Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Musicianship lab: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


Musical composition is an art, not a science. There are no absolute rights and wrongs, or formulae for success. You could compose a piece in which the harmony and counterpoint are impeccably correct, but which would be much too dull to qualify as music. Sometimes the best choice of harmony or melodic detail is the freshest and least predictable. The "best" choices, moreover, are always dictated by the musical context within which the choice is made. This is a paradox, on the face of it: the notes that you choose themselves constitute the context of the piece.

The purpose of this class is to give you an opportunity to explore the materials of tonal composition in the context of your own original compositions. Through this experience you will learn the fluidity and conditional character of the musical material that you learned in Harmony and Counterpoint I and II (21M.301 and 21M.302). At the heart of this class are the two short tonal compositions that you will write and which you will hear in performance. Your writing will be modeled on examples from the classical repertory. Thus, though your main obligation to this subject is to compose music, you will also be asked to do some musical analysis, both in class and on your own.


21M.302 Harmony and Counterpoint II

Composition Projects

There will be 2 composition projects, spread throughout the semester. Both projects will receive readings by professional ensembles.

1. Minuet and Trio for string quartet, in classical style.
Using models from the string quartets and other works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, your work will explore the "rounded binary" form typical of the classical minuet and trio and the relationship of form, key and "tone" that characteristically exists between them.
Final deadline: two days before Lec #12

2. A Lied in romantic style.
The models for this project are drawn from the songs of Schubert and Schumann.
Final deadline: one day before Lec #18

Textbooks and Scores

There is no required textbook for this subject. Copies of required scores will be provided; please bring them to class as we study them. I recommend that you purchase a three-ring binder to preserve your scores.

Note: You will find the texts used 21M.301 and 21M.302 to be very useful for review and reference.

Musicianship Lab

All students in 21M.302, 21M.303, and 21M.304 are required to attend their assigned section of a weekly Musicianship Lab. Musicianship Lab offers students the opportunity to develop sight-singing, ear-training, dictation, and other musicianship skills through in-class activities and brief homework assignments. Section assignments are made following placement auditions during the first week of the term.

The following materials are required for the musicianship lab:

  • Five Centuries of Choral Music. Vol. I. New York, NY: G. Schirmer and Hal Leonard, 1986. ISBN: 9781423439516.
  • Ottman, R. W., and N. Rogers. Music for Sight Singing. 7th ed. East Rutherford, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2006. ISBN: 9780131872349.
  • Music manuscript paper and pencil
  • An A-440 tuning fork


Your grade will be determined primarily by the work you do on your composition. Each project will be given a final grade. The grade on each project will reflect the quality both of the final piece and of your compositional process. The quality of your piece will be judged, in part, by the coherence of your use of tonal harmony and counterpoint and traditional forms, and your ability to be inventive within these constraints. Your "compositional process" will be judged in terms of your sensitivity to the compositional models that we examine and your ability to incorporate in your revisions the comments and suggestions of the professor and the other students.

The fact that there are only two main projects in this class is a trap for some students, who are tempted to blow it off until the last minute. By far the most important factor that affects your grade is your ongoing commitment to your work: You must bring new music and/or revisions every week. Sporadic bursts of productivity will automatically compromise your grade, often catastrophically so. Please take this to heart. Implied in all the above, of course, is the condition that class attendance is required.

Your final grade can be adjusted up and down according to your attendance record, participation in class discussion, and performance in musicianship lab.