Music at School

Here’s a PDF file with all of the GCSE Music Set Works summarised by musical element. This is a really useful document that will help with revision (particularly the extended writing question).

Writing a minimalist piece of Music – Philip Glass Style

There are lots of different ways to start writing a piece of minimalist music: you could start with a melodic idea, a chord progression, a bass line or a rhythmic idea. Which ever way to decide to start, the important thing is to know the style of the music you are writing in. A good research project based around a composer is a good way to do that. Your project should not only consider the life and influences of the composer but more importantly the musical features. This not only involves lots of research, but also lots and lots of listening. IN this short post I’ll help you write a piece of music based on the music of minimalist composer, Philip Glass.

Having completed my research I’ve discovered that Philip Glass is known for writing melodically beautiful and simple music. The pieces of music that I listened to where:

  • “The Truman Show” – film score
  • Glassworks
  • Metamorphosis 1-5
  • Koyaanisqatsi

What I discovered from listening to the above pieces of music is that his music contains four or five chords, in a repeating sequence. Each chord contains an anchor note (a note that is common in all of the chords). So, I choose to base my chord sequence around the note A and improvised on a piano to come up with these five chords: (which all contain the note A)

  D, C6, Bm7, Bbmaj7, Am7

Philip Glass take the chords he uses and applies a technique called diminution to sequentially half the note values (i.e. from semi-breves to minims to crotchets to quavers). This will happen over several bars and may include (particularly when it gets to the quavers) arpeggio patterns or alberti bass patterns.

Philip Glass melodies are tonal (they belong to the same key and chords as used) and are fairly uncomplicated. Setting my chords going in a loop I can improvise a simple melody, choosing notes from the chords as a starting point.

Finally, rubato is added to give the piece a fluid feel.

A Full Head of Dreams

Amidst speculation that Coldplay’s latest album will be their last, “A Full Head of Dreams” is due to be released on 4th December and certainly will head to the No.1 spot on the UK Album chart just like all previous releases of their albums. Chris Martin had previously suggested that this new album (their 7th) could be their last. This would be seriously disappointing as the band is one of the most streamed bands in history.

My favourite Coldplay song is “The Scientist” which was inspired by a song that one of the band members in my favourite band wrote. George Harrison, a member of The Beatles, wrote a song called “All things Must pass” and this is the song that Chris Martin (and others) based The Scientist on.

What is your favourite Coldplay single and why?


Sing a song!

What a great article I’ve found today from The University of Oxford about singing. Here’s some quotes:

The physiological benefits of singing, and music more generally, have long been explored. Music making exercises the brain as well as the body, but singing is particularly beneficial for improving breathing, posture and muscle tension. Listening to and participating in music has been shown to be effective in pain relief, too, probably due to the release of neurochemicals such as β-endorphin (a natural painkiller responsible for the “high” experienced after intense exercise).

Singing has also been shown to improve our sense of happiness and wellbeing.

So why not join a choir? We have four choirs for your to get involved in that run on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So why not come along and join in!

Careers in Music: Cydonie Banting

As one of our regular features we’re looking at what former pupils are currently doing with their music and this post is all about Composer Cydonie Banting.

Left Cams Hill: 2010

Currently: studying for a Masters in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, London.

Path: After studying as a clarinettist on the Hampshire Specialist Music Course at Peter Symonds College, she studied music at Oxford where she graduated with a first class honours degree. Cydonie is a composer whose pieces of music have been performed by groups including the BBC Singers, the Cavaleri Quartet, and Oxford’s Ensemble Isis.

Here is one of her compositions:

1st Movement, Symphony No. 40 by Mozart

The key to understanding this piece of music is to understand the structure, and what happens in each section. There are four movements to whole symphony:

  1. FIRST MOVEMENT Molto allegro (very fast) – sonata form
  2. SECOND MOVEMENT Andante (walking pace) – sonata form
  3. THIRD MOVEMENT Allegretto (between Andante and allegro) minuet and trio form
  4. FOURTH MOVEMENT Allegro assai (very, very fast) – sonata form

Although only the first movement is our set work, it’s helpful to see that three, out of four movements, are also in sonata form. So what is sonata form?

Sonata form has three main sections: Exposition, Development and Recapitulation.

Here is what happens in each section:

  • Exposition – this is the main “story”
    • first subject (theme or character) in G minor
      • starts quietly (p)
      • transition which is marked f (loud) and is in Bb major.
    • second subject starts in bar 17 and is played on violin
      • second subject is in Bb Major
    • Codetta to finish off the exposition.
      • Towards the end the key changes back from Bb major to G minor.
    • Exposition is repeated.
  • Development – developing the exposition
    • based on the 1st subject
    • more chromatic
    • starts in F# minor but moves through lots of other keys
  • Recapitulation – think “recap”. It’s the exposition that comes back.
    • a recap of the exposition with longer sections and different keys
    • At the end there is a coda (a longer version of the codetta from the exposition) and the piece finishes by alternating between the chords V (D) and I (Gm) before reaching a perfect cadence.

Star Wars

The long anticipated Star Wars film arrives in our cinemas in December but the trailers are already doing the social media rounds. This week a new trailers was released that contains only the music. Here it is:

So what is the music that you’re listing to? Well, basically its a rework of some of the major themes from previous films, with some added genius!

At the beginning of the trailer you can here the “Han Solo and Princess Leia” theme from The Empire Strikes back, only altered:

The problem, film buffs, is that this is the wrong theme entirely. I mean, this is the Han Solo and PRINCESS LEIA not the “Han Solo and Rey” theme. Perhaps it points to something different. As many bloggers are suggesting, is Rey the twin of Hans Solo? (only he looks old enough to be her father ……) Of course, we won’t really know until December but the music certainly gives us some indication that things aren’t as straightforward as they seem!

You’ve also got the “Trade Federation March” theme in the trailer from Phantom Menace:

As well as the famous “Force” theme:

The music is remincinet of all “good vs evil” films, like that of the Dam Busters:

and from Romantic Era classical traditions, sounding something like Holst:


The value of experimental music

Year 9 students this term have been studying the experimental music of the 20th century, and in particular the music of John Cage like this performance of 4’33”:

A performance would normally be made up of organised sounds. These sounds are referred to as crotchets or minims, “A” or C sharp”, loud or quiet. In 4’33” the sounds are less organised and what we normally refer to as “ambient” or “background” sounds become the very sounds of the performance.

What is the value of such music (if it can even be described as “music”)?

Bowie takes a bow

One of the great performers of the 20th Century has decided to hang up the lycra, put away the face paint and allow the curtain to finally fall on his musical career. David Bowie, a pop icon, will never tour again. At least, that is what his agent (presumably now his former agent) has said. It’s been over 10 years since the pioneering pop star last took to the stage. Now aged 68 he has decided that enough is enough.

No one in the history of British Rock Music has had so much success for such a long time. All of his contemporaries – where are they now? He has released 26 studio albums, 9 live albums, 46 compilation albums, 5 EPs, 110 singles and had 5 UK number ones. He has also released 13 video albums and 49 music videos. I pity the fool who can remember how many times Bowies has reinvented himself – from the alta ego “Ziggy Stardust” to splendid minimalist style of “Always Crashing in the Same Car”.

One of his most recent singles to be released was in 2013 and was, perhaps, a song about himself – an older person reminiscing about time spent and time wasted. His most recent, released in 2014, only managed to reach 18 in the UK Charts so maybe it is time for Bowie, under pressure, to take a seat.

Maybe that’s a sign of modern love but I don’t think anyone is going to be dancing in the street. Bowie is still one of the music industry’s greatest heroes.

COMPETITION – how many Bowie songs are hidden in this post?

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