Keep asking questions

Below are some questions are invite my pupils to ask of their composition coursework for GCSE and A Level music. There can never be one way to approach this but only suggestions of where a piece of coursework could go. Stylistic consistency is the key to a successful composition for GCSE and A Level and I have found the questions below useful for encouraging pupils to stretch their ideas and produce compositions that are idiomatic, creative and well structured pieces of music.

  1. Is the melodic line singable? It need not be singable throughout – it’s range might be too great for a human to sing, but there should be a sense of shape to it. Is it always step-wise/angular? Is there scope to add more leaps/steps?
  2. Is the melodic line a *line* or is a series of one bar ideas that are joined together? Consider using more long notes, ties to lengthen ideas and extend them over the bar line.
  3. Is the melody only using notes of the triad/arpeggio/chord? Consider adding in some passing notes, extra notes to give your melody greater fluidity.
  4. Is the melody/other parts only using a limited range of rhythmic values? Is there scope to vary the rhythm more to help capture the mood/character you intend?
  5. Have you written low chunky chords in the piano? They are likely to sound muddy when played live – do you really mean that?
  6. Do the chords fit with the melody? Is the melody using similar notes to the chords or are they very different? Do you want that?
  7. Do you use a range of notes for the instrument(s) you are writing for or is your piece trapped on the stave? Consider using different parts of instruments – low and high registers – for variety.
  8. Think about your texture – do the parts support each other or are they competing for attention? Are all the parts playing in the same pitch area? Could one be higher/lower to give some space to the melody?
  9. Is the piano part consistent for each section, or does it change a lot?
  10. Are there dynamics? Slurs? Accents?
  11. Are there different sections? Are they clearly defined? Is there contrast between them – perhaps the melody being in different parts in each section?
  12. Have you experimented with compositional devices? Sequences, pedal notes…?
  13. Is there a good ending? Don’t rush endings – make sure it is a satisfactory close to your piece. Does it balance with the introduction if you have one?

There is plenty more to ask, and it all depends on the piece. Each piece of coursework will have its own processes and ensuring these processes are consistent and are ‘completed’ should be the priority.

Encourage listening to give our pupils examples of what works well and what could happen. A good composer does not borrow, they steal (Stravinsky) and we should emplore pupils to test out ideas from other music they hear. Modelling how other composers have structured their works, developed motifs, used a particular set of harmonies/scales will be of immense benefit. Pupils should ask questions of what they hear, and we should suggest the questions they can ask. Listening and score study is the best place to start, as they often have the answers to our early compositional questions.

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