Insights into Music Composition

PDF Insights into Music Composition Copyright Year 2022

Book author
  1. Bill Kapralos
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Insights into Music Composition is a guide and source of inspiration for beginning students of music composition. Drawing on perspectives from a range of experienced composers, the book introduces readers to the compositional process, emphasizing how to think about creating a piece of music from beginning to end by providing not only a survey of methods but also an understanding of the overarching context for composition. The authors present student composers with the tools to develop their own voice, covering topics such as:
  • methods for harnessing inspiration and creativity
  • how to give shape, context, and meaning to a piece of music and create moments that audiences will remember
  • the value in exploring the music of other cultures and music’s interdisciplinarity
  • atonal and 12-tone techniques and the roles of form and style
  • the benefits and pitfalls of student-teacher relationships and the importance of building relationships with performers
Combining content from class scenarios with discussion questions, practical exercises, an annotated guide of online resources, and a glossary of terms, the text’s flexible structure allows chapters to be read through in order or drawn on by topic. Clear and accessible, Insights into Music Composition is an ideal resource for all students and instructors of music composition.


This collection started with a meeting of professors at Montana State University to share ideas about teaching musical composition to a broad spectrum of college-level music majors. Teaming up with my wonderful colleague from the University of Utah, Steve Roens, whom I met through the Council on Undergraduate Research, led to an expansion of a short manuscript and the successful completion of this book. The original manuscript had trial runs with several composition classes in which students shared feedback. Many other ideas, examples, and exercises from professors across the United States were collected, curated, and included when appropriate to enhance student learning. Each chapter begins with a quote related to the chapter content, followed by content from actual class scenarios, and ends with discussion questions, practical exercises, things to know, and online resources for further composition study. Undergraduate researchers Athena Carson, Hannah Anderson, Alex Frazier, and Chris Cunningham helped with the collection and editing of material. The addition of a chapter on prosody became apparent, and with both authors being married to professional singers and teachers, we asked, and they agreed to write one. Thus, Chapter 7 is a generous contribution by Elizabeth Croy and Cheryl Hart.

This text is intended for both students and faculty members, as a guide and source of inspiration throughout students’ compositional processes. It can be read from start to finish or used as a reference as topics come up related to the specific chapters. It is assumed that students using this book have a basic understanding of the elements of music and their combination in musical creation. If not already acquired, keyboard skills, music reading, and competence in analysis must be studied along with this pursuit of compositional skills. An understanding of diatonic harmony and elementary counterpoint, scales, rhythm and meter, clefs, and key signatures, musical notation and language, function, and interaction of the elements of music will be helpful. At most college music schools, students in composition classes must have successfully completed at least two semesters of music theory.

This text focuses on composition for acoustic instruments, regardless of the tools used to compose. Whether any of the various different computer music notation programs are used, the concepts remain valid and appropriate. The authors encourage participation in a final student composers’ concert or recording, as there are important considerations for most composers regarding the logistics of performance. We have found a useful model to be a onehour group meeting per week in which various compositional concepts are discussed as well as a weekly composition lesson for each student with the professor.


Young – The School of Music at Montana State University (MSU) has been a fertile professional home since my first days of teaching here in 1988, complemented by research and service to the state of Montana and beyond. The ability to pursue research almost wherever it leads allowed for the creation of an interdisciplinary course on the correlations between music and architecture, taught with architecture professor Jerry Bancroft in 1991. In that course, music students composed original works inspired and guided by buildings of their choosing while architecture students designed buildings on music they chose. Their work was featured in a journal article in Leonardo from M.I.T. Press. Faculty colleagues in the sub-discipline of music composition at MSU have included Linda Antas, Eric Funk, Jason Bolte, Cheyenne John-Henderson, Alan Leech, and Ilse-Mari Lee. Colleagues elsewhere who have been influential include Heather Gilligan from Keene State University, Dan Bukvich from the University of Idaho, Andrew MacDonald from Bishop’s University, and Blago Simeonov from Toronto, Canada.

Roens – For the past 30 years, the University of Utah has provided opportunities for me to teach a wide variety of courses in music theory and composition and has been an important resource for performance and recording of much of my work. In addition, opportunities in administration have resulted in engagement with undergraduate research and an initial collaboration with my co-author, Dr. Gregory Young, through the Council on Undergraduate Research. Particularly important for this book has been my work teaching a sophomore composition course at the University of Utah. For the design of that course, I am indebted to my colleagues Drs. Miguel Chuaqui, Morris Rosenzweig, and Igor Iachimciuc. The following people generously provided musical examples and/or text for this book: Scott Lee, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA Sara Graef, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA Ryan Leach, film composer, Los Angeles, CA, USA
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