Composing for Instruments (MCO4151.01)

Allen Shawn

This class gives composers hands-on practice notating their music and hearing it played by performers playing a variety of instruments. It is meant for fledgling composers, those who have never even imagined composing music but would like to try, as well as for those who may have composed a lot of music already but need more experience writing it down. There are specific composition assignments approximately every other week. Musicians visit the class first to explain their instruments and return a second time to play and record what the students have composed for them. In tandem with this we explore and review notation and the rudiments of music. Over the course of the term we study and review the overtone series; the notation and hearing of rhythm and pitch (in treble and bass clef); intervals; the modes; major and minor scales; triads and chord formation;the circle of fifths; whole-tone and pentatonic scales, and the concepts behind twelve-tone music. We also study a bit of Music History. The course approaches music study through a progressive-education model, positing that students will be motivated to learn skills if they have a creative use for them.

The class is labeled a ‘4000’ level because it is intended for students who have taken instrumental lessons for a few years or more, and who can read music in at least one clef. It is recommended that students who are taking this course are concurrently taking instrumental lessons.


Learning Outcomes:
increased confidence and creative excitement about composing
Improved notation
Solidified understanding of the elements of western music
Familiarity with orchestral instruments and how to write for them.

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Music reading ability in at least one clef. Priority is given to students who will be taking instrumental or voice lessons during the term they are taking this course. Contact: Allen Shawn (
Corequisites: Students will be asked to report on at least three visits to Music Workshop. It is strongly recommended that any student taking this course is also taking instrumental lessons.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
M/Th 10:00AM - 11:50AM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 14
Course Frequency: Once a year

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Composition , Four Credit , Fully In-Person