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.