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  1. 1. Holcomb 1Hayden Holcomb18-11-11AP Literature7th PeriodCorbett Piano Composition Senior Project Research Paper According to Aaron Copland, a famous American composer, “You compose because youwant to somehow summarize in some permanent form your most basic feelings about beingalive, to set down... some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now, today.”Composing a piece of art on the piano takes time and patience more than anything, as well as abasic understanding of how to play a piano and what a song consists of. As with anything there isa method to composing songs on the piano, and if followed and developed properly a song ofone’s own can be produced. The method used to compose a musical piece on the piano can bebroken down into formation of the lyrics, composing the base notes, adding the four partharmony, and finally making a final product and copyrighting it. To begin with, lyrics work as the foundation to any song, and the music must be moldedaround the words to form a composition. Lyrics work as the skeleton of most normal songs, thenotes of the song must be tacked onto the words to enhance them, not the other way around.Before you begin writing the words though one must consider who the song will be targeted atand what genre is desired so that the lyrics can reflect the original idea. “The first step is to writedown who your audience is. You will need to keep this in mind while writing the lyrics so youcan target them. After all, if you were writing a song for children you would certainly avoid adultmaterial of any kind” (How to Write Song Lyrics). Before knowing what genre or language to
  2. 2. Holcomb 2use in the song, one must determine exactly who the song will be targeted towards. Big words orprofane words would not be used in a children’s song just the same as more sophisticated andadvanced words should be used in adult songs. The entire song will be shaped off of who thepiece will be composed for, down to the speed and style. Now, one of the most vital parts of thelyric composition process is producing a well thought out and catchy chorus. “The chorus is abridge or connection from one verse to the next. It must make sense to sing the words of thechorus in between the verses” (How to Write Song Lyrics). The chorus is the most recognizableparts of the song, and will make the difference between a good song and an amazing song. Notonly is it repeated between every verse, but the title of the song is usually derived fromsomewhere in the chorus. The chorus should be somewhat repetitive and have a recognizabletune or distinctive sound. “[The] verse[s] should draw attention to your song and make youraudience want to listen. Dont worry about it being perfect at this point; you will refine all theverses and the chorus later” (How to Write Song Lyrics). The core part of the song is the mainverses, and they make up the substance and meaning of the song. The verses allow the composerto add real meaning to the song and make the chorus tie in smoothly; verses are used to connectwith the listener on many levels. This is one of the hardest parts of the procedure due to the factthat each line of lyrics must have the same amount of syllables and fit together perfectly.Formation of the lyrics is a primary step required to successfully compose a song on the piano. Next, one must sit down at the piano and formulate the base notes of the song beingcomposed. The music is to be tailored to fit the words perfectly, keeping in mind the originalidea and style of the song. First and foremost a melody idea must be established beforebeginning to put in the base notes, give the lyrics a catchy tune then put in the notes. “You donthave to come to the piano with an entire song already in your head before you start composing.
  3. 3. Holcomb 3Just start with one simple melodic phrase. That melody will be the centerpiece for everythingelse in your composition” (Nevue). The base notes that are put with the lyrics will formhopefully a recognizable melody for your song. At first the there should be one base note in thetreble cleft that matches the syllables of the lyrics. The single base notes act as a base to thefuture development of the song. “Once you have a good idea of your melody then you havesomething to build on. The next step would be to figure out which key you are playing in.” (9Tips on how to Compose Piano Music). One of the key steps to the composure is establishingwhat key the song will be in. The key of the song influences how the whole thing is shaped andsounds. The basic key is the key of C, and if the composer is unsure of what key would be best itcan be done in C and transposed later to any key desired. “Likewise for a younger student: inwriting down a beginning piece, the younger student sharpens their skills in listening to melody(shape and direction) and rhythmic patterns” (Viemeister). When it comes to recording the song,especially with new composers it is wise to hand write the lyrics and notes onto a sheet of paperwith staff lines. This is just for the draft though; later on when the copyright process begins youwill make a black and white copy likely on the computer. So, in the end of the stage of writingthe base notes a completed draft should be prepared. This consists of a handwritten draft withlyrics and the base notes on it. Once this is done, the song is well on its way to completion andperhaps some great recognition. Finally the song is ready to be graced with the four part harmony; this is also calleddoubling the notes. “When writing triads, there are only three pitch classes but four voices. Thismeans that two or more voices will have the same pitch class. This is called doubling”(Principles of Part Writing). Adding the four part harmony to a song gives it the fuller soundpeople are used to hearing when they listen to a song. Also, when someone sings the song, the
  4. 4. Holcomb 4four part harmony ensures that notes of all pitches are hit ensuring the perfect sound when thewords and music are combined in a performance. “This type of harmonic structure, unlike the 2and 3 part harmony, is the first that is capable of defining the complete harmonic structure ofchords beyond the triad” (Music Theory: Four Part Harmony). The four part harmony is waymore common than either the two or the three especially in gospel and country music. Thismethod allows a variety of singers to accompany the song when the lyrics are combined with themusic, any voice can go with it from alto to soprano. Depending on the base note put the righthand base also at the bottom of the bass cleft and then use the chord notes to fill in the other twonotes to the composers liking based on the desired sound. When installing the four part harmonyit is really the time for the composer to make sure the song sounds as desired and fits the lyricswell, the finished four part harmony is basically the completed song minus some minorcustomizations. The entire song receives the four part harmony, which means both the verses andthe chorus. Once this part of the composition is completed, the song sounds like an actual song. Lastly, the final step to the composition of a song on the piano is the final recording andcopyrighting of said piece. The song can be recorded using either hand written methods or adigital method. “We can do this the hard way or the easy way. First you can learn your songperfect with timing perfect and you can play it into my keyboard to make your final draft or youcan sit for hours at my computer and put each note in and fix the timing manually” (Autry). Thedigital method can be done one of two ways, either by playing on a keyboard into a computerallowing it to record through software or manually putting the notes into the software. The digitalcopy will be much more efficient if copyrighting is planned as you can make as many copies asneeded and it looks much more professional. The finished product should be on staff lines, witheach of the verses all numbered, and every note with the proper timing and effect notations. The
  5. 5. Holcomb 5final draft should also include the song’s title and the name of the composer as well as the yearcomposed, it should also have copyright information. Now, to copyright the newly composedsong it has to be entirely the idea and work of the composer. “[Copyrighting] helps protect andendorse the exclusive rights which are granted by default to the author or creator of an originalwork. Copyright Registration will help establish and confirm the rightful and legal copyrightowner as from the date of registration” (Securing the copyrights of songs, music & lyrics).Copyrighting is very necessary if the composer cares about being recognized and having fullownership and control over the composition. To legalize ownership of the song and make sure itremains property of the composer it is important to go through the procedure of copyrighting. “Ifyou see yourself as a serious musician (and I presume you do), you would be wise to registeryour original songs with the U.S. Copyright Office. This will protect you in the event thatsomeone, somewhere, steals one of your songs and claims it as their own” (How to CopyrightMusic). It is imperative that the new song is protected due to the increasing occurrences ofrobbery of credit. This is especially true in the gospel and even country music field where songsare disputed over all the time. “A Copyright is the exclusive right, granted by law for a statedperiod, usually until 70 years after the death of the surviving author of the work, to make,dispose of, and otherwise control copies of literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial and othercopyrightable works” (COPYRIGHTS). Having the copyright gives you complete control overthe piece, but it is not permanent and once copyrighted it must be renewed after certain periodsof time. Copyrighting certainly is the final step in the composure of a piece of music on thepiano. The history of piano composers goes way back to the well know Beethoven and Mozartand even before that all the way to modern day’s piano geniuses and prodigies. Construction of
  6. 6. Holcomb 6the lyrics, placement of the base notes, fulfilling the four part harmony, and finally finalcomposure and copyrighting are the main steps to completing a well thought out and nicelydeveloped piano composition. Music plays such an important part in people’s lives; withoutcomposers, music would not exist for anyone’s enjoyment.
  7. 7. Holcomb 7 BibliographyAutry, Linda Mulkey. Personal interview. 18 Oct. 2011.“COPYRIGHTS.” Music Powers. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. < copyrights.html>.“How To Write Song Lyrics.” essortment. N.p., 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. < write-song-lyrics-60774.html>.“Music Theory: Four Part Harmony (Block Chords).” Learn Music. N.p., 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.Nevue, David. “Advice for Pianists: How to Compose Piano Music...” David Nevue Solo Pianist and Composer. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.- - -. “How to Copyright Music.” Music Biz Academy. N.p., Mar. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.“9 Tips on HOW to Compose Piano Music.” New Age Pianism. N.p., 8 June 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.“Principles of Part Writing.” Theory on the Web. SMU, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. < partwrit.htm>.“Securing the copyrights of songs, music & lyrics.” Songrite Copyright Registration Office . N.p., 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <>.Viemeister, Jane L. “Teaching Composition to Piano Students.” Piano Education. N.p., 29 Sept. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <>.