Or composition in music (even if no “composer” is identifiable)


REPETITION – Small-scale repetition creates a sense of pulse, rhythm and meter; motific repetition is used to build phrases;  Intermediate-scale repetition creates patterns and ostinati; Large-scale repetition creates FORM.  Repetition is often not exact; that leads to a sense of . . .

VARIATION – [A long] poem . . . satisfies another two-fold requirement, one that is closely related to the rule of variety within unity:  repetition and surprise.  Repetition is a cardinal principal in poetry.  Meter and its accents, rhyme, the epithets in Homer and other poets, phrases and incidents that recur like musical motifs and serve as signs to emphasize continuity.  At the other extreme are breaks, changes, inventions - in a word, the unexpected.  What we call development is merely the alliance between repetition and surprise, recurrence and invention, continuity and interruption.  Octavio Paz, “Telling and Singing” in The Other Voice


CONTRAST – the use of opposing, opposite or markedly different elements to produce an effect or structure

BALANCE – symmetry/asymmetry; usually relates to size & shape of phrases

PROPORTION - the relationships of the relative durations in a musical work

ECONOMY - limitation of a composition to a few essential elements; usually a voluntary constraint that is part of the creative process.  Examples: focusing on a single motif exclusively, deriving everything from that motive;  choosing a limitation that is part of the identity of a piece, say a piece for solo piccolo or only woodblocks.  (A piece for “only piano” would not be a good example!) 


SCALE - the size (duration, number of performers involved) of a musical work, although it has an entirely different meaning than “musical scale.” (“A symphony is a large-scale musical work when compared to a song.”  Applies to duration and musical forces involved. )


GIVING/WITHHOLDING – Music exists in time; elements are “deployed” or arranged in time.  Performers/composers may give you everything right away, or withhold it.  The Macy Gray song, “Why Didn’t You Call Me," delivers everything -- register, imaginative context, story -- in about 45 seconds.  The Radiohead  song, "2 + 2 = 5,” withholds a straight-ahead 4/4 rock beat for over two minutes in a three-minute song.

rev. Oct 2005

David Meckler


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