The Inspiration Project

There’s no worse feeling for a composer than looking down at the blank page and getting an overwhelming feeling of “now what?”

It’s in trying to conquer that feeling that this project came into being.

Perhaps you’ve seen those little trays at convenience stores that say “Need a Penny? Take a Penny. Have a Penny? Leave a Penny.”  That’s akin to how this project works.  Here you’ll find germinal notions or broad concepts that could be taken in any number of directions.  If you need something to get your mind moving, hopefully you can find it here.  Or if you have such ideas yourself, hopefully you’ll share them for others.

To sum it all up:

If you have an idea, share it.  If you need an idea, take one.

Note:  Over the years, I’ve taken much impetus from Vincent Persichetti’s seminal “Twentieth Century Harmony.”  The book is a gold mine of ideas and I’ve listed some of  them here to get things started.  The numbers in brackets refer to page numbers in the book.

-develop musical materials around particular intervals (“zones” of interval deployment; one phrase could explore seconds, the next fifths, etc.) [22]

-use lines of chained intervals contrapuntally, as you would with single melodic lines [22]

-explore modes of pentatonic scales or move to different types of pentatonic scales [51]

-compose a diatonic melody with whole tone harmony [57]

-allow a part to sing a pentatonic melody over a non-pentatonic chordal background [64]

-explore moving voices through various forms of 7th and 9th chord formations on the same root [77]

-write a passage of quiet, sustained tension with twelve note chords [88]

-harmonize a melody in four parts using a selected chord type only (e.g. dominant 7ths).  Much contrary and oblique motion and several inversions should be used. [92]

-utilize a “zone” principle with quartal sonorities [102]

-write 3 part quartal harmony over a bass pedal point [106]

-variable melodic and harmonic content scheme: (pentatonic) melody and (quartal) harmony [108]

-harmonize a melody with triads in the upper voices and an added note in the bass [120]

-explore using three voice secundal chords in a variety of voicings (MM, Mm, mm) [124]

-write a piece in which diatonic, pentatonic, and chromatic clusters are used [134]

-intersperse polychordal textures with unison passages [148]

-employ mirror writing in the outer voices while the inner voices move freely [178]

-use chords as motives (designate “chord 1,” “chord 2,” “chord 3,” etc.; decide what sort of pattern in which to deploy them and ways in which this might be developed) [186]

-use perfect 5ths in coupled two part writing [202]

-write a piece in which the different voices follow different isorhythmic patterns [217]

-compose a piece in which isomelos and isorhythm are out of sync [218]

-write a piece utilizing pandiatonicism in which the diatonic center frequently shifts [224]

-compose an expressive sustained passage in chordal style in which all 7 diatonic tones are sounded in each chord [225]

-write a fast passage using simple chords that move so rapidly that they create a harmonically complex sound [228]

-deploy a florid ornamental dissonant line above simple tertian chords [232]

-use 3 rhythmic cells in free ordering.  Accompanying lines should be based on these cells.  Develop further in later phrases by inverting, changing voices, etc. [236]

-compose a quartet for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon in which the bottom three play three different ostinatos while the flute sings a melody above [242]

-write a soft passage with a line doubled several octaves lower [244]

-compose a string quartet passage in which two ostinatos are used simultaneously [247]

-write a 3 voice canon.  The top voice is the leading voice, the middle voice is in triple augmentation and starts concurrent with the leading voice and the lower voice follows at the tritone to the leading voice [259]

-plan a piano piece using a scheme like this: [270]

Form     Pitch Content        Texture

A             two distant keys   RH – single line; LH – broken chords

B              two close keys      RH – chords; LH – ostinato

A             modified repetition with coda

Imagine how this scheme might be expanded upon.

-vivacious pandiatonic writing in the mixed chorus on a phrase from one of the Psalms [279]

-rich string harmony under a solo trumpet [279]

-weave a passage through tertian, quartal, secundal, polychordal, and compound harmony [279]

Now let’s add to this list!  Help your fellow composers!

Check out the music I’ve written here!


2 thoughts on “The Inspiration Project

  1. Imagine your audience first. Not just who they are, but what they are doing, in detail. Watching a live performance? Where? What’s their attention span? Or are they watching a video? Again, how long, and where are the major and minor sections? Are they dancing to the music? Yet again, how long? What sort of dancing – choreographed or spontaneous? Or is your audience ephemeral, and the music is wallpaper – what Satie called musique d’ameublement – which serves to create a mood but not tell a story?

    Looking at a blank page offers no clues. Once you’ve imagined your audience in detail, you’ll have a better idea of how long your piece will eventually be, what its sections will be, its instrumentation, its tempo, its emotional impact, etc. This is something like “Test First Programming” in which you write tests for your code before you write any code. Imagining in detail how your code (or music) operates enables you to write code (or compose pieces) that target your goal. Ta-daa! You suddenly know a lot more about the piece you’re writing, without having written a note yet.

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