2014 Society of Composers National Conference

The 2014 Society of Composers National Conference took place March 20-22 at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. It featured three days of concerts and paper sessions in Sursa Performance Hall by select composers from across the US. The conference wordpress blog and facebook page contain specific details regarding the concert schedule and events. The overall quality of the concerts and paper sessions was excellent!


Inside Sursa









Notably, the majority of concerts featured electronic resources and multimedia. To be sure, there were a number of pieces with traditional acoustic instruments and some old school electroacoustic music with outstanding spatialization enhanced by Sursa’s eight-speaker configuration which enveloped the audience. That being said, many, if not a major of pieces on the program featured both acoustic instruments and either prerecorded electronic accompany or manipulation of live sound in real time. Some pieces also contained video projection in which case, a video screen was lowered above the stage.

audienceIt is exciting to note that 21st century composers are embracing technology and multimedia. With all of the new resources available to composers, it seems that composers of new music are blurring the lines between electronic and acoustic music. This most assuredly will be an area of research for some musicologist in the not too distance future.

In addition, many of the paper sessions discussed topics related to emerging technologies and live performance. For example, Zachary Boyt discussed MIDI bows, while Orlando Legname presented electronic sensors for conducting which interact with MAX/MSP in real time.

Orlando Legname


Zachary Boyt









It was a great conference. I’m definitely planning to attend the 2015 conference. I would recommend it to all composers of new music who wish to stay abreast of the latest developments in new music.

By the way, I was a presenter at the first paper session on Friday, March 21. My paper was entitled Metamorphoses Nocturnes a Stepping Stone in the Compositional Development of Gyorgy Ligeti.

mephoto(6)Here are a number of links to photos and other media from the conference:



Special thanks to Michael Pounds, Keith Kothman and Jim Rhinehart for organizing such a great conference. If I have left anyone out, my apologizes. Please send me your name and a link to your blog and/or website, and I can include it in this blog. Thanks again! See you in 2015.

How to Write a Melody: Augmentation and Diminution

Augmentation and diminution are two widely used compositional techniques that can be applied to almost any melody. In this blog post, I will show you how to use these techniques to generate a plethora of new material for your next composition.

There are two types of augmentation, rhythmic and intervallic. Rhythmic augmentation means that all of the note values in a given melody are increased by an equal amount. In most cases, rhythmic values are doubled, but they can be increased by almost any amount. Example No. 1 is an original melody used in my first blog post to demonstrate retrograde, inversion, and retrograde inversion. Example No. 2 shows this melody with its note values doubled.

Example No. 1

original melody

Example No. 2


Intervallic augmentation means that all of the intervals increase, see Example No. 3. This changes where notes fall in relationship to the underlying harmony, so the accompaniment usually needs to be adjusted to compensate.

Example No. 3

intervallic aug

Diminution is the opposite of augmentation. All of the note values and/or intervals are shortened by an equal amount, see Example No 4.

Example No. 4

Rhythmic dim

Example No. 5 is an augmented version of the original melody with sixteenth-note accompaniment. The accompaniment pattern is also a good example of diminution in action. Counts one and two in measure 1 are the original melody in diminution, see Example No. 1. Notice it’s the same melodic contour in sixteenth notes. Essentially, Example No. 5 is derived from a single motive which is subjected to both augmentation and diminution. See what you can do with just a few ideas and an arsenal of composition techniques in your tool chest?

Example No. 5

aug and dim example

How To Write A Melody

One of the most challenging aspects of music composition is thematic development. As a composition instructor, I have found most of my students can come up with convincing melodic, gestural, or textural ideas, but they struggle when writing an entire piece. Most students get “stuck” at a particular point, get frustrated, and eventually give up. The problem is they don’t know how to develop their initial ideas, and their progress grinds to a halt. Fear not! For the professor is here to give you the tools you need to become a great composer.

Here is a partial list of some time-honored compositional tools. These tools can be applied to almost any style of music. Comment if you can think of anything I have left out, and I will add it to the list.


In this blog post, I will focus on inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion, by far the most widely known and beloved compositional tools. Inversion means all of the intervals in a particular melody are upside down. Example No. 1 shows an original melody followed by its inversion. Notice that the ascending triad in measure 1 becomes a descending triad when inverted, a mirror image of the original melody.

Example No. 1

melodic development blog pic 1

There are two types of inversion, exact and tonally adjusted. In an exact inversion, all of the intervals are exactly the same as the intervals in the original, only upside down. In a tonally adjusted inversion, the most common type, intervals are modified to stay within the key. The above example is a tonally adjusted inversion, an exact inversion would require note D in measure 1 to be a D#.

Retrograde is the original melody play backward. Example No. 2 is the original melody from Example No. 1 played backward.

 Example No. 2

melodic development blog pic 2

Retrograde inversion is the inversion played backward. Example No. 3 is the inversion of the original melody played backward.

Example No. 3

melodic development blog pic 3

I encourage you to play these examples on your instrument. Notice how each one has its own character, yet sounds related to the original melody. This is because the intervallic and rhythmic content is virtually identical in each example, so the next time you find yourself “stuck,” apply these compositional tools to your melody, and see if it generates new material. If you like your original idea, you will probably like the inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion as well. It is similar to looking at a beautiful painting in a mirror. If it looks great on the wall, it will look great in a mirror too. Enjoy!