Adult Theory V: Composition

Wednesday evenings Fall '11, Room 35[?], 8:30-9:30


About me

MSC 1003 at Baruch





Next Class --->
Class 1: Sept 14
OK guys, welcome back. I'm going to try to continue our advanced theory class and do more composition. However, we've got a problem -- I'm pretty sure we are down to two students (unless new advanced students come in out of nowhere). So we'll have to figure out what this means for the survival of our little class.

I've got a real lesson plan for the first class, though, and we'll see how it goes.

First Class

OK, so me and Madonna sat down and had a somewhat casual first class. Here's the idea -- I went to a conference this summer and heard a cute little paper that I wanted to explain to you. And I figured it would be a good exercise to get the ball rolling in class.

The paper was called "Composing Emotions", by Megan Trenck and a few other people. Like I said, it was a neat little project, if not exactly earth-shaking. The team started by asking a group of students to compose happy and sad melodies. Then they played those melodies to a second group and had them rate the melodies in terms of happiness or sadness (this "proves" that the melodies are indeed happy/sad.) They selected the melodies with the best scores and looked at their structure.

The most obvious difference was that happy melodies were in the major mode, and the sad ones were in minor. Also, major melodies had a higher "event density" (more notes per beat) than sad ones. The one observation that was surprising to me was that happy melodies tended to have a very regular phrase organization (say, with 2-measure chunks that add up to four, and four-measure phrases that add up to eight) while the sad ones were more irregular and fragmented.

I thought we could look at this difference in more detail by picking two "happy" and "sad" songs to look at. I picked a few of my favorite Schubert tunes from the song cycle Schwanengesang (Swan Song).

Here's our happy song.

(direct link)

Here's the score and a translation.

And here's our sad song.

(direct link)

score and translation

(As Madonna noticed, it is too simplistic to call these songs purely happy or sad.)

So, we spent a few minutes listening to and looking at these songs. They fit the findings of the study pretty well, and also one notices that Schubert's happy song flows up and down much more freely, while his "sad" music tends to be frozen on single pitches for long stretches of time.

So - long story short, the homework assignment is to start an idea for one happy and one sad melody. Pure melody, no accompaniment. I'd like to see a couple phrases each, but whatever you can get down is fine.