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#1151702 - 01/04/09 05:40 AM What do I need to do to prepare?  
Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 625
xxmynameisjohnxx Offline
500 Post Club Member
xxmynameisjohnxx  Offline
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 625
San Diego
Hey, so I really am working towards preparing to apply at schools to be a composition major, but the issue is that the community college I'm at right now doesn't really have a composition program as most of the students are performance majors. I wanted to know what exactly I'd need to do to prepare for the application process. My dream school is UCLA which requires 4 submitted scored with more instruments than just piano. I'm also wanting to apply as a piano performance major, but I know how to prepare for that...but this composing thing I just don't know what exactly they're expecting. They say on the site that they want the score to show knowledge of modern music or something like that, does that mean that they want me to write an atonal piece? Or what?
I'm enrolled in music theory, next semester I'm going into number three. I understand that the more music theory I know, the more I'll be able to compose interesting music, but I just have no idea what they're expecting. Are they expecting a full piano sonata, a symphony, a set of etudes and something else? Or are they just expecting me to be able to show I have a certain amount of aptitude with composition and they'll teach the rest? I just don't know what to expect! Can anyone help? I know contacting professors at the school would be my best option, but I want to have an idea of what to expect even before that and have at least one score I can send the professor at that time.
Also, how long will each piece need to be? Is something like 3 pages okay? Or will they be wanting a FULL score, like hundreds of bars, 20-30 pages? I realized lately I've been concentrating to much on piano performance and not as much on what my real passion is, composing.

I would appreciate it very much if anyone can/will help me as I'm COMPLETELY lost as to what I need to do right now. Right now I've written two piano pieces and am working on a third. The two that are done are quite good, or so people tell me, but I don't have them notated. I've attempted composition just inputting into sibelius, but often times it doesn't come out right or something ends up that it would be awkward to play or something. I really want to compose music for movies/tv shows/video games and I'm willing to work to get there, but as of right now I don't even know WHAT work I need to be working on. Thanks in advance for replies!


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.
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#1151703 - 01/04/09 09:23 AM Re: What do I need to do to prepare?  
Joined: Nov 2002
Posts: 13,837
Kreisler Offline
Kreisler  Offline


Joined: Nov 2002
Posts: 13,837
Iowa City, IA
Chances are they will want an extended work. A three page piece is fine for one of the four, but you'll need something that shows that you can write larger forms (sonata, something narrative, arch, etc...) Think of it this way - film composers have to produce hundreds of pages worth of material in a few months' time. They won't expect you to be able to do that as a beginning undergrad, but they will want to see some evidence that you'll be able to reach that goal in the future.

They'll want multiple instruments so that they know you can handle the transposition and write with a sense of how different sounds go together.

Committees will also want to see whether or not you can notate the sounds you hear. Bad composers will hand you a score that doesn't make sense - it lacks performance indications, or the parts don't match the score, or the notation is confusing, or all of the above. If you can't notate your music well, nobody will want to play it.

As for modern music, it means they'll want something that shows you can write beyond what people do in theory class. In other words, something that doesn't rely on four part harmony and major and minor chords in 4/4 and 3/4 time.

There are a lot of things that could fit the modern aspect:

Mixed meter and complex rhythms

Music whose harmonic language revolves around something other than triadic harmony - quartal/quintal, cells, intervals, etc...

Unusual or uncommon instrument combinations, textures, and timbres, including a wide variety of percussion and/or non-traditional instruments

The use of extended techniques - flutter tonguing, quarter-tones, string effects (harmonics, col legno), feathered beaming, aleatoric techniques, electro-acoustic music, etc...


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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#1151704 - 01/04/09 10:49 AM Re: What do I need to do to prepare?  
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 3,295
Steve Chandler Offline
3000 Post Club Member
Steve Chandler  Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 3,295
Urbandale, Iowa
Yo add to Kreisler's excellent answer, they want you to show a sense of drama and long line. Also think about writing in different styles, if you know anything about jazz or rock music an ability to incorporate that into a serious work would be a strong asset at a school like USC (less so for others). Knowledge of jazz harmony could be an especially strong plus.

Most importantly they want to see that you've already developed something of a personality as a composer and some smkills to go with it.

#1151705 - 01/04/09 12:31 PM Re: What do I need to do to prepare?  
Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 625
xxmynameisjohnxx Offline
500 Post Club Member
xxmynameisjohnxx  Offline
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Oct 2008
Posts: 625
San Diego
Thanks for the replies! Especially Kreisler!
So what I need to work on a lot is multiple instrument writing and learning about the different techniques on instruments and how to properly use them. Like, I know how harmonics work on a guitar[I'm assuming they're similar on all string instruments, yes?], but I'd have no idea how to notate to use them. I've also virtually no idea about the different techniques for wind instruments, so I'll need to research that and play around with writing styled for them.
And at the "audition" for composition, will they want me to do some aural notation for them?
and I know a decent bit about rock, but nothing about jazz. But I'm gonna take Jazz theory in the fall, that'll be fun and help with learning about jazz harmony and stuff.


Chopin: Nocturne No. 15 in Fm. Op. 55 no.1.

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