More Things To Learn

So the classical music course I’m doing at the moment is going well. I’ve learnt lots and have still got lots to learn. But classical music is pretty restrictive, even the course leader mentions this in one of the first video lessons. He shows the notation for a chord and mentions that it is pretty common to see that type of chord in jazz music, but that a classical composer would look at it and say it was wrong, and then they’d correct it. However, I don’t actually want to write classical music, I just thought it was a great place to start, and it has been. But there are now a few other music courses on Coursera that I think are quite relevant to me.

The first of which is “Introduction to Music Production” which teaches the different stages of recording and producing music. This is obviously very handy as it’s one thing being able to write music, but it’s a completely different thing recording and producing it, so that’s a skill I’ll definitely need along the way.

The second course is “Jazz Improvisation“. This is pretty much a direct contrast to the classical music course, but that’s exactly what I want. This way I can learn what there is to know about classical music and jazz music, and then take what I like from both and apply it to my own music. At least that is the plan anyway. I know that improvising with chords will be pretty difficult, but then that’s what the course is for. If I can learn it, then it’ll be a very handy skill to have.

Lastly there is “Songwriting“, another handy skill to have. This is the one I’m least interested, but still feel there could be some valuable lessons to learn.

The trouble with these courses is that they all start on the same day, 27th January, run for 6 weeks and need 5-8 hours work per week each. So add this to the classical music course I’ll still be doing for another 3 weeks and the work load will probably be a bit extreme. But I think I’m going to try it for the first week and then come the second week I’ll have a better idea of which courses I’ll want to carry on with.

Write Like Mozart (Week 2)

So week 1 of learning to write like Mozart was really interesting but the music I produced at the end was a bit boring. That’s because everything for week 1 had to be in a major key, use homorhythmic homophony and the chords had to be in root position. This week the tables have turned, everything was in a minor key, chord inversions were introduced, as well as some rhythms.

This week there were two assignments instead of just one. The first was very similar to last week as I was given the melody and the chord sequence and then simply had to write in the parts for the other 3 voices. However, with the introduction of chord inversions it definitely made it a bit trickier, as there were lots of new guidelines to remember, such as when using a 2nd inversion chord you must double the 5th of the chord, instead of the root.

Mozart - W2 A1

Mozart - W2 A1 (Answer)

The second assignment introduced some rhythms into the mix. This one was less of a composition though, as I simply had to re-voice the parts for keyboard instead of SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass) but I did then have to apply the given rhythm to it.

Mozart - W2 A2 P1.1

Mozart - W2 A2 P1.2


Mozart - W2 A2 P1 (Answer)

So far I’ve been encouraged to double the root of the chord, however that made the melody of the second piece very difficult to craft due to a few 1st inverted chords and it ended up all over the place, so I started again and ended up doubling the fifth on these inverted chords which made for a smoother melody.

Mozart - W2 A2 P2.1

Mozart - W2 A2 P2.2


Mozart - W2 A2 P2 (Answer)

So as you can hear, the assignments for the course are slowly progressing towards more complex music. I’m looking forward to the weeks to come.

Review: Zoë Keating

One of my goals along the road to composing is to be able to write really good string music, so the other day I thought I’d tip toe in the string world for a bit and ended up getting the latest issue of Strad Magazine (Essential Reading For The String Music World Since 1890) where I read an interview with Zoë Keating.

Zoë Keating

“Live-looping cellist Zoë Keating tells Peter Somerford how technology and the internet have helped her home-grown music flourish outside the industry mainstream.” – Strad Magazine (January 2014)

I had no idea who this Zoë Keating was but as I read the interview I knew that I needed to find out and I’m so glad that I did. I bought her new album pretty much straight away and have edited together this little suite so you can have a listen and better understand what I’m talking about when I say how amazing she is.

From the beginning of the suite you can instantly recognise the use of the loop pedal, which enables her to add layer upon layer of cello. Obviously lots of thought goes into creating these tracks, but as the suite goes on you’ll notice that the layering becomes more and more intricate, and it becomes hard to believe that she can actually perform these tracks live, by herself. To me the album sounds more like a movie soundtrack than a classical album, as it excites images in my mind that I would love to watch on screen. It’s also given me a great insight to the different sounds of the cello, something I’m not sure you can really get from playing around with cello synths on a MIDI keyboard. So knowing the sound of the instrument outside of an orchestra or string quartet has really inspired me and it’s given me some ideas I’ll definitely be calling upon again in the future.

Zoe Keating Into The Trees

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Writing Like Mozart

If you love learning then you should definitely check out Coursera. It’s a website which hosts short online courses, normally of about 6-8 weeks. It’s a great place to learn from home and has a nice variety of topics you can choose from. There’s “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution”, “Fundamentals of Global Energy Business”, “Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory Of Relativity”, “The Music Of The Beatles”, and many more, all from a host of well known universities. I found out about this great website when one of my friends showed me a TED Talk about it. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom if you’re interested.

Anyway, I found a great course that is relevant to me called Write Like Mozart: An Introduction To Classical Music Composition. I’ve just finished my first week and I’ve already learnt a lot. If you read my previous post then you’ll know I had to brush up on my theory knowledge to do the course. But I managed to catch up quite quickly, and when I did, I was able to start the video lectures and exercises.

Now what is great about this course is that at the end of each week there is an assignment and each weeks assignment is a composition. I thought this pretty scary at first, but then thought it makes perfect sense. As the course leader says, it’s called Write Like Mozart for a reason. However, it is only the first week, so you don’t exactly have to go and write a symphony. Instead you’re given a chord sequence and a melody and then it is down to you to voice the other three parts.

Mozart Assignment 1

There were a lot of restrictions for this weeks assignment though, for instance all the chords must be in root position and the music must be homorhythmic and homophonic, which means that each voice must have the same rhythm. The end result sounds pretty basic, but it was definitely worth while doing, and was a good place to start. Here it is, complete with the audio:

Mozart Assignment 1 Completed


Getting To Know The Basics

I recently started on online course called “Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Music”, but after watching the introduction video realised that my theory knowledge was severely lacking. So I spent a couple of days blitzing my way through the book Basic Music Theory by Joe Procopio. And now I know all about major and minor scales, the different types of intervals and chords, and lots of other useful things that will allow me to progress with the course.

It’s all way too much to summarise but I did want to share one thing, the Major scale. If someone where to say play the C Major scale on a piano I’m pretty sure most people could do so even if they don’t know what the C Major scale is. You play from left to right and press only the white keys. If someone where to ask me to do the same but with the D Major scale, I’m not sure I could have done the same. I’d would have had to work out by ear which of the black keys to include. However, the book Basic Music Theory shows you the formula for the major (and the minor) scales so I thought I’d share what I learnt.

C Major Scale

So this is the C Major Scale as it looks on the treble clef and the numbers underneath show the formula for all major scales. 1 represents a tone and 1/2 represents a semitone. When including both the black and the white keys on the piano, a semitone is the distance between any note on the piano and the next note above or below it. A tone is two semitones. Therefore the formula above reads “tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone”.

Now each major scale is named after the starting note, so remembering that, plus the formula “tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone” we can now work out any and all major scales. So let’s put this into practice.

Here we have the D Major Scale:

D Major Scale

And here it is represented on the piano, where the grey keys are the ones you play:

D Major Piano

And here is the same for the G Major Scale:

G Major Scale G Major Piano

Basic Music Theory is packed full of useful music theory and explains it all very clearly in a simple and easy to understand way. And the best thing about it is it only costs £1.49 on the iBook Store.

Basic Music Theory

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