Melodic Line/Counterpoint
Week 6 Development/Ornamentation
Week 7 Literature examples/Project 2 preview (private meetings)
Week 8 Project 2 Readings (“flexible trio” – instruments determined by composer)
Week 9 Spring Break
Week 10 Creative Process
Week 11 Literature examples/Project 3 preview (private meetings)
Week 12 Project 3 Readings (quintet – brass or woodwind – or string quartet TBA)
Week 13 Revisions/Future of New Music
Week 14 Guest Speaker/Concert Preparation
Week 15 Final Concert/Wrap-up