Mentoring Program

Theme and Variations

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Completed motive for Theme and Variations piece.
Grade Level: 10
Intended For: Not Sure
Software Used: Noteflight
Instrumentation: Piano and Violin
Key: F# Minor
Meter Signature: 4/4
Tempo: 120
Status: Work in Progress
Noteflight URL: Website Title
Located in: MMU AP Theory


#24 Travis Ramsey 2017-03-29 21:51
Hunter, I like each variation more than the one before it! And for the record, there is actually no such thing as a chord that is "not allowed," or a "wrong note," or any of those things. The first time ANYONE wrote anything more complicated than a major triad, it was disallowed/wron g. And then people heard it, liked it, used it in their music. And then hundreds of years later theory people looked at the whole classical period and said "those guys did this thing a lot, let's give it a name."
As for your chord, since you asked, it's usage seems to be most similar to a "common tone diminished" chord. you could look those up if you wanted to know how other composers have used it in the past. But you get to be the final judge of whether or not it works for you.
(That said, know that players and other musicians will probably expect an explanation for why you didn't just do it like everyone else.) I will say, though, that at bar 127 what I think you really meant to use was a German augmented 6th chord. Replace your piano's left hand with a C, and then you get this really cool effect of the C going down to B and the Bb going UP to B like in your violin.

As an aside, did you notice that bars 106-107 sound like "Deck the hall with boughs of holly?"
#23 Hunter Groff 2017-03-29 19:48
Hi, Travis! Tempo change was accidental--all tempos are back to normal now.
My third variation is complete, and very cool! First of all, there are several things to look out for. First of all, I played with this weird chord throughout the piece, not exactly sure what to call it. I suppose it's technically a diminished I chord, but in context it could also be a VI-Mm-7 chord? You'll know what I'm talking about--essentia lly, every time final tonic came around, I flatted the B, and then had it resolve. I'm being really unspecific for two reasons; first of all, I'm not exactly sure what to call it, and second of all, I'm not exactly sure if it's allowed. It seems like the kind of thing that from a chord-progressi on standpoint is totally off limits: it sounds clunky, awkward, and unexpected. But I liked it, so I figured, hey, why not play around with it? I'd love any input on that, even if its: "Hunter, you can't do that, it sounds bad. But you could use it here: ______". Just would like to know a little more about that type of progression. If you still don't know what I'm talking about, it comes up for the first time in measure 95, and again whenever that part of the theme repeats (there are two other times I believe).
I also added a big switch up mid-piece, transitioning abruptly from the marching tune to a smooth, soft arpeggiated piano line accompanied by little snippets of the theme from the trumpet (I added trumpet) and violin. It's a total mood shift, but again, I think it's unexpected and interesting.
I went full on with the finale--I made good use of the "fortissimo" dynamic. I wanted to give the end of the piece a really grand sound--I hope I achieved that. Let me know anything I should add, change, or take out of the third variation.
I wrote a lot of this just going out on a limb, and a lot of it is experimental, so don't be afraid to lay on the criticism!
#22 Travis Ramsey 2017-03-24 20:26
Hunter, those later variations are really coming to life! I think the interplay between trombone and violin is really nice, and the return to the theme in E minor at the end of what you have is refreshing, too.
I liked the tempo change for the opening theme statement but in my playback the second variation zips by in a blur faster than I can hear it! It's fun, but you'll probably need to slow that down a notch or two,,,
#21 Hunter Groff 2017-03-22 21:48
Second update: just as I was typing the last comment, I tried speeding up the tempo. It worked really well and definitely added to the whole "dance" analogy.
#20 Hunter Groff 2017-03-22 21:47

Firstly, I have finished off the second variation...tem porarily. I just copy and pasted the notes onto the end so it had at least some sort of finish. I plan to mess with dynamics and add more chords to give the second variation a more complete sounding end, but I wanted to get a motive for the third variation in there.

The third variation is kind of this strange march, with a bit of a weird cadence but a cool sound. I see this variation as a mixture of the first two--as you can see in the beginning, the piano line is structured very similarly to the introduction of the second variation, and throughout the motive I draw little bits of the bass line from the first variation in there too. While these touches might be subtle, I think it will end up having a cool sound in the end. If I were to make a plot line of this piece, the first and second variations would be the introductions of a male and a female character respectively, and the third variation would be those two characters meeting, interacting, and perhaps doing some kind of slow, marching dance. That might not make any sense, but it works for me in my head.
All that being said, I have added a ton of new stuff with this variation. I continue to mess around with chord progressions. One thing I tried with this variation was that I made the harmonic minor VERY evident throughout the whole theme, but then switched it up in the very end with a (III) - (v) - (I) progression, with the minor v chord emphasized heavily. I think this gives it a cool sound--take a listen.
#19 Travis Ramsey 2017-03-17 21:59
Hi Hunter, well, connecting the themes and variations is probably less important than HAVING good themes and variations, so no worries that you haven't thought of it yet!
Your new chord progression is really cool. It sounds quite surprising the first time I hear it, but makes more sense as I listen again. I wonder if, before you go on to new material, a repeat would help? I suspect that the last chord you have on the page could repeat back to m. 64 without too much issue. But keep the chord pro. you have - sounds sweet! So your ideas you listed are good ones, but before you do either I would let the listener hear those cool chords once more.
#18 Hunter Groff 2017-03-15 21:21
Wow! Lots of great thoughts here! Connecting the themes is admittedly not something I'd thought about but sounds like it could be really cool. At the end of the second variation I came up with this weird chord progression...a nd so I decided to give the melody to the guitar to bring back a little bit of that first variation, like you said. Hopefully it worked out--let me know what you think of that.
For now, I have left the end of the second variation incomplete--no, I am not ending on a half cadence, that would just be cruel. I am leaving it incomplete so that I can go one of two ways:

1. Segue immediately into the third variation
2. Have a reprise of the theme from measures 56-63

I'm gonna start working on my 3rd variation, and then I'll probably decide which I wanna do.
#17 Travis Ramsey 2017-03-11 20:24
Hunter, transposing, re-working transitions, and re-imagining work is where the real composing is at. It's one thing to write it once but it takes time and patience to see it through to its final version. So you are on the right track for sure.
And, great revision here! Your transition to the spy theme is very workable I think. the solo violin makes perfect sense to the listener, and while the variation to come is a surprise at least it makes musical sense, right? If that F natural still sounds too jarring to you, try coming at it through E instead of straight off of G. A-G-E- then F might ease us into it a bit.
And your transition from first to second using the harmonic minor scale is spot on. A few thoughts on it:
1. It's customary among "classical" composers to only use C# when rising to D in minor, and Bb when falling to A, so you're unlikely to find many of the "great" composers going directly from C# to Bb. That said, it sounds unbelievably cool and I think it fits the spy theme pretty well. But know that if Bach or Mozart had written this transition it likely would go C#-D-Bb-A.
2. Your second variation is so totally and completely different than the first that I wonder if there shouldn't be some connection between the two. Could you frame this as some kind of story that uses this music as background for three separate scenes? Or is there some way to weave in a few tiny little snippets of the spy theme into variation 2 to connect them just a little?
#16 Hunter Groff 2017-03-10 16:58
Update: I added a transition between the first and second variation. I decided to use the strategy of using the A major chord to carry through, and in the right hand of the piano I used a descending scale in the harmonic minor, which I think makes the transition smoother because it uses the C# from D major to blend the keys together. Additionally, I added a lot of instruments and an introduction to the second variation. As you can see I'm not quite done, I left off at a very random point but I'm going to pick it back up and finish it off over the next few days. There's a lot of new stuff in there, so let me know what you think!
#15 Hunter Groff 2017-03-10 10:57
Woah! I totally hadn't even thought about transitions! I'll try and work something out...I messed around a bit with the transition from the Theme to Variation 1 but couldn't figure out anything that sounded super good. The violin ends on F#, so I tried to figure out something that could make a somewhat jarring shift from F# to F natural sound good, but I ended up just isolating the violin line and have it switch keys with a weird scale type of thing. It will definitely take some work. As for the transition from Variation 1 to Variation 2, I am still working on an introduction to Variation 2 so I will think about that. I have also considered a switch in keys for Variation 2 to make the violin part sound better, so I may end up simply transposing what I have into a different key and then writing a transition based on that.

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