Mentoring Program


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Slower piece with flute melody backed by piano, cello, and bass. 9th chords are used as well a suspended chords to create a mysterious mood. Piece may build energy over time.
Grade Level: 10
Intended For: Live Instrument Performance
Software Used: Noteflight
Instrumentation: Flute, Piano, Cello, Bass
Key: E Minor
Meter Signature: 4/4
Tempo: 80
Status: Work in Progress
Noteflight URL: Website Title


#6 Zachary Sheets 2017-04-03 15:01
Dear Jack,

As you've probably heard by now, your piece was not selected for performance in Music-COMP's Opus 32 concert. Every year this process gets more and more competitive, and I hope you're not discouraged by the result. You've clearly got a strong background in harmony and a lot of really interesting ideas to share, so I hope we'll see you back on the site soon to share some more of your music! Until then,

All best,

#5 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-22 13:09
Hi Jack,

How's it going? Would love to hear form you soon! Just checking in since I haven't heard from you in a while.

#4 Zachary Sheets 2017-02-23 21:22
Hi Jack,

Thanks for your revision and your thoughtful comment. This is nice work and a good step in the right direction. The pacing of the first 9 bars is very effective—there 's a clear tune, and a balanced accompaniment that adds nuance but doesn't get in the way or step on the flute's toes. I'm also so glad you took the time to write a thoughtful comment that explained where you stand with the process and reflected on your work so far. Not only is it useful for you to think about articulating that, but it's also super helpful for me as your mentor. So, thanks.

One small thing before we get going: I think you've got a wrong note or notes in bar 11. Do you really want those Eb's in the piano right hand clashing against the E naturals in the piano left hand and the bass?

I agree about bar 10—both your diagnosis and your solution. It's rather a sudden change, and it just doesn't have the space it needs to do what it wants to do. Let's unpack why:

First is just a question of key and of losing the thread of what the home tone is. Modulating to other keys and tonicizing other key areas is obviously a useful tool to sustain interest and keep familiar ideas sounding fresh and colorful (tonicization is a fancy word for subtly implying a different key but not actually fully arriving at a key change—think more like a little spice or flavor). In your opening bars, for instance, you have some notes and harmonies that are a little bit at the fringe of E minor, but the way you use melodic motion, bass motion, and the placement of different harmonies in the phrase always leaves us feeling that E is clearly the home tone. Bars 10-11 lose that clarity. Part of this is just the Eb/E natural problem from above. But, even with that aside, it's a bit of a jarring harmonic change. Now, maybe you could use that as an effective hinge to send us somewhere else, but (1) I might spend a little longer in E minor, first, with the opening material, before doing so, (2) as you said, this new idea / key area needs much more time and space to be effective, and (3) even if you think of the material that's currently bars 10-11 as just a hinge or a transition to someplace, you need that someplace to be elsewhere other than bang back into E minor, at least for the time being. Surprising chords have their own kind of logic and gravitational pull and shifting right back to E confuses our ear, I think.

Your plan for the piece as a whole sounds like a good start—keep thinking! No one can hold too much in their head at once, so it can be very useful to work on little details and big-picture stuff at different times. Sometimes you're day-dreaming on the bus about what kind of character you might want the middle section to have, and sometimes you're at the piano or the computer or with your saxophone, tweaking notes and chords.

I'll leave you with one final topic to chew on, if you'd like. You do a good job with orchestration and chord spacing (the way we assign ideas to instruments, and the way we arrange notes vertically in a chord, respectively), but one thing you could work on in your harmonies is the way the lead from one chord to another. Right now they move all in parallel, like blocks. As you keep thinking about this section and as you move forward, I would encourage you to think of more flexible or intricate ways to move from one to another. This gets cuckoo bananas hard to explain well in text, so you can find a PDF worksheet here:

It's the one called "voice leading". There's a pdf and .mp3 to listen to the examples.

Ok, Jack—keep up the good work. Think about your possibilities for cultivating the ideas in 1-9 and 10-12 into much larger components of this piece. En route, make sure you keep in mind an emphasis on clarity of key area and less "blocky" motion from chord to chord. Happy composing!

#3 Jack Egan 2017-02-21 07:43
Hi Zach,
Thank you for your comments!

You were right about bar 4 - I totally missed that error. Thanks for catching it!

I took your advice on the harmonies after the first 7 bars. I made some changes to measure 8 and took your advice and doubled up the bass with the bottom piano notes after that. You're right - it sounds much less muddy/crunchy sounding.

I made the changes you suggested on the flute part at measure 8, and it's sounding much better now. I knew I didn't want to keep that F, but wasn't sure what I wanted to do...I'm happy with it now.

I've started moving forward with my piece, but I'm not sure how I feel about what I've done so far. I feel like Measure 10 and on feels too disconnected from the rest of the piece - I might work on a smoother transition and extend the section beforehand so the the section before measure 10 goes on longer. What to do think?

I'd like to eventually switch the melody to the cello for a section, and maybe bring down the tempo so the piece ends feeling really relaxed and peaceful. I'm still thinking about where I want to go with it...

Thanks again for you comments!
#2 Zachary Sheets 2017-02-08 23:06
Dear Jack,

Hello! My name is Zach Sheets, and I'll be working with you as your mentor for this piece. Thanks so much for your first posting, and nice to meet you! You've done good work to establish a clear harmonic progression in the opening bars, and a nice melody that follows in the flute. This is a really great start.

I like the suspensions and 9th chords a lot. They're colorful and well-placed! Although, I think you might have a wrong note at the end of bar 4—do you want that F natural in the cello against the piano F#?

I do think you could work a bit on the harmonies in 8-11. They don't add up quite as clearly for me as what you've got going in the first 7 bars. One reason for this is that the lowest note of the chord isn't always clear. Remember that the bass sounds one octave lower than printed, so in bar 10 that C and A are actually the lowest notes, crunching against the piano D. And, in bar 11, the B in the bass is one half step lower than the C in the piano. Instead, I would merely double the lowest notes of the piano in the bass (so, D in bar 10 and C in bar 11). That will give you some richness and resonance down there without getting things too thick and crunchy.

Another thing to think about is that this passage is set up by a bit of an awkward bar of harmony—can you tell me a little more about bar 8? We've got a C in the bass, E/G in the cello, but an F in the flute. Especially since we've been in a kind of E minor, and there haven't been many F naturals yet, I think that bar is too many surprising things at once. I love the creativity of it, but I think it's enough unexpected things for one bar that it will risk sounding accidental rather than colorful. What if you tried, for instance, an F# eighth note on the downbeat and third beat (instead of F natural) that resolved to a quarter-note G after one eighth note? (but keep the B eighth note as it is). How do you like that? I think something like that would keep the idea of suspensions and extended chords, but follow a little more closely from what came before.

Finally, Jack, I'd love to hear some more about your plans for this piece. Have you thought about your overall plan? As you probably know, we call this the form of the piece. If you build up energy over time, how will it end? Still energetic, or maybe relax by the finish? You'll probably have a contrasting idea to this one, I imagine? How will it be different? You don't need answers to all of these questions right now, but the more you can begin to think about them, the better you'll be able to plan each step of the way. Don't be afraid to get some pencil and paper and sketch out some road maps for how you think this piece might play out. Shapes or colors or timelines always help me!

Keep up the good work—looking forward to your next posting. Please let me know, always, if you have any questions.

Happy composing,

#1 Erik Nielsen 2017-02-03 16:36
Dear Jack,
Thanks for posting the first version of your duet for cello and piano. I have been unable to see your score. There seems to be some sort of host error with the Music-first site so the piece won't open. We'll check into this, but rest assured you'll get a comment as soon as we can get to your music.

Best wishes,
Erik Nielsen
Senior Mentor

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