Mentoring Program

Happy Birthday

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just a rough draft. I don't have too many ideas yet. I really enjoy working in different modes however I am unsure of what to do with this.
Grade Level: 9
Intended For: Not Sure
Software Used: Noteflight
Instrumentation: flute, violin, tenor sax, cello
Key: G major
Meter Signature: 3/4
Tempo: 120 as of now
Status: Work in Progress
Noteflight URL: Website Title
Located in: MMU AP Theory


#23 Zachary Sheets 2017-04-06 16:09
Hi Rory,

Great—congrats on a job well done and on all your hard work. You clearly put a lot of time and effort into this, and I hope you're proud of how it turned out! It was a pleasure working together, and I hope we'll see more music from you here on the Music-COMP site in the future!

All best,

#22 Rory Ulmer 2017-04-03 17:51
Hey Zachary,

We finished and had to turn it in and I did my best. If you see anything important that I missed feel free to tell me, I'm still open to suggestions.

#21 Zachary Sheets 2017-04-03 14:51
Hi Rory,

Just checking in to see how things are going—looking forward to seeing the finished product!

#20 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-25 09:49
Hi Rory!

Thanks for your post. I like the choice of minor key for the last variation, and I think you've done a nice job altering the happy birthday tune to make it fit in the minor key. The first variation is in great shape, so the whole thing is really starting to take shape. All that's left is to finish variation 3 and touch-up variation 2.

To answer your question, G major and Bb minor are really far apart, so I'm not surprised you're finding it tricky! But I think it's really nice you want to do something surprising like that! So, here's one possibility for you: A common shift in color that composers will use in major keys is to go from I (G major) to bVI (Eb major). I think you'll recognize the sound when you hear it. So, then, if you go from I to bVI, you could use that Eb major chord as a "pivot" to go to F dominant, and then you're ready to go from F dominant to Bb minor. The Eb major will sound cool coming out of G major, and then Eb - F - Bb minor will sound like a IV-V-I cadence to your new key.

Another little suggestion for you: in bars 39-42, I would put those low notes in the piano in bass clef. They're really hard to read with all those leger lines! I think if you have those low notes in the bass clef instead you'll be able to explore this low register of the piano more easily. I see you're a pianist yourself, so of course this will be familiar to you.

There are still a few details between 29 and 36 that I'd love for you to spend a little time on. First, as I mentioned before, there are some clashes in bar 29 between the guitar (D-C-F#) and piano (E-D-G). Is that intentional?

Second, I think some of the harmonies you're outlining in the guitar will be made more effective if you also change the bass note in the electric bass. Right now, the electric bass is just repeating G, but in places like 30, 31, or 34, it will help a lot to reinforce the harmony with a chord tone on the bottom. What about a D in 30, an E in 31, and a C in 34? Try it and see how you like it.

OK, Rory, I know the deadline is coming up soon for this project, so good luck with the final push! Keep working on that last variation, and consider my G maj - Eb maj - F7 - Bb min idea for your transition. And, try to make some time to touch-up those harmonies in the second variation. Looking forward to seeing your next draft!

#19 Rory Ulmer 2017-03-23 05:47
Hey Zachary,

I am part of the way done with my third variation. I am not really sure what I am going to do with it and how I will end it. I am also not sure of what instruments I will be using. I haven't worked on transitions yet and I don't really know how to transition from a major key to a completely different minor one (G major - Bb minor)
#18 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-06 21:59
Hi Rory,

Ah, I get it! Sorry, I should have been clearer before. I meant that changing chords more than once per bar will be one important strategy for you to use to keep things fresh during your variations, but it is certainly not necessary to do all the time. So, perhaps that's an idea you could focus on during one of your variations, if you like, but it is not necessarily something you need to do in this second variation. Using those arpeggiation patterns already adds a good deal of variety, so, for now, I would focus on working out those arpeggiations with just one harmonic change per bar.

(also, sorry some words come out this crazy red color—There's no way to get italics without also turning it red!)

Does that help?

Best wishes,

#17 Rory Ulmer 2017-03-04 16:34
Hey Zachary,

So I just got your message and I haven't worked on it yet at all. You had said that added chord changes more frequently than once per bar is important, yet I am unable to do this when the chords are arpeggiated. I would like to keep them that way, so I was wondering if I should just stick to one chord per bar as I can't change it without taking away the arpeggio.
#16 Zachary Sheets 2017-03-04 16:27
Dear Rory,

Hi! This is coming along nicely. Your first variation is in good shape and I can see that you've worked on a lot of the things we've talked about. I hope you're having a nice spring break!

I'd like to start with your question about arpeggiating chords, but I'm afraid I don't quite understand, yet! Typically, arpeggiating chords is a way to help one chord last for more time. One of the ways we help stretch out a chord and keep it interesting is by arpeggiating it, or playing the various notes in a patterns up and down. But, you're asking about how to change chords more quickly throughout the bar, which I think of as almost the opposite of arpeggiating a chord. Talking about this stuff in text is kind of tricky, but I bet if you explain a little more I'll understand what you mean! Maybe you mean that you want to jump between different chords on each beat throughout a bar?

Regarding different possibilities for harmonies, I can suggest a few particular ideas here and there beyond the template for the traditional harmonization I gave you (, but I'd prefer if you give it some tries first based on what you've learned in your theory class this year. I think such a specific decision is best left in your hands, as the composer! Remember the typical ways we can spruce up a basic harmony: secondary dominants (V of V), deceptive cadences (V - vi rather than V - I), adding a passing chord on the weak beat of a bar (like a ii chord on the last beat before an arrival on V on the next downbeat), or substitute chords that share a lot of notes in common (like vii° instead of V7, or vi instead of I).

Otherwise, I have a few various details and ideas for you to think about.

One is just a small thing—do you mean to have a clash between the guitar and piano (F#/G) in bar 29?

Second, I would re-think your harmonizations of bar 17 and 34 (the F# - E, where you sing the name of the person whose birthday it is). The note on the downbeat is not the main note of the chord, there. The F# is an expressive non-chord-tone that resolves to E, which is the main chord tone. Since those two notes make an "appoggiatura" (the first one resolves into the second), this is one place where I would definitely use only one chord for the whole bar. IV is by far the most common solution, here, but you could probably make vi work too.

My final question for you, Rory, is about transitions: how are you going to move from each variation to the next? Right now there's a hard stop, a pause, and then a restart. This is one way to move from one idea to another, but not necessarily the most subtle one. I wonder if you might want to think about stitching them together in a slightly more nuanced way? Think about some possibilities for how to bridge the gap between different variations!

(I say this, because I think the way each variation starts and ends will affect the entire variation. So, you might want to begin work on this pretty soon—I think you'll be surprised how much it changes your perspective. )

Ok Rory—thanks for your patience in explaining to me a little more what you mean by arpeggiation, and then we'll start with that next time! In the mean time, keep exploring different harmonies based on your theory training, keeping in mind that one "special" bar in 17 and 34, and start to make some plans for how you'll tie this all together. Keep up the good work! Good luck!

#15 Rory Ulmer 2017-03-01 19:07
Hey Zachary,

Thanks for replying, I know it's been a while since you commented but I have finally gotten it done. I have finished my first variation using your suggestions, and I think the ending really throws in a nice twist to the song. In the second variation, I am wondering how I can add more than one chord per bar as the chords are arpeggiated. I haven't had too much time to work on it as I have been absorbed with my first one, but a few suggestions would be nice!

Thanks so much,

#14 Zachary Sheets 2017-02-20 20:27
Dear Rory,

Hi there! Thanks for your patience. This has grown a lot since the last time I looked at it, and shifting the tune over two beats has helped a lot with the first variation. May I ask why you chose to keep the opening theme as it was? Do you want that to start on a downbeat intentionally, or have you just not had a chance to move it over yet?

To answer your question: I'm not sure there is a good way to incorporate I - V - vi - IV into happy birthday. Is there a reason you want to use that particular progression?

If it helps, you can find a document on this webpage that shows the "standard" harmonization of Happy Birthday—this is probably the setting we're all most familiar with. (click on the document beneath the heading "happy birthday harmonization")

You could use a vi in bar 4 and make a deceptive cadence! That would definitely sound cool! But, unfortunately a IV chord wouldn't follow in bar 5.

You can use these basic harmonizations as a guide—like a template—to help get situated on your harmonic road map. But, substituting in and out different chords or adding chord changes more frequently than once per bar will be an important part of your variations.

I love the drumset and electric guitar combo as an accompaniment—i t's a totally different texture than the theme and first variation. However, the harmonies don't always match up quite so well between the guitar, bass, and piano. For instance, in bar 28 the piano is pretty solidly implying D major, but the guitar just switched to G major. Or, in bar 32, the piano's F# - E don't mesh so well with G major. I bet the pdf document in the link above will help clear some of that up. The ideas are great and the instrumentation is super creative, so you just need to tweak the harmony a little bit. That's the trick with something like happy birthday—it's so familiar to us that the harmonies have to be relatively conventional, at least in the theme and first few variations.

One last thing: In your first variation, from bars 10-19, you have your harmonies always spaced right near each other in the bass clef staff. I think the chords might sound richer and more resonant if you opened them up over a little bit broader range. So, instead of having the root, third, and fifth all next to each other, try putting the third up and octave. Or, put the fifth up an octave and the third up two octaves! You may need to change these notes to different instruments, then, but I think it might work better. Arranging chords vertically like this is called "chord spacing", and it's important for chords to sound rich and resonant. Having too many notes close to each other in the bass clef range can get really muddy!

Ok, Rory: So, look over that "basic" harmonization I sent you in the link, and think about it as a template that helps inform the way you're approaching harmony in the different variations. And, remember to have a preference for chords that are spaced a little bit more open, with space between the bottom and middle/top. Happy composing!


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