Music Theory 2484

Composition Assignment:  Character Piece



The piece should be at least 16 to 30 bars long.



The melodic material should be lyrical (song-like).



Use the following devices liberally in your composition:  Appoggiaturas, Unresolved Dissonances, Secondary Dominants, Borrowed Chords, Neapolitan 6th Chords, Rapid Modulation, Altered Dominants, Augmented 6th Chords, Foreign Modulation (modulation to remote keys).


Note on your composition ( you may do this by hand) where your form sections are.


Do a harmonic analysis (Roman numerals) of your piece.  Circle and label your decorative pitches.  You may enter this information by hand also.



Your piece should evoke a mood, scene, emotion or character



The composition must be notated on Finale.  Part of your grade will be based on the appearance of your score.  Remember to insert dynamics, phrasing, and other performance information.




If you need help getting started, here’s one approach:

¯    Think of a narrative (story) you’d like to set to music -  one that describes either  a  single subject or a dialogue  between two characters. 

¯     Decide on the overall shape of your piece (e.g., ABA).

¯    Write a lyrical melody (perhaps a contrasting one for the B section).

¯    Decide on an accompaniment pattern(s), such as a walking bass. 

¯    Choose diatonic chords only in the accompaniment.

¯     Then “convert” some of these chords to chromatic chords.

¯    Be sure to include any applicable dynamic, expressive, and pedal markings.     




¯     Make a list of the few important character traits that the piece will focus on.  Try to limit this list as too many ideas will be counterproductive.

¯     Stick with a limited number of melodic and rhythmic ideas also.  Refer to some of the most well-known melodies and note the amount of repetition versus contrast that is used.

¯     Be sure to give your composition an appropriate title and don't forget to cite yourself as the composer.


Listen to the following examples of Character Pieces:

Schumann:  Papillons (Butterflies), op. 2

Chopin:  Prelude, op. 28 No. 15 in Db (Raindrops)

Chopin:  Prelude, op. 28 No. 4 in E (Suffocation)





When you have finished your composition, use the checklist below:


¯    Play your melody through again, leaving out all harmony.  Is it lyrical (song-like)?  Does it skip around too much or have any awkward intervals?

¯    Play your accompaniment line alone.  Is there a pattern?  Does your accompaniment use good "voice-leading"?  Is everything in root position causing too much skipping around?

¯    Look at your harmonic analysis.  Have you used enough chromatic harmony to make your piece sound "Romantic"?


Common Mistakes

¯    Not using an accompaniment PATTERN:  Don't write a melody and then just wander all over the place in your accompaniment.  The pattern doesn't have to be strict, but should be recognizable as a pattern that coincides with the meter.

¯    Composing something that you like instead of a piece in the specified style: Feel free to express yourself freely in your compositions; but, if you want a good grade on this one, include the elements that make it sound like a Romantic character piece.

¯    Coming to a screeching halt when you get to a certain number of measures:      If you are past the 16 measures, or the 30 measures and have not appropriately completed your B section or the return of your A section (depending on the form you have chosen), don't just insert a perfect authentic cadence and call it a day.

¯    Not using enough repetition:  contrast is interesting only when used judiciously.  If every phrase in your piece (or every melodic idea; or every harmonic progression; or every accompaniment pattern) is significantly different, your piece will sound random and without structure.

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