Exercises from Composing Music: A New Approach/Chapter 1: The Cell, The Row, and Some Scales

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Exercise 1

Result: I Hang Up My Harp

Exercise concept: Pitch limitation, using a restricted set of tones for a composition. This will be the basis for many exercises.

Rules:

  1. Compose a melody. Use only the tones E4, G4, A4, and B4.
  2. Use 5/4 meter and only the rhythm quarter, quarter, quarter, half.
  3. Choose measures to use more than once, either separated or adjacently. This will unify and shape the melody.
  4. Omit one or more tones in some measures. Study the melodic relationships between all the tones.

Title concept: Russo gives this exercise a backstory. Your captor, Edrevol, ruler of the Lorac, will let you live if you write a melody for the Imperial Flute that pleases him. The flute can only play the four tones of the exercise. The tune ended up kind of mournful, so I imagined the player consumed by longing for home. That reminded me of Psalm 137 where the Jewish people are lamenting their exile. The title is a reference to verse 2. I'm not sure Edrevol was pleased.

Observations:

Exercise 2

Result: Dance, Lydia!

Exercise concept: The cell, a limited set of pitches, available in every octave.

Rules:

  1. Compose a melody. Use only the tones F, A, B, and C, in any octave.
  2. Use 4/4 meter and only these rhythms: (a) four eights, two quarters; (b) two quarters, two eighths, quarter.
  3. Use some measures more than once.

Title concept: I pictured an extended family gathering where a father is playing a lively tune on his violin while his young daughter dances around the room. The exercise is in Lydian mode, so ...

Observations:

Exercise 3

Result: March of the Marmots

Exercise concept: The row, a strict sequence of a limited set of pitches, available in every octave. Each pitch may be repeated one or more times before the next pitch in the sequence.

Rules:

  1. Compose a melody of 6 to 10 measures. Use the sequence D, A, F, E, C, in any octave.
  2. Use 4/4 and only these rhythms: (a) quarter, two eighths, half; (b) quarter rest, three quarters.
  3. Near each note, write its number in the sequence.

Title concept: The melody sounded like a foreboding march. But I also felt there was a bit of comedy there, and I imagined it was an army of something small. So I looked for rodents that would alliterate with march. Mice seemed a little cliché.

Observations:

Exercise 4

Result: Josephine's Picnic

Exercise concept: Melody from the C major scale.

Rules:

  1. Compose a melody. Use only the tones in the C major scale, in any octave. Conceive of it as a single melody rather than a set of discrete measures.
  2. Begin and end on C4.
  3. Use 4/4 meter and only the rhythm quarter, two eighths, half.
  4. Use some measures more than once. Write out all the notes individually in these cases. The extra effort will make you decide whether you really want the repetition.

Title concept: This tune turned out to be another lively one, but after exercise 2 it felt uncreative to put dance in the name. Luckily the melody brought to my mind a frolicky scene of woodland creatures, and I imagined Peter Rabbit's mother hosting a picnic for a group of friendly, energetic animals.

Observations:

Exercise 5

Result:

Exercise concept: The Dorian scale, a scale that uses the same tones as the major scale one step below it.

Rules:

  1. Compose a melody of 6 to 10 measures that expresses the idea of some form of water.
  2. Use only the tones in the D Dorian scale, in any octave. To establish the key, since the melody is unaccompanied, begin and end on the tone D, and return to D often.
  3. Use 4/4 meter and only the rhythm quarter, two eighths, half.
  4. Use some measures more than once.

Title concept:

Observations:

Exercise 6

Result:

Exercise concept: The Phrygian scale, a scale that uses the same tones as the major scale two steps below it.

Rules:

  1. Compose a melody of 6 to 10 measures that expresses a dark and ominous mood.
  2. Use only the tones in the E Phrygian scale, in any octave. Center the melody on E.
  3. Use 4/4 meter and only the rhythms (a) quarter, two eighths, two quarters; and (b) two quarters, half.

Title concept:

Observations:

Exercise 7

Result:

Exercise concept: Phrygian mistake exercise.

Rules:

  1. Base the exercise on exercise 6.
  2. Break the rules everywhere. Especially break the rule about maintaining a tonic of E.
  3. Label your mistakes. You can do this by writing a numbered list of the rules you've broken and writing the number from the list near the places you've broken it (see the example on p. 12).

Title concept:

Observations:

Exercise 8

Result:

Exercise concept: The Basic Note Values.

Rules:

  1. Compose 8 to 12 measures for an unpitched percussion instrument. You can use the second space from the top. Use X for the clef. Use only the Basic Note Values. Repeat some measures. Make each rhythm flow into the next (see the comments on p. 12).
  2. Don't use an eighth rest followed by three eighths or the same pattern in sixteenths.
  3. Don't follow two eighths or four sixteenths with a rest. These patterns are hard to perform.

Title concept:

Observations: