Composition Year One

Unit of Study - Composition 101

The following applies to Year One Bachelor of Music students.

Unit Outlines

Unit CodeCOMPOS 101
Unit DescriptionIn this unit, students will learn to compose score-based music for small groups of instruments and/or voices, usually based on the instruments played by other students in their year. Students will study traditional compositional techniques such as the use of repetition, motivic development, and pitch and rhythmic structures. They will create a folio of approximately 10 minutes’ worth of music and submit the scores with a recording of the work from a live performance, a studio session, or a digital representation of the work(s). Students will work to a strict deadline at the various stages of the creation of the folio that will include drafting and planning of each section of the work, and receiving weekly feedback from the tutor. Students will keep a reflective journal to record the compositional techniques they use, and to describe the sort of music they find themselves writing.
Award(s)Bachelor of Music
Unit Duration1 Semester (12 weeks)
Year LevelYear 1, Semester 2
Unit CoordinatorDr Houston Dunleavy
Teaching StaffLecturer: Caleb Garfinkel, Dr Houston Dunleavy
Credit Points10 credit points
Mode of Deliveryx Face to face
x E-learning (online)
o Intensive/block mode (where the unit or a face to face component is delivered in a block)
x Distance/independent learning (un-timetabled)
x Full-time
x Part-time
o External
x Fast track
Student Workload
Delivery/ Contact Hours
Number of timetabled hours per week
• Lecture – 1 hour
• Practical Session – 1 hour
• Tutorial – n/a
• Personal Study - 6 hours
Total hours per week - 8 hours
Resource Requirements• Personal computer and internet access
• MIDI Keyboard or USB interface
• External Technical Assistance if required
Resources Provided• Noteflight Online Music Notation Software
• Finale and Sibelius notation software
• Online streaming video and additional referencing videos
• DVDs are available upon request and given/posted to students
• Library resources (see prescribed or recommended texts below)

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students are expected to be able to:

  1. Compose music using common-practice composition techniques.
  2. Understand the capabilities, ranges, and timbral characteristics of common acoustic instruments and the human voice.
  3. Notate compositions in conventional musical notation, employing appropriate expressive and engraving techniques.
  4. Compose idiosyncratic music for two or more instruments and/voices.
  5. Compose music that could be transferred to electronic and computer-generated instrumentation for contemporary composition methods.
  6. Reflect on their compositional processes.
  7. Compose vocal music with appropriate and sympathetic setting of text.

Teaching Outline

Weekly Teaching Outline
Week 1
Compositon techniques 1: Rhythm, meter, pulse and tempo
Rhythmic cell development techniques – repetition, variation, re-ordering etc. Notation revision.
Reflective journal requirements.
Week 2
Permutations of pitch and rhythms
(e.g. “Change ringing”).

Works for discussion:
Steve Reich Clapping Music
Plain Hunt on 4 Trad.

Week 3
Composition techniques 2: Pitch and rhythmic manipulation
Retrograde, augmentation and diminution; hockets and pedals.
Principles of melody writing. Types of accompaniment.
Week 4
Composition techniques 3
The motif; introduction to text setting; stress patterns in texts.

Works for discussion.
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony Number 5
Hoyt Curtin, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna The Flintstones theme
Week 5
Compositional techniques 4
Idiomatic vocal and instrumental writing. Contrast using pitch, key and rhythm.
Week 6
Compositional techniques 5
Texture, timbre, exploration of available instruments.
Week 7
Advanced rhythmic techniques
Additive & divisive rhythm, polyrhythm, polymetre, metric modulation, Messiaen’s rhythmic techniques.

Works for discussion:
Messiaen Turnagalila Symphony
Varèse Ionisation

Week 8
Compositional techniques 6
Voice leading and space between parts.

Works for discussion:
Mozart Requiem in D minor “Confutatis maledictis”
Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium

Week 9
Compositonal techniques 7
Polyphonic techniques.
Week 10
Basic orchestration principles for strings, brass and woodwind.
Week 11
Compositional techniques 8
Tension and release; thematic unity; unity across other musical parameters.

Works for discussion:
J. S. Bach B Minor Mass “Crucifixus”
Erb Ritual Observances
Week 12
Folio presentations
Discussion of works in progress for final submission.

Student Assessment

Assessment TypeAssessed DateWeighting
Learning Outcomes
Assessment 1: Short melodic composition
A monodic composition (maximum of 3 minutes duration)

(equivalent 300 words)
Week 310%1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Assessment 2: Reflective journal part 1
(equivalent 600 words)
Week 620%6
Assessment 3: Duet for any combination of acoustic instruments and voice (maximum 5 minutes)
(equivalent 600 words)
Week 920%1, 2, 3, 5, 7
Assessment 4: Reflective journal part 2
(equivalent 600 words)
Week 1220%6
Assessment 5: Small ensemble piece for a combination of instruments and voice (maximum 7 minutes)
(equivalent 900 words)
Week 1330%1, 2, 5, 7

Recommended Readings:

Online Resources (books/video)

  • Tutorials and lecture notes from your lecturer posted on Moodle.
  • A subscription (free of charge and available when you are logged on to Moodle) to Oxford Music Online and Grove Music Online.
  • A subscription to JSTOR and book subscriptions (free of charge and available when you are logged on to Moodle).


Online references

Kreitner, K., Térey-Smith, M., Westrup, J., Holoman, D., Hopkins, G., Griffiths, P., & Conrad, J. (2001, January 01). Instrumentation and orchestration. Grove Music Online.  Retrieved 3 Jun. 2019, from


Recommended Reading List

Barker, P. & H. M. (2018). Composing for voice: Exploring voice, language and music. New York: Routledge.

Kennan, K. & Grantham, D. (2013). The technique of orchestration (6th ed.). London: Pearson. Kindle.

Mazzola, G., Park, J., & Thalman, F. (2016). Musical creativity: Strategies and tools in compositions and improvisation. Berlin: Springer.

Vella, R. (1999). Musical environments: A manual for listening, composing and improvising Sydney: Currency Press.


All written work is to be cited in APA author-date style. Good references can be found here:

NumberCourse Learning OutcomesUnit Learning OutcomesAssessments
1A broad knowledge of the applied, theoretical and historical basis of the discipline1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 71, 2, 3, 4,5
2A depth of disciplinary knowledge in a professionally applicable specialisation1, 3, 4, 5, 71, 3, 5
3An understanding of the processes of musical scholarship and research1, 2, 5, 62, 4
4The ability to work both independently and collaboratively in diverse and complex musical settings3, 4, 5, 6, 71, 2, 3, 4,5
5Effective written, verbal and interpersonal communication skills3, 4, 5, 6, 72, 4
6Critical thinking and analytical skills appropriate to a range of contexts including further study5, 6, 72, 4
7The ability to apply specific musical skills to a wide range of professional contexts4, 5, 6, 71, 3, 5
8The capacity to apply technological and creative solutions to contemporary musical practices4, 51, 3, 5
9The ability to incorporate knowledge from the business and legal fields to a portfolio career in the music profession1

Graduate Attributes
Successful completion of this unit will contribute to the attainment of the following graduate attributes:
Unit Learning OutcomesAssessment Number
Deep disciplinary knowledge2, 3, 4, 5, 71, 3, 5
The ability to apply knowledge and skills in innovative ways1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 71, 3, 5
A commitment to lifelong learning2, 4, 5, 6, 72, 4
Effective communication skills for diverse contexts2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 72, 3, 4, 5
The capacity to work independently and collaboratively1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 71, 2, 3, 4, 5