Mentoring Program

Motive No. 1, Based on the Style of Chopin

This is a motive for a Theme and Variation, written in a style similar to that commonly used by Chopin. Update: Instead of having put all of my noteflight entries into the same document, I made a new entry for all of them. Here's the others: Variation No. 1: Variation No. 2:
Grade Level: 10
Intended For: Computer Instrument Playback Only
Software Used: Noteflight
Instrumentation: Piano Only, for now.
Key: C Minor
Meter Signature: 3/4
Tempo: Quarter = 120
Status: Work in Progress
Noteflight URL: Website Title
Located in: MMU AP Theory


#8 Sebastiaan West 2017-03-29 18:59
Finished. Ending didn't turn out at all as I'd expected; I instead opted for an excerpt of Bud Powell's version of When I Fall in Love. Made the entire arrangement more like being in a jazz combo.
#7 Sebastiaan West 2017-03-29 17:33
Hey Zach,
Currently working on the 3rd variation. I was thinking of right there having the piano take the melody, with the same softer backup of the sax and trumpet. Next, I was thinking I'd change it up and do a big-band style ending as a grander way of finishing the piece.
#6 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-23 19:38
Ohhhh, I see, vars. 1 and 2 are up in the description. I've got to run, now, but I'll write you soon about those. Thanks,

#5 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-23 17:40
Hi Sebastiaan,

Thanks for your update and posting your variation #3. This has a nice, clearly-defined sense of character, and your melodic and rhythmic ideas are working well. I do have to ask, though—what happened to variations #1 and 2? Are those coming later, or are they hidden in a different link somewhere? All I can find are variation #3 and your original theme.

I won't say too much for now, as you're just getting going on this one, but I will offer one possibility and one question.

My "possibility" is more like a vague principle for you to keep in mind with this one. Chiefly, that you've got five instruments with strikingly different characters, each of which has its own iconic role in this kind of "jazz combo" setup. So, orchestrational details like the presence/absenc e of the bass, the trumpet/sax coming in and out with their "chorale" texture, or the drumkit pattern will all have an extra special weight. I would use this to your advantage by planning the design of this variation around its orchestration. Perhaps you could even sketch out on paper a possible plan (or plans) for the different ways they'll work in combination throughout the movement. You could sketch out a kind of "architecture" for the different instrumental colors, since adding or subtracting a layer will tend to be a "special" moment.

My question for you is whether this movement will just maintain a subtle connection to the theme, or whether these are just background "accompaniment" patterns setting up an introduction for a big statement of a melodic idea? In other words, will this movement be a sort-of subdued "impression" of melodic fragments and motifs? Or will you use these little accompaniment patterns to champion a slightly jazzier version of your Chopin-style melody? Curious to hear your plan!

So, I hope these two bits of food for thought were useful. Keep them in mind as you keep going, and let me know about variations #1 and 2. Happy composing!

#4 Sebastiaan West 2017-03-23 10:27
Third Variation:
#3 Zachary Sheets 2017-02-20 15:44
Hi Sebastian,

Great—this looks (and sounds) really nice. I'm glad the feedback was helpful!

If I understand correctly, you have a due date of Wednesday for your ideas for your first variation, right? So, for now, I just say keep pushing forward!

I made this worksheet for one of your colleagues; perhaps you will find it helpful too? It's about baroque and classical cadences.
There's a pdf and an mp3 to play back the examples.

It lists some common harmonic maneuvers regarding cadences in baroque and classical style. A lot of these may be in your fingers naturally if you've played bach at the keyboard. But, just like Chopin, certain harmonic moves point us so clearly towards a certain period of music history that I find any kind of style imitation usually has to start with understanding harmony, and specifically, if we're talking anything pre-1910 or so, cadences. This is a great tip for model composition assignments in theory classes, too!

I don't know which you'd like to dig in to next (baroque or 20th century), but I'll leave the worksheet lying around for whenever it might be helpful. You pick where to go next!

(Oh, but, to answer your question: If you have a similar situation to what is currently bar 13 in a future variation, you could get the F# in the left hand by distributing the quarter notes on beat 2 and 3 to the right hand for that bar, right? I know it's more comfortable to keep all the oom's and all of the pah's in the same hand, but if you take the "pah's" with the right hand for those couple, then your left hand is free!)

Keep up the good work!

#2 Sebastiaan West 2017-02-15 20:15
Hey Zach,

Thanks so much for your feedback! I definitely found all of it very helpful, and after having applied it, the theme sounds much better. To answer your question, yes, I am a pianist, for sure and absolute positive. I picked the style of this piece after some of Chopin's mazurkas my dad played when we were practicing similar music many years ago.

I applied all of your suggestions, and it definitely improved the piece. The buildup from mm. 8-9 has improved worlds from what it was, and now mm. 9-10 really do herald the turnaround of the melody. I changed up the tritone in mm. 13, so that it's much less noticeable and only in the left-hand block chord. I didn't walk up the F in the bass because I wasn't sure how to do it (I know that my hand wouldn't be able to play that and the right-hand chord), but will definitely use it in one of my variations.

I modified the chord in mm. 12, so that the Eb is no longer the top note of the chord and the voicing would bring out the Bb. Now there's an ascent in the left-hand chords in mm.12-14 to accompany the walk-up of the left-hand bassline.

I've got some ideas for the variations. I play a lot of Bach next to a lot of 20th-century composers, so I'd like to do one variation that takes after Bach (using lots of counterpoint and different voices; a fugue) and one part that has some Bartòk/Prokofie v/Stravinsky in it, utilizing some more atonal and blunt styles, rather than what I've been doing so far. I'd like to do a jazzy movement (I'm also an avid jazz musician), and one that sounds more modern.

Again, thanks so much for the feedback, and I look forward to learning more from you in the future!


Sebastiaan West
#1 Zachary Sheets 2017-02-11 15:26
Dear Sebastiaan,

Hi! My name is Zach Sheets, and I'll be working with you as your mentor for this theme and variations project. Thanks for posting your first draft! There is a lot of very impressive work here, and you clearly have a strong background in harmony and are familiar with Chopin's music. Are you a pianist yourself?

There's a lot about this that's working very well, so I'm not going to say too much for now. However, I have three small suggestions.

First, I'm not sure I'm quite convinced by a literal repeat of the same rhythm in bars 1-2, 5-6, and 9-10. Bar 11 is obviously the tipping point that signals we're headed to the end of the melody, but hearing the same rhythm (in RH and LH) a third time lets me down just a bit. Even something as simple as an Eb-F-Eb on the downbeat of 10 (in that quarter-eighth triplet rhythm, maybe?) would do the trick, I think—just signal in some small way by then that the phrase is moving and blooming into its final phase and I think it'll be very satisfying.

Second, I'm not sure about that tritone on the downbeat in 13. Tritones are beautiful, expressive dissonances, but something about this one isn't convincing to me, especially if trying to have a flavor Chopin. If you zoom out a little bit, you're going from unison Eb's on the downbeat of 12 to D/Ab on the downbeat of 13, and something about that is a little too brusque or naked, I think. What about F on the downbeat of 13, instead of D, and put the D as the top note of the quarter notes on beat 2-3 (instead of F)? So, ii°'6/5 rather than ii°. That's especially nice, I think, since you have the ascending motion in the bass through those bars (Eb-F-G). Then you could even be really crafty—either here or in one of the variations—and walk that F in the bass up to F# on your way to G. That's a very natural way to produce what's called a French Augmented 6th chord (Ab-C-D-F#), which you may have already studied in class (and, if not, you will soon).

Third thought: Bar 8 feels like the energy sags just a bit, at the turnaround to the second half of the theme's architecture. Maybe you want it to relax here, but if you wanted to lead the line forward, instead, it would be very easy to turn Eb into E natural on beat 3 of 8, and lead us to F that way. Whether or not you add a C on the bottom is up to you (I probably wouldn't), but it still implies a progression of III - V7/iv - iv, which is very common in this style. Maybe you already thought of this and are saving it for a variation.

Oh, one more tiny thing—remember that the Eb in the accompaniment pattern in the LH in 12 is the same Eb as the melody in the RH. Even with a very subtle tactful voicing by the pianist, it may sound like the melody in 12 has 3 Eb's in it.

Great, Sebastiaan—This is really fine work. Keep it up! Looking forward to seeing what you make of my suggestions, and of your next variation. Do you have any ideas or plans for the arc of the whole set? Having an overall plan for them might help you make some decisions about each one as you go...

Happy composing,


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