- an original piece of music
- the structure of a musical piece
- the process of creating a new piece of music
A musical composition
A piece of music exists in the form of a written composition in musical notation or as a single acoustic event (a live performance or recorded track). If composed before performance, music can be performed by memory, through written musical notation, or through a combination of both. Compositions are comprised of musical elements, elements which vary widely from person to person and culture to culture. Improvisation is the act of composing during performance, of assembling elements “spontaneously.”
People who practice composition are called composers. Useful skills in composition include writing musical notation, instrumentation, and handling musical ensembles (orchestration). The definition of composition has broadened to include extended techniques such as improvisation, musical montage, preparing instruments, using non-traditional objects or methods of sound production, and making music from silence, as John Cage famously did.
Compositional techniques are the methods used to create music. In discussing the structure or organization of a musical work, the “composition” of that work is generally called its musical form. These techniques draw a parallel to art’s formal elements. Sometimes, the entire form of a piece is through-composed, meaning that each part is different, with no repetition of sections; other forms include strophic, rondo, verse-chorus, etc. Some pieces are composed around a set scale, where the compositional technique might be considered the usage of a particular scale. Others are composed during performance; techniques are sometimes used, however, in this case also.
Important in tonal musical composition is the scale for the notes used, including the mode and tonic note. When playing or reading classical notated music, only the key signature (a designated set of notes in scale) matters. In music using twelve tone techniques, the tone row is even more comprehensive a factor than a scale. Similarly, music of the Middle East employs compositions that are rigidly based on a specific scale (such as the dorian, phrygian, mixolydian, and locrian scales etc…), often within improvisational contexts, as does Hindustani music of India, gamelans of Java and Bali, and much music in Africa.
The task of instrumenting a composition, called arranging or orchestrating, may be undertaken by the composer or separately by an arranger based on the composer’s core composition. A composition may have multiple arrangements based on such factors as intended audience type and breadth, musical genre or stylistic treatment, recorded or live performance considerations, available musicians and instruments, commercial goals and economic constraints.
Based on such factors, composers or arrangers must decide upon the instrumentation of the original work. Today, the contemporary composer can virtually write for almost any combination of instruments. Some common group settings include music for Full Orchestra (consisting of just about every instrument group), Wind Ensemble (or Concert Band, which consists of larger sections and greater diversity of wind, brass and percussion instruments than are usually found in the orchestra), or a chamber group (often called chamber music, which calls for the instrumentation of at least two instruments). The composer may also choose to write for only one instrument, in which case this is called a solo.
Composers are not limited to writing only for instruments, they may also decide to write for voice (including choral works, operas, and musicals) or percussion instruments or electronic instruments.
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