A Web Based Introduction to
Basic Music Theory and Music Composition


by

Chad Sowers
Nashua-Plainfield High School
Nashua, Iowa

 

Introduction


Have you ever wanted to write your own piece of music but weren’t exactly sure how to get started? Well now is your chance. With the help of a couple of excellent web sites, you are going to learn the basics of music theory and apply them by writing your own short composition.

 

The Task


The following lesson will introduce you to the basics of music theory. You will utilize two different web sites that will provide you with the fundamentals of music theory. These web sites will teach you about such topics as scales, chords, intervals and key signatures. The web sites will also provide you with several “quizzes” that you will print out, complete, and hand in for evaluation.

After you have completed the basic theory lessons provided on the web, you will use your new-found skills to compose a short trio for your instrument. You will be given specific directions for the completion of your composition. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard and should be lots of fun. Good luck!!!

 

Resources


 

The Process


  1. Let’s begin your introduction to music theory by visiting the Easy Music Theory web site.
    1. You should begin by clicking on Lesson 1, “The Grand Staff”. Carefully read the material on the grand staff and study it carefully. Make sure that you have some manuscript paper handy in case you need to practice writing some music symbols or intervals. When you think that you understand the material, click on the “Quiz” button on the bottom of the page. Print this page and complete it.
    2. Continue this process for all 24 lessons on the site. Print off the quiz at the end of each lesson and complete it. When you have completed all of the lessons and quizzes, submit them to Mr. Sowers for evaluation.
  2. Now let’s visit the Practical Music Theory web site.
    1. Once you have arrived at this site, click on the “Exercises” button. This will take you to a page containing interactive exercises on intervals, chords, and scales. Begin with the interval construction quiz. Make sure that you check all of the option boxes before you begin the quiz. If you have trouble with the interval quiz, you may need to return to the Easy Music Theory to review the “Intervals” section.
    2. Now complete the interactive quizzes on chord construction and scale construction. If you have difficulty at any time, return to the Easy Music Theory site and review the appropriate sections.
  3. Now that you are a master of music theory, it is time to begin your simple composition project.
    1. Your composition project will be very short and sweet. You are expected to compose a trio for your instrument (example, flute trio, trumpet trio, etc.) It will be a minimum of 36 bars. The following restrictions will be placed upon your composition:
      1) Key of B-flat major;
      2) Common time 4/4;
      3) utilize all of the following rhythms: quarter note, eighth note, triplet, and sixteenth note;
      4) use all the following chords: I, ii, IV, V, and vii;
      5) try to keep you harmonizations within the following intervals: 3rd, 4th, 5th and octave;
      6) minimum of 36 bars long.
    2. Begin the composition process by inventing a melody. You can do this either with the help of a piano or your own instrument. Keep it simple. Once you have a melody that suites you, write it down on staff paper. Remember to stay in the key of B-flat and you need at least 36 bars in common time.
    3. Once you have your melody completed, it is time to begin work on the harmonization. For the harmonization of your melody, you will definitely want to utilize the piano. This will make it easier to hear the chords and their progression as you write them. You must utilize the following chords in your harmonization: I, ii, IV, V, and vii. It would be a good idea to begin and end on a tonic I chord. Remember that ii and IV chords easily lead to V chords. The minor vii chord can be used after a V chord or as a “false” V chord. Always resolve your dominant V and minor vii chords to the tonic I. Try to include all three notes of the triad in your harmonization, although this will not work all of the time. Keep your intervals small between the instruments, utilizing mostly 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, and octaves. As a final tip, try to keep the individual lines of each instrument as smooth as possible, without many large leaps in the intervals.
    4. Once you have finished your harmonization, review your work and make sure you have met all of the requirements listed in 3A. Check your composition by playing it on the piano. Listen for incorrect chord progressions and the smoothness of the individual lines.

 

Assessment


Once you have completed your composition, submit the rough draft to Mr. Sowers for evaluation and suggested revisions. You will probably have to make many corrections in your composition, so please be patient.

Final evaluation of your composition will consist of a performance of your grand masterpiece in class. You will need to recruit the trio of players needed for the composition.

 

Conclusion


I hope this has been a wonderful learning experience for you. Not only have you learned some basic principles of music theory, you have also taken the first step into the exciting world of music composition. Composing a piece of music is a very difficult task. It involves higher order thinking and creativity skills not normally utilized in the classroom. Composing also tests the limits and capabilities of your skills as a musician.

For those of you wanting to take your project to the next level, you can enter your composition into a computer-based notation software program such as Finale. Utilizing the many options of the Finale program, you can instantly print professional looking parts and scores. You can also transcribe your trio for use with any instrument or combination of instruments. Saving your piece into a MIDI file allows you the possibility to submit your composition over the internet for formal evaluation by a composition expert.

The possibilities for music composition are limited only by your own imagination and creativity. Good luck with your new-found composing skills!!!