Module C1: Composition

This module is intended to develop your creative musical writing, advancing technical skills, increasing awareness of contemporary music, developing powers of analysis and self-criticism, and encouraging originality. The work undertaken is directed primarily to the composition of music to be sung and/or played in Christian worship, and you are encouraged to compose some of the music for your own liturgical situation.

You must be willing to explore new styles and textures: only in this way can you sharpen your own individual techniques.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the module you should be able to demonstrate:

  • competence in laying out a clear score and parts
  • competence in writing for both voices and instruments
  • grasp of texture, ranges and balance
  • stylistic and formal coherence
  • awareness of the practicalities of writing for amateur musicians and the unskilled
  • awareness of idioms appropriate to Christian worship

Issues for study

As a means of developing your compositional skills you are expected to explore works by other composers, considering the ways in which they approach and use

  • formal procedures and structure
  • musical ideas and use of material
  • use of resources
  • use and treatment of accompaniment
  • texture and balance
  • considerations for performers
  • presentation of score

You need to be clear about the conventions for the presentation of scores. Please consult the recommendations in section B6 of the Brief Study Guide, and at the end of the syllabus for this module. In vocal music The Oxford Spelling Dictionary can be particularly helpful in guiding you over the division of words.

You need to be clear of ranges of voices and instruments and capabilities of singers and players of varying abilities.

You should become aware of issues concerning copyright and performance rights. Further, see below.


Although you may choose (or be directed by a supervisor in) your own pattern of study it must include those issues listed above, and you are advised to take account of the advice at the end of the syllabus for this module (‘Some suggestions…’).

Assessment and satisfactory completion

You are required to submit original compositions chosen from three of the following:

  • one movement of the Ordinary of the Mass/Eucharist (i.e. Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei)
  • a setting of a canticle or psalm (prose texts only)
  • a sacred text (prose or verse) set as a through-composed song or anthem
  • a strophic hymn or sacred song - either a single harmonised verse or an extended setting with variations of scoring and treatment of the melody
  • a work for instrument(s) suitable for use in worship (e.g. entrance, communion)

The possibilities for scoring in works with text are:

  • unaccompanied SATB choir
  • accompanied SATB choir
  • solo voice and accompaniment
  • two-part choir and accompaniment
  • high or low voices (SSA or TBB) and accompaniment
  • congregation and accompaniment
  • cantor, congregation and accompaniment

The accompaniments and the instrumental works should be scored for organ, or acoustic piano, or electric keyboard, or ensemble of 4-8 instruments (with or without keyboard).

You should use different resources in each work. The submitted works should include one work for capable singers and/or players, and one work involving unskilled participants. One of the works should last at least 5 minutes in performance. The portfolio as a whole should consist of music lasting 10-15 minutes in performance.

All three compositions should be submitted in notated score. Each composition should be accompanied by a short commentary of 150-400 words outlining the purpose and methods of the composition, and evaluating its strengths and weaknesses. At least one of the pieces should also be submitted in a recorded performance on audio CD (not in any other medium).

Assessment will be based on the portfolio of compositions, but you will be expected to supply additional evidence in order to complete the module satisfactorily. Make a list of the works of other composers that you have studied and other exercises or pieces you have completed yourself as part of the course (these should not be submitted but may be requested by the examiners). You must read the statement about copyright and performing rights that is printed below, and study the Code of Fair Practice published by the Music Publishers' Association at: MPA Online . You will not be examined on this, but FGCM and LGCM candidates offering composition must be well acquainted with it.

If you wish to use copyright material, whether words and/or music, you are advised that the Music Publishers' Association consider the use of copyright material to be within paragraph 7 on page 7 of The MPA Code of Fair Practice.  This enables you to use copyright words and/or music solely for the purposes of the examination.  Any publication or public performance of copyright material is always subject to the usual rules and prior permission must be obtained.

All materials for assessment should be forwarded to the Fellowship Secretary as soon as they are ready. Remember to compile (but not send) the list of works studied and composed, and ensure that you are familiar with copyright requirements as indicated above.

Some suggestions when writing vocal music


  • Leave space at the top of the score for the title, and details of text and composer
  • Indent the first system of staves to allow space to indicate voice types
  • Include appropriate style and tempo markings
  • Ensure that normal conventions of notation are followed
  • Ensure that all noteheads and stems are clearly formed
  • Only rule barlines through each individual stave of the vocal score: leave the space between staves clear of barlines, otherwise they can impede the text
  • In open score, write the tenor part in the G-clef  with a 8 underneath
  • Short score is best avoided unless the music is entirely homophonic
  • There are several conventions regarding beaming and slurring. Most composers now favour beaming in accordance with metre. Slurs can be used to clarify underlay
  • It can be helpful to indicate breathing, either by an appropriate rest, or by a tick at the top of the stave
  • Place dynamics and other instructions above the stave
  • Write your text in upper and lower case, as normal. Text in capitals is not so easy to read
  • Ensure that each word or syllable is placed under the first note on which it is sung
  • Consult a spelling dictionary for conventions of word-division
  • Se-pa-rate syl-la-bles by short dash-es at a height in the mid-dle of the let-ter
  • Where there is a melisma on a final syllable, complete the word, and any punctuation, and follow with a ‘extension’ or ‘continuation’ line at the bottom of the letter, e.g.: A-men.____
  • Ensure that appropriate acknowledgements for copyright texts and music are included

Practical advice

  • For amateurs, ranges of voices are best restricted to Bass: F-d', Tenor: c-g', Alto: g-c", Soprano/Treble: c'-g". Use extremes with care: beware of restricting any voice to an extreme of the range for long periods
  • Have regard to spacing of voices, and the textural implications in the formation and spacing of chords. The same chord can have different colours according to its spacing
  • Have regard to balance and tessitura in a chord: for instance, one voice in a high tessitura against three in a low has a specific effect - ensure that it is what you want
  • Ensure that each voice has a singable line: exercise care in the use of ungainly leaps such as sevenths, augmented 2nds, augmented 4ths, diminished 5ths
  • Remember that singers need to breathe: breathing can be part of the shape and articulation of a piece
  • Writing passages for SATB choir in unison or two parts (Paired SA/TB or ST/AB) can be effective for short periods
  • The piano is not always a good guide to vocal effect: its overtones are richer than those of voices. Observe what other composers do and, more particularly, how it sounds
  • Have regard to word-stress and accent. There is always another way of setting a word or phrase, so do not be satisfied with false accentuation. Melisma is one solution
  • Consider the quality of vowels (in relation to tessitura as well as aural effect)
  • Consider the quality of consonants, and where they sound
  • Be clear about the structure and dynamic shape of your piece: where is the climax? Is it reflected in the vocal writing? Think about what it sounds like, not what it looks like!
  • Be clear of the shaping of each phrase on its own merits and within the overall design
  • Beware of 'stop and go' vocal music, where each phrase is followed by a gap
  • Dovetailing by overlapping the end of a phrase in one voice part with the start of the new phrase in another voice can enhance continuity. Then the breaks, when they come, are all the more effective
  • Stand back from your music and ask whether its style is coherent and consistent. This applies to harmony, texture, and structure


  • Make the accompaniment part of the planning of the piece, not an afterthought
  • Consider the relationship between the voices and the accompaniment. Does the accompaniment substantially double the voices? Is it providing a separate, independent texture? Is it a mixture of the two?
  • Remember that a bare fifth in the accompaniment, and a third in the voices (or vice versa), will sound like that: they will not coalesce into a triad
  • Bear in mind the nature of instrumental writing (as opposed to vocal writing), and the particular instrument for which you are writing. If you want an accompaniment suitable for several keyboard instruments you need to bear into account their shared qualities as instruments. If you write for organ, remember that most organs are individual in character
  • Consider the balance between accompaniment and vocal lines: texture and tessitura need to be taken into account
  • Make sure that the accompaniment gives suitable cues for voices, and that you do not expect singers to find obscure pitches out of thin air