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Variations on Careless Whisper

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For my variations on a theme I decided to use the saxophone part from careless whisper as my base theme. Thus far I just have the melody, as I am only partly confident in the key signature, but I'm pretty sure its in D minor. I'm looking for help with a harmony underneath the melodic line, and a better way to close out the main theme.
Grade Level: 12
Intended For: Not Sure
Software Used: Noteflight
Instrumentation: Alto Sax, Piano
Key: D Minor?
Meter Signature: 4/4
Tempo: 76
Status: Work in Progress
Noteflight URL: Website Title
Located in: MMU AP Theory


#14 Zachary Sheets 2017-04-06 16:02
Hi Cory,

Thanks for sharing! Just leaving you a quick note to say congratulations on a job well done! It was a lot of fun working with you, and really cool to be along for the ride as you channeled a lot of creative, outside-the-box thinking into a really clever set of variations that should make anyone smile. Best of luck and have a great end of semester!

#13 Cory Raymond 2017-03-29 19:50
Alright here they all are:
Variation 1:
Variation 2:
Variation 3:
Thanks for all the help polishing up all this music!
#12 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-23 17:56
Hi Cory,

Thanks for your update on your last variation. This is just getting going, so I won't say much for now. I like the nuances and the subtle changes in rhythm that you use in bars 3 and 4—it's a familiar statement of the tune, but slightly different than we've heard it in previous variations. I also like that the lower staff has an ascending pattern in the first few bars; since all the licks in careless whisper are descending lines, it's nice to hear something walk its way upwards for variety.

I am curious whether you mean this to be for one or two marimbas. A bunch of the notes you write on the upper and lower staffs overlap, and often you've got more notes written than could be played by just one player (usually a player holds two mallets in each hand, or four notes max). But, typically the marimba is written on a grand staff, like a piano, with a treble and bass clef. I'll leave it up to you whether you want one marimba or two, but, if you want 2 marimbas you would actually probably want four staves, total—each marimba would have a treble clef and a bass clef. This will help you better explore the marimba's range, which is quite wide (between 4 and 5 octaves, depending on the instrument). You can read more about the instrument here:

Hope this helps as you're getting going!

#11 Cory Raymond 2017-03-22 20:16
Here is variation three thus far!
I don't really have a specific goal in mind with this one. I just sorta picked the marimba as an instrument because I thought it would sound interesting, and so far I like what it sounds like. I'm just going to try and continue with this tropical rhythmic feel I've created to finish it out
#10 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-18 18:58
Dear Cory,

Hi! Nice work. I love all the riffs in the piccolo part—they're super fun and really effective. The articulations help a lot.

Do you mean for the dynamics to apply to both players? Right now they're only in the tuba part, but I can't tell if you meant them to apply to both. In either case, they stay in very "mezzo" territory. Since so many of your other ideas are so creative and outside the box, I wonder if you might want to push for something a little wide-ranging in the dynamics too.

The changes in the tuba pattern in 4, 6, and 7 are good, but I'm still not sure I'm sold on 8-13. It's almost there, and the piccolo part is great, but the tuba is so consistent and emphatically downbeat-orient ed that it gets just a little too square, for my taste—in a way that almost detracts from the piccolo's acrobatics rather than highlighting them. Breaking up the tuba's quarter-note-in ess in a few places might keep your weighty quality while keeping time flowing—in a way that the piccolo can shine, too.

My last question is about the ending—I wasn't expecting the D major arrival. I'm not sure I'm sold on it just yet, but of course it's too early to tell until we know how variation 3 starts up. My ears really hear a conclusion in B minor, not D major, but I'll leave it to you to convince me...!

Lemme know if you hit writers block on variation 3—I'm sure you'll come up with something groovy soon.


#9 Cory Raymond 2017-03-15 19:10

There's variation 2. I added a bunch of slurs and articulations and stuff like that, I still will work to fine tune them a little but that is what I have for this week.
As for variation 3 for next week I am not exactly sure what I want to do yet.
#8 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-12 12:10
Hi Cory,

Awesome—great work on these. Thanks for posting your updated variations 1 and 2. There's a lot of good stuff here, and, as always, a ton of really good creative thinking.

I think the most important thing for you to think about now is simply to take things to the next level by adding details of articulation and dynamics. You've got some articulation stuff in the piccolo part in variation 2, which is good—but I think throughout you could use much much more!

To show you the amount of possible detail that I'm talking about, I made a little PDF example that shows one possible version of the opening three bars of your variation 2.
Available here:

As I note in the doc, I wouldn't follow any of the specific details of my rendition—it doesn't fit what you're doing. But, hopefully it demonstrates what an important layer of detail such things are, and just how far you can go with it.

I totally dig the plodding elephants idea. It's fun and gives a great sense of character. BUT, I think you can maintain that sense of character and still be even more inventive with your use of dynamics and articulations.

I think your first variation would benefit from the same kind of thinking, too. There's a ton of nuance in the melodics lines, with all their little embellishments, and in general this one is pretty polished. Although it would help throughout, one particular place that calls out for dynamics is the turnaround from bar 5 into bar 6—that ascending scale feels like it could start pp and have a huge crescendo into 6!

I will mostly leave you to work on this new layer of nuances, Cory. However, I have two last tiny comments on your first variation.

First, I'm not sold on that F# in the trumpet 2 part at the end of bar 6. The clash against the G natural doesn't quite add up for me—what about an F natural, instead? F natural still makes a bit of a crunch against the G, but then resolves inward to octave F#'s on the downbeat of 7th. It's a cool sound; check it out.

Second, I think arriving on B natural on the least beat of bar 8 makes the climax fizzle a little bit—I would save the resolution until the final one in bar 9. What about something kind of wild on that beat 4 of bar 8? Say, have them both play a unison low F#? Either the one at the bottom of the staff, or, if you're feeling really crazy, the one with three leger lines below the staff? Then it makes this funny trampoline up into the last bar.

Great, Cory—keep up the good work. Think about those two little details in bar 6 and 8 in your first variation and keep working on your second, but really try to invest some time in thinking about dynamics and articulations.

Good luck!

#7 Cory Raymond 2017-03-08 19:12
Alright so I have finished up my first variation:
And here is my second variation:
So far I like where it is going, I think the elephant mouse contrast between the tuba and piccolo is really funny. As I finish it out I will obviously finish the piccolo part, and try to make it sound a little more melodious, a little bit more fluid. I might change the tuba part but I kinda like the way it is now because it makes me think of an elephant plodding along and each footstep is another thunderous footstep.
#6 Zachary Sheets 2017-02-24 14:10
Hi Cory,

First—I am so sorry I spelled your name wrong in my first two postings. That is so lame of me.

Second—I'm just leaving you a short note before the end of school today so that you can have access to it before you've totally checked out for break.

I'm no expert in Spanish music, but I can offer a few observations. First, a really common harmonic motion in this style of music is going from VI to V7, so, in this case, from G major to F#7. Even without a lot of instruments, you can imply G major in one bar and F#7 in the next, and especially if you emphasize the half step motion down from G to F# across the change in harmony, I think you'll hear what I mean.

Along these lines, throwing a G natural in with a bar of F#7 has an expressive flair of the right flavor to it—exploiting that augmented second between A# and G natural will help set up the sound world you're looking for. As you probably know, this is the crux of what we call the harmonic minor scale.

One melodic feature that some Spanish music has is an arrival on cadences by way of an up-down-down contour (so, like, C# - D - C# - B). Or, if you're moving to F#7, the dominant, you can combine this element of contour with the previous melodic element of harmonic minor, and arrive on F#7 by way of (G-A#-G-F#).

Melodic motion also tends to have a lot of flash and flexibility combined with rubato: there are often flourishes of fast notes that then come to rest. Bars 3 and 4 in the trumpet part, by contrast, are a little bit too regular in their pattern to invoke that matador bravura.

Similarly, the regularity of the accompaniment pattern in the snare drum—especially the equal stress of all four beats in the 4/4 pattern and its "beatiness"—is implying something more marching-band-y , for me. So, the drummer's part pulls my ear a little more towards Kentucky or Iowa than Barcelona or Pamplona :)

To remedy this, you might want to have a listen to the accompaniment patterns in the suite from Carmen, by Bizet—it might help your musical thinking along. Bizet is French, but he's trying to evoke a Spanish style for the plot of Carmen.
Especially after the first minute it becomes more rhythmically active in ways that might inspire your imagination—alt hough in the introduction you'll hear a lot of the augmented second and VI-V7 motion I mentioned earlier.

Does that help?

#5 Cory Raymond 2017-02-22 20:26
Here's the link for the first variation draft

Okay first you will notice it's not quite done. That is because I'm not really sure I have quite got a handle on how to turn something into a spanish march, you know like a matador or amparito roca sound. I'm not sure if i need to add more instruments to flesh out that sound or if I'm not quite nailing the accidentals I should be using, so if you have any suggestions that would be great.
I will definitely keep polishing my main theme as time allows.
Also I'm not sure if I am straying too far from the main theme.

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