Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Quick and Easy Composition Method

I'm always telling my students to work within an 8-bar framework. Why 8-bars? Because it's a nice, neat time space to work in. And, more importantly, it doesn't overwhelm beginning students who feel they must come up with 100 bars at their first attempt.

A good example of this is the music from the above video "On the Trail." It's just an 8-bar phrase repeated two times. Then the music ends.

The beauty of working within this framework is that it teaches you about phrases. Music has been compared to writing in the sense that it's made up of small phrases (like sentences) bigger sections.. periods of music (like paragraphs) and finally, complete movements (chapters).

Composers always think in sections because they know this is how music is constructed. - at least 99% of the music in the western world.

When you master the 8-bar phrase, you learn how to complete a section of music. And you learn that the art of composition has everything to do with repetition and contrast.

There's only so many times you can repeat an 8-bar phrase before it gets stagnant. Here is where we introduce new material - a contrasting section. Perhaps another 8-bars or so.

Another thing I have my students do is learn how to create a complete ABA form.

This musical form is the most common one used and it's also quite easy to create. Once the first 8-bar phrase is complete (the A section) it's time for some contrast. Maybe 4-bars… perhaps 8 or more will do the trick here. Finally, the first A section is repeated (with some variation) and that's that - a small ABA form is finished.


  1. Sounds sensible to me! What I would like to see is a written example of how this is done. Also, as you send us the audio lessons, it would be good to have a lead sheet to go with that. This would give us the whole picture and will guide us to creat our own version. Some of us are visual learners, some are audio learners and others are a combination of the two. This is where I fall in.

    Thank you, Miriam

  2. Good blog site. Thanks from a fellow pianist...

  3. I'm amazed at how many people think that music form is too complicated. But when you understand the basic principles you've outlined here, you realize that it's actually very simple.

    - Chas