Mentoring Program

First Melody

This is the first melody I have written in IBHL Music. This will be used for a classical saxophone piece. It may or may not have piano.
Grade Level: 12
Intended For: Live Instrument Performance
Software Used: Sibelius
Instrumentation: Tenor Saxophone, Piano
Key: C Maj
Meter Signature: 4/4
Tempo: Moderato
Status: Work in Progress
File 1: application/octet-streamDownload


#11 Erik Nielsen 2018-01-22 10:09
Dear Peter,
I hope your holidays were restful and enjoyable. I haven't seen a revision in over a month. Your piece could still use some work, as my previous message demonstrated. Please let me know how you're doing, whether there's anything I can do to help, and when I can expect to see another revision. Thanks.

Best wishes,
#10 Erik Nielsen 2017-12-18 13:09
Dear Peter,
Thanks for posting the latest two revisions of your duet for tenor sax and piano. You've done a lot of work in the month since your previous posting. Not only that, but you've really taken my comments about the piano part seriously, especially in your A section. This is now much more effective than what you had earlier and is truly a duet.
Let me treat the A and B sections separately to make it easier for both of us. In the score I'm uploading you'll find a number of comments about specific items that occur in bars 1-24. If you make some adjustments in the piano in those areas that part will be even stronger. Generally speaking, your left hand works very well, while the right hand works well in spots but isn't quite as consistent as the left hand.
Once the piano solo starts in bar 25 I have two general comments. First, both here and in the piano solo section of B the right hand is quite low and as a result is less interesting than it might be. Since we've already heard a modified version of this music already, doing something like adding an upper octave to the right hand will make the music both brighter in sound and more lively and interesting. Speaking of interesting, I find it interesting that the sax has the opposite issue, namely that it seldom ventures into its lower register at all. One of the tenor's more attractive features to me is its low sounds. The lowest note your sax part plays is low concert D (bars 74 and 79), but that's only twice. Most of the time the lowest note is G above that D, meaning that the lowest major seventh in range is scarcely used. Please give lowering some of the tenor's passages serious consideration. It will enrich the sound of the piece.
The second facet of the first (and second) piano solo is just that, that it's completely without sax. The second solo is only eight bars, so the lack of tenor isn't so troublesome, but in A we go 24 bars without hearing the sax at all. This really disrupts the idea that the piece is a conversation between the instruments. There are a number of places where the piano isn't very active (basically anywhere there aren't sixteenth notes) where the sax could add some commentary. Does it have to play all the time? Of course not. But some short responses or playing in harmony with the bass eighth-note line, such as in bar 28 or 32, could be quite effective and would make the piece more interesting.
Now, as to the B section, I don't find either the theme or accompaniment as compelling as in the A section. Despite the use of triplets the sax melody comes across to me as just busy rather than moving in a particular direction, as the A melody does. Add to that the endless oom-pah of the piano and there's simply too much activity. I have two suggestions. First, listen to the sax melody separately and try to figure out some places where you can substitute a quarter note, dotted quarter or half note for a group of eighth notes as a way of getting the melody to pause (the first half of bar 52 might be such a place) so it doesn't seem so breathless. The second suggestion is that you work on giving the piano part a bit more character so it doesn't seem quite so relentless. Right now it's competing in the same register with the sax and that's making it somewhat annoying in sound. Give some thought to finding perhaps some other accompaniments that won't be quite so busy.

Peter, I know I've written a lot and have given you a lot of suggestions, but that doesn't mean that you haven't done good work. You have, especially in the first half. However, I think both A and B can be stronger with more work. Please look over the score I've uploaded, think about what I've written and get back to me with questions if anything I've written is unclear. In the meantime, if I don't hear from you this week I hope you have a happy holiday season and a restful break. I look forward to seeing your next posting.

Best wishes,
#9 Peter Haensel 2017-12-18 11:55
Hi Mr. Nielsen,

I updated another submission that has a more complete B section.

#8 Peter Haensel 2017-12-14 10:58
Hi Mr. Nielson,

I have uploaded a new submission to the drive folder. I added a march section, a piano break, and fixed the piano part throughout. I have not finished the piano part in the march, due to not knowing what direction I want to take it. I started an on beat off beat back and forth with the left and right hand, but do not think that would work the entire piece.

Thank You!

Peter Haensel
#7 Erik Nielsen 2017-11-15 13:23
Dear Peter,
Thanks for posting the latest revision of your duet for tenor sax and piano. I think what you have begun doing in the piano in the first four bars creates a definite character that is distinct from the sax line and yet works with it. That's a good start.
However, after bar 4 the part really reverts to being a harmonic framework rather than a piano part per se. In fact, even the two hands aren't independent starting at bar 5, but rather play the same thing but an octave apart.

Rather than write a lot of prose about this situation I've taken the liberty of copying and pasting your music from bars 5 through 16 and putting them in the blank bars beginning at 30. Then I wrote a new, simple piano part that emphasizes a melodic bass line in the left hand and simple chords in the right. Is this the only solution? Absolutely not! However, it's one approach that makes the hands independent and creates a bit more of that "Pomp and Circumstance" sound (though less massive) while still being an actual piano part. My feeling is that what I've done follows up on your bars 1-4 pretty well. Do I want you to cut and paste my part into your music? Nope, this is just an example of one approach. So please look it over and ask as many questions as you want. Your first four bars make a good beginning for your accompaniment. Now if you can work on the piano part after that (along with the two comments I've left about the weakness of a couple of your phrase endings), the piece ought to make progress. I look forward to your next posting.

Best wishes,
#6 Peter Haensel 2017-11-13 12:18
Hi Mr. Nielson,
I have added an updated score in the google drive. I have not fixed all of my melody issues, but I have started the piano part. I decided to make the piano part like a pomp and circumstance type feel. Could you let me know if I am on the right track?


#5 Erik Nielsen 2017-10-30 15:29
Dear Peter,
Thanks for posting the latest revision of your piece for sax and piano. It's good to see that you've started to work on making this a real duet. Using sax certainly makes the melody much smoother than when it was in the right hand of the piano, which is, after all, a percussion instrument. I'm also glad to see that you've started work on the next phrase of the melody.

Let's talk about the two issues you've raised. I'll deal with them in order, starting with your new melody.
Bar 17 sounds like a variant of bars, 4, 9 and 12. These are all different versions of the same idea. That in itself is neither good nor bad, but I would like to see a more conscious sense of a whole, that is, where these various versions of E-A-scale idea work within a phrase and how they fit together. Each one seems independent and also somewhat random in what precedes and follows it. Bars 1-8 have much more coherence in terms of a linear melody than either bars 9-16 or 17-24. What's your plan for this third phrase? I don't get a strong sense of direction, that is, the idea that bar 18 follows organically from 17 and leads to 19, which in turn leads to 20, etc. You have a sort of sequence in bars 22-23 that does lead fairly well to 24 so that the three-bar ending of the phrase is fairly coherent. So I'd say your task is to make sure the melody moves from 16 to 22 more coherently than it does now. What are the rhythmic elements you want to exploit? There are half notes followed by a quarter note and 4 16ths in bars 17-19. That suggests a sequence, but the notes themselves don't seem to be leading anywhere special. If you can plan out where the climax of the phrase comes and what the note is, you can build the phrase coherently. Try muting the piano as you work on the sax melody and it might free the sax from feeling it needs to follow the piano harmony. Create the melody and THEN make the piano harmony match it, not the other way around.

Speaking of harmony brings up the piano part, the second half of your written request for help. At the moment you don't really have a piano part, but rather a harmonic framework. I'd suggest you think a bit more about the style you want to follow. That is, the sax melody sounds quite smooth in a vaguely "classical" sense. You can do all sorts of things to accompany your opening phrases, including matching the rhythm of the melody a lot of the time (a not very interesting option); contrasting with the rhythm of the melody (called complementary rhythm in that the piano fills in while the sax is holding and vice versa); imitating some of the sax lines (echoing) after 2 or 4 beats; having eighth note arpeggio rhythms that go from bottom to top (i.e., left hand to right); rolled chords; playing the right hand in unison or octaves with the melody some of the time; playing the left hand an octave below (or two octaves below) the melody; or some combination of a number of these options. It's important to decide on a feel for the piano accompaniment. Here's a Youtube link to an alto-sax piano duet in tango style written by the pianist, a college student, vaguely reminiscent of Ravel's "Bolero":
Note how the two parts complement each other, trading who has the lead, varying what they play so it's not just one way of playing all the time. This is just one example of many I'm sure you can find if you look on Youtube. My point is that, although the specific harmonic framework is important, HOW the piano plays is at least as important as WHAT it plays, that is, the specific chords.

Peter, I hope these comments help. If you can take a step back and work on the specifics of your melody and the mood of your piano part I'm sure you'll make progress. Please let me know if you have questions. I look forward to your next posting.

Best wishes,
#4 Peter Haensel 2017-10-30 10:58
Hi Mr. Nielson,
I have put my revision for this week in the google drive folder. Sorry for the confusion last week!

This week I added 8 bars and corrected the mistakes from my first 16 bars from the comments you gave me. I also put the piece in the format for tenor sax and piano. For this week I am hoping you could help me with my new melody, and help me get started with ideas to write a piano part. I was thinking of keeping the roots in the bass and dragging the 3rd and 5th into the right hand.
#3 Erik Nielsen 2017-10-26 10:08
Dear Peter,
Thanks for posting the first revision of your piece. Before I deal with the music, I need to ask you to please post all future comments to THIS thread rather than starting a new one. It will keep the process much simpler for both of us, plus I will know when you've reposted since I'm the mentor of this piece and will get an automatic email with your comment. I didn't even know you had put up a revision because it was posted as a new piece. I've saved your comment (it appears below), so can you go in and delete the First Melody Week of October 23 new post? You can post the Sibelius files in future to your folder on Google Drive and I can download them from there. Please ask Ms. West or me if you have questions. Thanks.

"Thanks for your notes! Could you see if my changes are correct, and maybe comment a little more on my B section (last 8 bars)
Thank you,
Peter Haensel"

Okay, now I can comment on your music itself. I've got a number of notes on the score I'm uploading, mainly to do with harmony. Melodically the piece is strong, and that includes the second half. I like very much the way you use some of the ideas from the first 8 bars in bars 9-16, but with enough changes so it sounds both fresh and like a fitting second half to the whole.
Other than taking into account what I've written to strengthen the harmony, Peter, I'm left with a pretty important question: when will you start including saxophone and what will it be playing? The sooner you make some decisions as to that and what, if any, accompaniment there will be, the sooner you can make sure your opening is the way you want it. So please delete the other posting and let me know if you have questions. I look forward to your next posting.

Best wishes,
#2 Erik Nielsen 2017-10-17 12:52
Dear Peter,
Thanks for posting the first version of your piece that will eventually be for tenor sax and possibly piano. And welcome to Music-COMP. I will be your primary mentor for this piece. Your melody has a cheery, lyrical feel that could be the beginning of a successful piece.
Let me try to answer your questions.
1. "Could you look at the harmonic rhythms and my use of chords to support the melody?"
I have made several notes on the score I'm uploading to your file in Google Drive. There are a number of times when the left hand jumps around a lot so it isn't at all smooth. Most of the chord choices aren't poor, but with all the leaps the left hand comes across as blocky rather than smooth. In addition, the changes of chords every two beats (with the exception of bar 2) make the rhythm too predictable. How about making the left hand a bit more linear by playing the chords as broken (that is, played as arpeggios) in eighth-note rhythm at least some of the time to contrast with the block chords that happen the rest of the time? Think of the left hand as being more melodic while still being the harmonic underpinning.
2. "Is my B section at measure 8 contrasting enough?"
I like the use of 16th notes in bars 12 and 15. You could do more with that. I'd also suggest centering this section on A minor rather than C for contrast. In addition, be careful how often the melody begins a bar on the note E (bars 9-10, 12 and 14), giving the tune little variety.
3. "How can I expand this to a full piece?"
The first thing that needs to happen is to make the opening 16 bars as effective as possible. Once you've done that, I'd say a modified repeat of your 16-bar opening is in order, possibly with a transition between that first section and its (modified repeat), followed by a second section that contrasts with the first. Some of the decision-making about the format for the rest of the piece will depend on whether this is for unaccompanied sax or sax and piano (I think there are more options with two instruments than with one).
4. "Is there any way I can make the melody stronger?" Yes. Besides the items I've listed above and on the annotated score, I'd decide what rhythmic ideas (a group of 16th notes, a dotted quarter and eighth followed by two quarters, etc.) are important and repeat them more so we have a melody with a more distinct character. I'd also suggest more use of uneven rhythm (dotted quarter and eighth rather than two quarter notes, etc.).

Peter, despite what I've written above, there is good material here. You just need to work more on this first 16 bars before going on so you have the strongest possible base from which to proceed. Please let me know if anything I've written is unclear or you have further questions. When you've posted a revision, please write me a comment here to tell me what you've done. I look forward to seeing your next posting.

Best wishes,
Erik Nielsen
Senior Mentor

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