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Composing books / exercises

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Thomas Bryla, Apr 28, 2018.

  1. I'm curious: What can you recommend as good ressources (preferably books) that contain a boatload of pure exercises in composition?

    Want to improve my skills in a more 'academic' sense than I have so far. Dug out my Hindemith 'Craft of Musical Composition' and slowly starting with that. Looked at the Julliard bookstore to find inspiration, but the Hindemith was basically what they had.

    What have you been through?
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  2. Sure.... perhaps for me to offer better solutions could you say a little what you mean by "academic" and "pure exercises".

    While I get the gist of what you mean, it's one of those terms only people outside of university/conservatory use.
    In my 8 years of conservatory study no one ever said let's write academic music.

    You know, over here in the US. you will find radio stations called "jammin oldies" but no one ever goes to a party and says
    "let's hear some jamming oldies".

    Those terms make me want to suggest counterpoint studies.

    If you don't know of it the work of Alfred Mann is really fantastic. He has a book on the teaching of fugue thru the years.
    Also, and I love this book this book only has the actual composition exercises Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and I believe some Beethoven used to learn and
    from their teaching. It's not a method or exercise book, more of a "This is how they taught". There are some examples of Bach correcting one of his students, so you see the students work and then his

    If you don't know these below they are pretty much on most "academics" books shelf, and have lots of exercises

    Paul T McGraw and Thomas Bryla like this.
  3. Ahhh ...... that's bullshit. Why don't the links to Amazon work ? I tried a couple times
  4. Thanks Doug! Just remembered that I have the Persichetti and it has lots of exercises.

    I understand the confusion! I was just curious as to what kind of composition books you have been through (in particular if you had been studying composition at college). I'm self taught in this way and simply wanted to brush up on skills. I've been through a lot of counterpoint studies both with a teacher and with the counterpointer app and both Jeppesens and Fuxs books and was looking for books like these on inventions, fugues, 12-tone etc.

    The Mann book seems out of this topic but very interesting!
  5. Did the links show up on your side. None of them do over here, and yeah.... the Persichetti is one that I listed.

    Well Alfred Mann has THE BOOK on Fugue as far as I am concerned. It's just called "The study of Fugue".

    Both books you mentioned are within his book. Alfred Mann's thing was to present like an "Urtext" for composition pedagogy.

    So it's not so much him "lecturing" on this or that. It's a collection of famous instruction and he is just providing "Context"
    Like the book about composer as student you can look through Schuberts fugal

    I went through most of Julliards methods, and also Vanderbilt's musicianship programs and my main degrees are
    from the University of Melbourne. I am just a junkie man..... if there is a GOOD course... I really like learning in classroom settings. Just me. It's a thing.

    So for things to advise you (from what little I know of what your background) would advise the following:


    The Spiraling Tapestry of Music by Philip Lasser.
    It's based on the teachings of Nadia Boulangier, and from a french author named Narcis Bonet.
    Bonet has his own book on keyboard harmony/counterpoint

    The art of Keyboard playing by CPE Bach

    For many things this is still THE book. In particular the figured bass, which is very useful for keyboard players.

    Felix Salzer: Structural hearing.

    Schenker influenced. He was Schenker's prize student. Changed my life.......... never will I hear music the same again.
    Check out Salzer........ he is clear in explanation. Schenker was a total dick, like Wagner. Both were out to prove the superiority of
    German music/Art. Salzer only talks about the music.

    Not books

    I am a HUGE fan of improvisation, and think it is integral to really learning counterpoint. Or .....as you say..... it's academic.
    Get anything by Peter Schubert (same last name as the other guy)

    I think one really needs to sing these things

    Next.... Get some books on improvising in these styles at the piano.

    **** Organ players have many books on this topic. It's the one place improvisation is still alive and well in classical/contrapuntal music.

    Look at either


    Robert Gjerdingen's partimenti books and "The rule of the octave" stuff of yester year are wonderful

    I've set up a link for you to look at some examples of learning to improvise in the baroque style.

    Just grab those....... they are pretty cool.

    You know...... I was doing post-grad teaching of counterpoint at the University of Melbourne about 12 years ago.
    So I had 4 classes a week of about 15-17 undergrads in each. About 65 in all. Weekly papers graded etc.

    I thought I was pretty good at the stuff. Teaching it, and checking over all those homework examples etc.

    Then I moved to NYC. The person I am about to link to below has since become a great friend, and it turned out we were neighbors.

    Improvisation was always looked down on at UofM (fuck them). I may have used this phrase already, but watching Noam play literally
    blew my mind and changed my life. I began taking lessons with him about 6 years ago, and holy shit....... all the things I used to teach....
    never again....... that was kids stuff. This is "knowing" counterpoint. (PS. He does this in every style you can imagine within the classical genre: Not jazz etc.)

    If you are ever really wanting to drink from a firehouse, I am happy to connect you. Just take a lesson or two with this guy. Just check out the video below.
    You think he knows his stuff ?

    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  6. Just wanted to say that I'm digging the Persichetti book! Went through it in the conservatory only difference is that this time I'm listening to ALL the source materials and doing ALL the exercises. This means that it's slow but just finishing up the first chapter is extremely fulfilling to my compositional needs. Such a breath of fresh air.
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  7. I just watched the entire video of Noam Sivan improvising. I was completely thrilled as I listened. What an amazing and delightfully talented guy! @Doug Gibson is this fellow for real? Do you think the girl with the melodic fragment was a plant? It seems incredible that he could come up with all of this just "on the spur of the moment". It certainly makes me feel like an idiot.
  8. I never tried that book. Sounds like I need to get a copy!
  9. I have been taking lessons (have one on Monday) with Noam for about 6 years now.
    That video does not even show half of what he is capable of.

    As he was also a neighbor (we lived on basically the same street) I would often go watch his lectures.
    Twice, just because people are shy in groups, when no one would offer to sing I would. People would come up to me
    and ask if I was a "plant." He is also on faculty at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute; they wouldn't let a trickster in.

    I can share with you any other info you wish via PM, or make another thread.

    Hope you are well Sir ! :)
  10. Hi Thomas

    You have inspired me to think about opening that book ! I was wondering if you experiment with your composing process at all with these exercises ? I might try that out for myself.

    For example for one exercise improvise at the piano, then transcribing fragments I like of the improv, and then flesh it out pencil and paper.

    Next exercise, Pen/ Paper and a stack of study scores at a table and complete the exercise without touching an instrument. Then playing the example on piano.

    Piano score vs. Full Score composing etc...etc...etc..

    Mixing this up : Improvise - transcribe liked parts of improv. -- score study --- paper etc.

    Have you any thoughts on this ?
  11. Hi Doug,
    Since his assignments are pretty straight forward I either work them out at the piano or directly in Sibelius/pen-paper. His first exercise is:
    "Write a phrase for two flutes that contains several dissonant perfect fourths. Follow this phrase with one that contains several consonant perfect fourths."

    The boundary is already given: Two flutes, two phrases.

    If I improvise it I will be doing 'live' transcribtion. Not to tape but capture the moments as I play them and revisit them to further polish them.

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