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Musical Form & Structure

Composing music is a creative aspect that every music student should attempt at some time. A recent event organized by Rhythm MP in conjunction with the Eden Handicap Service Center's Charity Food Fair 2009 garnered a total of 87 entries comprising young music students up to age 12 to submit an 8-bar composition. There were a few gems among the entries but quite many fell short for different reasons. One of the most obvious was musical form. So, let’s deal with this simple issue first.

Look at the example below; notice that there are no musical phrases. The melody is moving continuously without any breaks. Musical phrases are like spoken sentences. We can’t speak continuously without pausing for breath. Likewise, musical lines are the same.

The simplest approach to understanding musical form is to limit each musical phrase to four bars only. The fourth bar should contain a note held for the entire duration of the bar (for now). Therefore, using the same musical example above, Bar 4 should look like this.

Notice that the rhythm of the notes in Bar 1 – 4 are exactly the same as Bar 5 - 8. Now, you have two musical phrases.

The next step is to consider how the melody sounds. After having composed the melody, it is always necessary to play the melody on your principle instrument (in this case, the piano) to know how it sounds. Decide if you like what you hear and if not, what would you change?

Play the example below on your piano and compare it with the original melody above. You will notice that more notes are used in the melody. There are no repeated notes to make the music monotonous. (Note: Suitable for students who have completed Piano Lesson Made Easy Level 3 and/or My Third Theory Book.)

Taking it another step further, make some alterations to the note values like shown below. This rhythm will make the melody sound more interesting. Play it on your piano to feel the difference.

Now that we have gone through some basic steps on how to improve a composition, it is your turn to try composing an interesting melody to the accompaniment. This 8-bar composition game taken from Because of Love (red book).


Be A Young Composer

Click on MPA composition 1 to view or print.


Printable page instructions:
For Mozilla Firefox Web browser
1. Click on the image
2. Select Print Preview from the File menu
3. Click Page Setup
4. In the Format Orientation: click Portrait
5. In the Format Scale: click Shrink To Fit Page Width
6. In the Margins: set Top, Bottom, Left and Right to zero (0)
7. Click OK
8. Click Print, click OK

Finding My Niche

By the time I was in my early teens, I have been exposed to quite many genres of music. I was enjoying everything I was listening to, be it classical, jazz, pop, rock, etc. as long as it was pleasing to my ears. So, I was listening to a lot of music and trying to digest it all.

I tried to make some sense of all the music I was listening to by attempting to analyze what I was hearing. I would hear a chord sound and go search for that sound on the piano. I would try my best to transcribe a melody and figure out the chords to a song that I particularly liked. Then I would play it on the piano imitating the groove of the music to the best of my ability.

It was at that time when I was beginning to be intrigued by jazz music. It was everything in jazz: the melody, the rhythm, the harmony and the synergy among the musicians in a jazz performance that captivated me. Jazz was so complex and intimidating for me that I desired to know more about it. It was from loads of listening to jazz and trying to figure out the complexities of that genre that got me hooked on jazz. The more I listened, the more it impressed upon me the virtuosity of the musicians and minds that these musicians possess to create such music. So, I decided I wanted to go the jazz way too. I wanted to have the musical and mental skills to be able to perform jazz.

While I was still in a classical music program, I embarked on a self-taught jazz program since there was no one who could teach me jazz. I was merely imitating what I could gather from the jazz recordings. As the saying goes: If at first when you do not succeed, imitate! It was from lots of listening and exploring jazz on the piano that got me deeper into jazz.