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Syllabus for Composition

by Stephen Savage


Introduction to Composition

Minimum Subjects Covered

This outline summarizes the content of the "Introduction to Composition" class new offered at the New England Conservatory's School of Continuing Education. In addition to specific exercises related to items in the syllabus, students are encouraged to bring compositions they are working on to the class for listening, analysis and discussion.
  • Basics of Musical Acoustics and the Harmonic Series

  • Basics of Temperament and Tuning

  • Circle of 5ths/Standard Key Signatures

  • Scales and Other Pitch Collections

  • Basic Musicianship Review including
    • Notation of Pitch (all clefs) and
    • Rhythm (simple and compound time signatures and subdivision of a note into equal 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 note groups and beyond), and
    • Dictation Exercises

  • Study of Form, both
    • Standard "Forms" and
    • the Forming Process of all music, based on "CONTINUITY and CONTRAST" (or "Unity and Variety")

  • Intervals and Syntax of Consonance & Dissonance

  • Rudiments of Melodic Writing

  • Rudiments of Counterpoint in 2 or more parts

  • Standard triads and seventh chords

  • Rudiments of Harmony including figured bass and modern-day chord symbols

  • Musical Texture and ways in which surface features are related to underlying structure

  • 20th & 21st Century Developments including
    • Symmetrical Scales and Partitioning of the chromatic scale
    • Non-triadic Harmony
    • "Atonality" and 12-tone Techniques
    • Melodic and Harmonic Concepts Specific to Jazz

  • Rudiments of Instrumentation, Orchestration and Arranging

  • Historical Overview

  • Analysis of Works from Various Historical Periods


Handouts and Homework Assignments (PDF Format)


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