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The University of Southampton

MUSI1017 Composition Fundamentals

Module Overview

Composition Fundamentals will introduce you to a range of compositional techniques and principles. We will consider different ways of creating musical ideas and different approaches to structuring, varying and developing musical ideas. In particular, we will focus on harmonic practices and short musical forms across a variety of musical styles and practices including historical and contemporary art music, jazz, pop, and film.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • melodic construction
  • melodic designs and their implied harmonies
  • a range of musical forms
  • Roman numerial analysis
  • compositional and analytical approaches in a range of musical idioms including but not limited to jazz and blues, common practice tonal procedures (including film music) and modal contemporary composition
  • modal composition and minimalist composition techniques
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse tonal music from a range of different musical genres
  • understand and work with the techniques of a variety of tonal compositional practices
  • respond to a compositional brief
  • work competently with Sibelius software
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • compose and harmonise a melody
  • create chord sequences and control harmonic voicings
  • compose pieces of music in small forms in a range of different compositional styles
  • compose with a range of scales and modes
  • create a coherent score using Sibelius software
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse a range of compositional works and recognise a variety of music forms
  • engage with a range of different ways of understanding harmony
  • analyse harmonic progressions using a variety of different notation methods including Roman numeral notations and jazz/pop chord symbols


The following topics will be covered (indicative list):  Melodic construction  Major and Minor modes, and a range of other scales including pentatonic and diatonic modes  Basic and more complex formal designs  Roman numeral analysis  Jazz/Pop Chord Terminology and Voicings  Minimalist Composition Techniques  Contemporary modal approaches to composition  A variety of rhythmic techniques and approaches to musical texture that relate to the breadth of compositional practices explored  Basic skills in using Sibelius software

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Average of two hours teaching time each week through a combination of lectures, small group classes and group tutorials. General pattern of two lectures each week but the teaching method changes according to the topic being covered and the stage in the module. Lectures introduce topics, practical classes consider topics further and group tutorials support the development of assignments. Sessions on Sibelius will take place in smaller groups in the Music Mac Cluster.

Follow-up work6
Completion of assessment task110
Supervised time in studio/workshop2
Practical classes and workshops2
Preparation for scheduled sessions6
Total study time146

Resources & Reading list

Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now. Musical works

Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time. Musical works

Stephen Citron. Songwriting: A Complete Guide to the Craft. 

Duke Ellington: Things Ain’t What They Used To Be / Night Train. Musical works

Alan Menken: Beauty and the Beast. Musical works

Mark Levine (1995). The Jazz Theory Book. 

Walter Piston. Harmony. 

Steve Reich: Different Trains / Piano Phase / Vermont Counterpoint. Musical works

Sonny Rollins: Tenor Madness. Musical works

Anna Butterworth. Harmony in Practice. 

Debussy: Voiles. Musical works

Benjamin Britten: Sea Interludes. Musical works

John Williams: Star Wars / Harry Potter. Musical works

Sting: Ten Summoner’s Tales. Musical works

Olivier Messiaen (1956). The Technique of My Musical Language. 

Arvo Part: Tabula Rasa. Musical works

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (for musical terminology). 



MethodPercentage contribution
Free modal composition  (3 minutes) 50%
Writing and harmonising a theme  (1 minutes) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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