Creative Strategies for Composition Beyond Style

This was one of two classes that I took during my eighth term with Berklee Online. I had a feeling based on the course overview that this would be a good class. Turned out to be a great class. The instructor and course author Professor Eric Gould was fantastic (to say that he is a subject matter expert would be an understatement). His live classes were amazing – deep, profound and terribly humbling. If you ever get a chance to study with him take it!

The basis of the class was for us as composers to be able to write from any compositional vantage point: be it from a melody, or from a chord progression, or a bass line, or rhythm/groove, we needed to be able to do it from any starting point. Additionally, the class spent a good deal of time having us think about the processes behind and around writing music, helping to address any limiting preconceptions or perspectives that we might be harboring consciously or unconsciously. Really powerful and helpful techniques were offered throughout.

I can’t say enough good things about this class. If you are interested in writing music and how to move beyond your personal limitations then this is for you.

Here’s what we went over during the twelve weeks.

Week 1 – “Recognizing Your Compositional Comfort Zone”, Jun 28 – Jul 2nd
Introduction, Meet and Greet, Composing “On the Clock”, Bass Progressions and Bass Lines, Chord Progressions, Intervallic Patterns, Rhythmic Patterns, Exercise 1.1: Composing “On the Clock”, Self-Evaluation: What Just Happened?, Discussion 1.1: Self Evaluation, Exercise 1.2: “On the Clock” Take Two, Assignment 1: Sixteen-Bar Work Sample, Recap

Week 2 – “Overview of the Compositional Process”, Jul 3rd – Jul 9th
Introduction, What is the Compositional Process?, The Decision Making Process in Composition, Exercise 2.1: Planning your Composition, Defining a Starting Point, Composers on Starting Points, Manipulating Melodic Fragments, Compositional Work Flow, Assignment 2: On the Clock-Take Three, Recap

Week 3 – “Project Decisions and Templates for Sketching”, Jul 10th – Jul 16th
Introduction, Making Project-Level Decisions, The Right Tool for the Job: Understanding Templates, Something Sketchy, Setting Up Templates, Exercise 3.1: How to Work with Your Templates, Discussion 3.1: Sketching, Writing Process, and Templates, Instrument Sounds, Assignment 3: Putting Your Template to Use, Recap

Week 4 – “Composing From the Bottom Up”, Jul 17th – Jul 23rd
Introduction, Points of Departure, Starting From a Harmonic Progression or Bass Motion Patterns, Starting from a Melodic Fragment, Rhythm as a Starting Point, Rhythm as a Starting Point: Some Creative Possibilities, Exercise 4.1: Rhythmic and Melodic Exploration, Examples of Bass Line Melodies, Exercise 4.2: Constructing a Bass Line Melody, Discovering Music Through the Bass Line, Exercise: Constructing a Musical Sketch from a Bass Line Melody, Discussion 4.1: Slowing Down the Bass Line, Songwriting Process: Composers Speak, Assignment 4: Developing a Musical Sketch from a Bass Line, Recap

Week 5 – “Composing From the Top Down”, Jul 24th – Jul 30th
Introduction, Starting Points for Melodic Construction, Developing Upon a Melodic Fragment, Starting from a Rhythm, Starting from a Harmonic Progression, Exercise 5.1: Construct a Melody, Discovering the Music through the Melody, Exercise 5.2: Construct a Work Sample From a Melody, Discussion 5.1: Starting from Melody vs. Bass Line, Assignment 5: Work Sample, Recap

Week 6 – “Using Rhythm as a Source”, Jul 31st – Aug 6th
Introduction, Understanding Polyrhythm, Rhythm and Style, Genre, Style, and Composition, Exercise 6.1: Transcribing Style Elements, Using Rhythm to Generate Ideas, Exercise 6.2: Creating a Sketch Based On Rhythm, Discussion 6.1: Understand Rhythm, Assignment 6: Eight-Bar Work Sample, Recap

Week 7 – “Creating and Expanding Harmonic Progressions”, Aug 7th – Aug 13th
Introduction, The Aesthetics of Harmony, Options for Creating Harmony, Options for Expanding Harmonic Progressions, Songwriting Advice: Economy, Exercise 7.1: Expanding Harmonic Progressions, Discussion 7.1: Moving the Harmony, Assignment 7: Harmonic Progression, Recap

Week 8 – “Developing Melodic Materials From a Harmonic Progression”, Aug 14th – Aug 20th
Introduction, Options for Creating Melodies Based on Harmonic Progressions, Rhythmic and Metric Considerations, Unifying Elements, Exercise 8.1: Melodic Sample Based on a Progression, Discussion 8.1: Harmonic Structure, Assignment 8: Melodic Materials from a Harmonic Progression, Recap

Week 9 – “Conceiving Form”, Aug 21st – Aug 27th
Introduction, Basic Elements of Form, Sections, Larger Building Blocks, Additional Larger Blocks, The Formal Road Map: Conceiving of Formal Structures, Professional Advice, Work Sample: Building a Formal Road Map, Discussion 9.1: The Big Picture, Assignment 9: Form, Recap

Week 10 – “Transition”, Aug 28th – Sep 3rd
Introduction, Understanding Transition in Musical Composition, When Do You Need a Transition?, Key Changes, Rhythmic Changes, Textural Changes, Introductions, Solos, Contrasting Melodic Ideas, Contrasting Harmonic Devices, Different Time Signatures, Strategies for Transition, Harmonic Preparation, Use of Space, Textural Devices, Melodic Preparation, Use of Common Elements in Both Sections, Rhythmic Preparation, The Human Connection, Exercise 10.1: Transitions In a Work Sample, Discussion 10.1: Transitions and Form, Assignment 10: Main Musical Selection for Final Project, Recap

Week 11, “Orchestration and Arranging”, Sep 4th – Sep 10th
Introduction, Basic Instrumental Considerations, Range, Volume, Character and Tone, Woodwinds, Brass, Bowed Strings, Plucked Strinds, Harmonic Complexity and Density of Your Musical Ideas, How Instrumentation Affects the Musical Ideas, Instrumental Solos, Musical/Transitional Effects, Textural Changes Based on Instrumental Combinations, Art and Science, Setting Up a Score, Exercise 11.1: Final Project Score Setup, Discussion 11.1: Instrumentation, Assignment 11: Orchestration and Arranging, Recap

Week 12 – “Final Project”, Sep 11th – Sep 17th
Introduction, Processes Used in this Course, Self-Evaluation, Global Decision-Making, Sketching from Templates, Compositional Approaches, From a Bass Line Up, Melody, Harmony, Rhythm, Aesthetic Concepts, The Craft of Composition, Templates for Sketching, Score Setup, Basic Principles of Orchestration and Arranging, What’s Next?, Creative Exploration, Discussion 12.1: Course Retrospective, Assignment 12: Final Project, Recap

Here’s the final project I put together for this class.

Thanks Berklee!

Berklee Online – Term 8

Man, this year has flown by. Hard to believe that September is almost over. Seems like summer just got here. I really meant to spend more time outside this year, I really did…

That being said, my eighth term with Berklee Online was quite good. This time around I took “Creative Strategies for Composition Beyond Style” and “Music Composition for Film and TV 1”, both of which were excellent.

As with other terms I’ll go into detail on each class in separate posts.

Thanks for another great term, Berklee!