Music Theory 2312

Composition Assignment:  Character Piece

A Character Piece is a  one-movement programmatic work for piano.  It suggests a mood, character, or scene that is indicated by the title.




The piece should be at least 16 to 30 bars long.  It can be longer if you wish.  Do not write in C major or A minor.  If in minor, use harmonic minor.



The melodic material should be lyrical (song-like).



Use the following devices liberally in your composition:  appoggiaturas, unresolved dissonances, secondary dominants, borrowed chords, Neapolitan 6th chords, rapid modulation, altered dominants, augmented 6th chords,  foreign modulation (modulation to remote keys).    Do not write counterpoint.  Resolve chords appropriately (Ex: N6 - V)


At least 4 examples of chromatic harmony is the minimum and a foreign modulation is required.  The modulation should be enharmonic, using a Gr6 or fully diminished 7th chord as the pivot chord.  Change the key signature in your score.  Note:  If you do not accomplish this requirement, it will cost you a letter grade.


Note on your composition where your form sections are.


Do a harmonic analysis (Roman numerals) of your piece. Indicate the beginning key.



Your piece should evoke a mood, scene, emotion or character.  This is a style of the Romantic era, so think Chopin, Schumann, Schubert.



The composition must be notated in Finale.  Part of your grade will be based on the appearance of your score.  Remember to insert dynamics, phrasing, and other performance information.




If you need help getting started, here’s one approach:

¯    Think of a painting or an image that evokes a feeling or a mood (an ocean or a billy goat or a family gathering)

¯     Decide on the overall shape of your piece (e.g., ABA).

¯    Write a lyrical melody (perhaps a contrasting one for the B section).

¯    Decide on an accompaniment pattern(s). 

¯    Choose diatonic chords only in the accompaniment.

¯     Then “convert” some of these chords to chromatic chords (see list below for suggestions).

¯    Be sure to include any applicable dynamic, expressive, and pedal markings.  We should be able to hear these in Finale.




¯     Make a list of the few important character traits that the piece will focus on.  Try to limit this list as too many ideas will be counterproductive.

¯     Stick with a limited number of melodic and rhythmic ideas also.  Refer to some of the most well-known melodies and note the amount of repetition versus contrast that is used.

¯     Be sure to give your composition an appropriate title and don't forget to cite yourself as the composer.


Listen to the following examples of Character Pieces:

Schumann:  Papillons (Butterflies), op. 2

Chopin:  Prelude, op. 28 No. 15 in Db (Raindrops)

Chopin:  Prelude, op. 28 No. 4 in E (Suffocation)

Schumann:  Album for the Young (The Happy Farmer)




When you have finished your composition, use the checklist below:



THEN, follow these instructions before turning in your composition:


¯    Play your melody through again, leaving out all harmony.  Is it lyrical (song-like)?  Does it skip around too much or have any awkward intervals?

¯    Play your accompaniment line alone.  Is there a pattern?  Does your accompaniment use good "voice-leading"?  Is everything in root position causing too much skipping around?  If so, consider using some inversions. (Be careful about second inversions.)

¯    Look at your harmonic analysis.  Have you used enough chromatic harmony to make your piece sound "Romantic"?


Common Mistakes

¯    Not using an accompaniment PATTERN:  Don't write a melody and then just wander all over the place in your accompaniment.  The pattern doesn't have to be strict, but should be recognizable as a pattern that coincides with the meter.

¯    Composing something that you like instead of a piece in the specified style: Feel free to express yourself freely in your compositions; but, if you want a good grade on this one, include the elements that make it sound like a Romantic character piece.

¯    Coming to a screeching halt when you get to a certain number of measures:  If you are past the 16 measures, or the 30 measures and have not appropriately completed your B section or the return of your A section (depending on the form you have chosen), don't just insert a perfect authentic cadence and call it a day.

¯    Not using enough repetition:  contrast is interesting only when used judiciously.  If every phrase in your piece (or every melodic idea; or every harmonic progression; or every accompaniment pattern) is significantly different, your piece will sound random and without structure.


Convert Diatonic to Chromatic Chords or Insert Chromatic Chords

¯    Convert a ii or iio chord to N6 (flat the root of the chord and make it major - don't forget to put it in first inversion)

¯    Convert a iv or IV chord to an augmented 6th chord (find the root of the V chord in your key and place the augmented 6th one half step inside that octave)

¯    Convert a V to an altered dominant (raise or lower the 5th of the V chord)

¯    Convert the chord type by borrowing from the parallel mode (I/i, ii/iio, iii/III/III+, IV/iv, V/v, vi/VI)

¯    Insert a secondary dominant chord (build a Mm7 chord a P4 below another chord).

¯    Insert a secondary leading tone chord (build a dd7 chord one half step below another chord).




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