Monthly Archives: May 2014

Basic Composition #1: Accompaniment

I was reading through the chapter on Accompaniment in “Fundamentals of Musical Composition” by Arnold Schoenberg. I thought I’d make some notes here and write a few different accompaniments to learn by doing.

Accompaniment should:

  • be as functional as possible.
  • compliment the essentials of the tune:
    • tonality
    • phrasing
    • contour
    • character
    • mood
  • reveal harmony.

Accompaniment is especially needed if there is complex harmony or rhythm.

Sometimes the accompaniment is ommissable, but this should be confined to “self explanatory” segments.

Characteristics of the Accompaniment

The accompaniment must have a motive. This motive is less complex that the motive of the melody. The rhythm of the accompaniment is relatively simple with more repetition.

The accompaniment should be adaptable to the current harmony.

Need to be able to vary the accompaniment by modification, liquidation, and abandonment.

The Bass should participate in every change in harmony.

If there are no parrallel octaves in voice leading, then voices can be doubled in octaves

Types of Accompaniment

Coral-like

  • Same rhythm different notes (TBD: type of early music this was common in)

Figuration

  • broken chords, piano style
  • Repeated and adapted figure in the accompaniment

Intermittent

  • harmony appears (changes) once is a bar or several bars
  • sustained notes
  • short chords at the beginning of a bar
  • chords on sustained notes of the melody

Complementary

  • fills out gaps in the movement of other voices

Contrapuntal treatment

  • fugues, fugatos
  • invertable counterpoint

Semi and Quasi-contrapuntal treatment

  • The accompanying voices are a little more elaborate, but not as formalised as fugues etc.

Here is a little melody I wrote to experiment with different types of accompaniment.

Coral-like accompaniment is where the accompaniment has the same rhythm as the melody, but uses different notes. It works pretty well for this tune.

Figuration is a classic style used on a piano (e.g. The alberti bass)
It pretty much means that a single figure is used and repeated and slightly adapted to the melody.

Maybe a little like this? My figuration accompaniment was occasionally in the Complementary category too.

Sustained Chords

I took a couple of these to band rehearsal to try them out and found that a combination will be better, and I added some percussion:

Contrapuntal

Fugues, and canons are a whole area of study in themselves. And what small experience I’ve had with writing cannons means that the melody and accompaniment are both composed together.

That’ll do for now…

Clarinet Tip #7: Embouchure

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Embouchure is probably the most important part of clarinet playing to get right.

A common problem in playing the clarinet is “jaw bite”, which shorten’s the amplitude of reed vibration and is hard to keep up for long.

How to form a good clarinet embouchure:

  1. Close the lips; holding them together easily.
  2. Drop your jaw 1 cm; with the lips still touching – the center of the bottom lip should feel soft and the end of the chin should feel hard
  3. Stand against a wall until the back of the head touches it.
  4. Do not drop your head.
  5. Bring the mouthpiece up – not your head down
  6. Keep the lips touching each other – try to form a puckered smile (not a kiss), keep the red of the lower lip turned out.
  7. The lower lip should be cupped into a miniature smile; no wider than the end of the reed.
  8. Puncture lips with the mouthpiece
  9. Lips must stand above the teeth – not rest against them. The teeth should only support the lips if your lips are very fatigued.
  10. Snug up mouthpiece under the top teeth – do not open up the lips or jaw to open more.
  11. Blow – freely through the throat, not squeezed through tight lips, do not puff cheeks.

I thought I knew what to do, until I read “The Art of Clarinet Playing” by Keith Stein. There’s a whole chapter on the embouchure in the book, which I oversimplified here. So really, you should get the book yourself and read it.

Clarinet Tip #6: Don’t Pick A Hard Reed

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Hard reeds are not better.

I used to think that as you got better, you gradually increase the hardness of the reed you use. This is only true for absolute beginners.

Once you are using reeds with a hardness around 2-3, then you should choose them so that they suit the combination of you, your mouthpiece, and your instrument.

Experienced players, who know how to adjust reeds (with things like a knife, and dutch rush), might choose reeds slightly harder than what they play so they are about right when adjusted to suit.

Clarinet Tip #5: Use Almond Oil

I played quite a lot of Clarinet when I was young, and wasn’t too bad at it. Then I stopped; for about 20 years. Then I started again. I found that I’d forgotten lots. Even worse, I discovered that there was a lot basic stuff that I should have learned, but hadn’t.

So thought I’d share a few of the things I should have learned when I started, but didn’t; until now.

Previously, I used bore oil that came with my clarinet to oil my clarinet, until I took my instrument to a highly recommended instrument repairer named Steve Giordano. He took one look at the oil and said “Don’t use that stuff, just get some Almond oil from a health food shop.”

I don’t know why it’s better, but in the absence of a reason to not follow his advice, I now use Almond oil.