GCSE music?

GCSE music?

I have to do piece of composition for my GCSE music, and I was wanting to do a piece for the whistle. I am unsure where to start as everytime i attempt it, it ends up sounding wrong.
I go to Our Lady and St Pats in Belfast. Most people have told me jigs are a good start?
Anyone help?

Thanks Anna

Re: GCSE music?

Hi Anna and welcome to the Session.

Your question is of interest to me as I just took my first composition workshop last night and it was great. Many thanks to Adèle Commins and Daithí Kearney for their great teaching (https://thesession.org/events/6934#comment826373).

One of the first things they did last night was ask who had composed before and of those who had what tune type they had written. Nearly everyone had mainly done jigs. No one, including Adèle and Daithí, could explain why but for some reason reels seemed more difficult for those in attendance and jigs easier. So while it is not scientific, I suspect that a jig would be a good place to start.

Next we had to think of a pattern of notes, five or six at most. The equivalent of a single bar of a tune. The important thing was that that group of notes should appeal to your own ear / sense of what’s good about a tune. Then there were a number of things one could try to do with that group of notes.

First off was to simply repeat the notes one step up or down. For example my original group of notes (or motif) was DED BAG. I then repeated it a step up so that I had EDE cBA. By the way I was in the key of G so F sharps only so far.

The next suggestion was to repeat something but try moving one of the notes up or down an octave. I didn’t quite do that but used the first motif again and tried it as Ddc BAG.

Then they suggested trying to include an accidental note or changing key. Remember these are just suggested options and were used as examples to help writing a tune. Anyway I gave it a go and came up with EAc# dc(natural)A. Putting it all together I had: DED BED | EDE cBA | Ddc BAG | EA^c dcA or half the first part of a jig.

Another suggestion was to try what we had done in a minor key which I sort of did for the second part. Anyway I ended up with a new jig. I’ll post it up later (with a link) in this thread so that you can see what a complete amateur like me can do with just a little bit of guidance. If even I can do it then it should be no problem to you. Remember the key thing is to come up with a group of notes, a motif which you like and then a tune can be crafted from it. Using the suggestions my original motif took on a life of its own and each suggestion opened up new possibilities for me.

Our workshop group will be performing our new tunes at the Carrickmacross Arts Festival this Sunday. It should be great fun, even if no one but ourselves like the tunes. We all had a great time doing the workshop and writing them.

Best of luck with the GCSE music course.

Re: GCSE music?

I helped my son write a jig for his music exam. I have a big book of tunes and we took a few ideas from other tunes and varied them. Worked a treat he got an A.

Re: GCSE music?

Back again. As promised (or even threatened) I’ve put up the tune that I wrote at last night’s workshop (https://thesession.org/tunes/16284). Based on what I posted above you can see how the final version turned out. I’m not making any great claims for it, just that I’m interested how starting with just DED BAG turned out.

Once again thanks to Adèle Commins and Daithí Kearney who taught the class and got me to try things I wouldn’t have attempted otherwise.

I liked Reilly67’s advice. There’s no reason why one couldn’t collaborate with someone else, particularly when starting out.

Mind you it also reminded me of the sleeve notes on Beoga’s CD ‘Mischief’ for the tune Jazzy Wilbur: "Eamon composed ‘Jazzy Wilbur’ for his final school music exam with 100% help from Soggy (Seán Óg) … in other words Eamon had actually nothing to do with it!"

Re: GCSE music?

If you want to try yourself Anna, remember that tunes have a ‘hook’ - a particular phrase of notes that distinguishes it from other tunes. So play around either humming or on your whistle to find a wee pattern that sounds traditional. A matter then of fleshing it out so that it fits the basic structure - repeating the phrase and linking it etc. That’ll produce something, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece.

Otherwise do as Reilly says - pick up some tune you know or a random one and just change a few bars.. who’s to know except you?

Posted .

Re: GCSE music?

…also, be wary of trying to do too much - too many notes or musical ideas, too busy. Often the best tunes are the most simple. Often, too, "beginner’s" tunes look good on paper, but are hard to understand. That’s why humming - mentioned above - is good.

Posted by .

Re: GCSE music?

Thanks everyone i had a wee go and have a rough idea now of what it is going to be - thanks

Re: GCSE music?

Anna, I compose myself, so if you are still interested in input I’ll try to help you.

I actually composed a reel as my first tune, which I loved upon first thinking it up around three months ago and currently borderline hate. Anyway the next thing I composed was a jig about a month ago, and I like it even though it’s simple and unassuming. I’ve since composed a slide, a strathspey and another jig in four parts, and I like all of these better than that darn reel.

Anyway my advice would be, as stated above, don’t get too complicated. It’s only going to hurt you in your first attempt - I know from experience. Perhaps a jig would have been easier in the beginning, but at the time I liked reels much better. Also I like compositions that aren’t in a major key, and often that gives me inspiration.

I should also say that I’m blind, so I normally hear stuff in my head and then figure out how to write it down using ABC notation. Often I will simply have a motif come to me - I never really sit down with the intent to compose. That’s not to say I don’t think that method is effective - if it works for you, great! But normally the first part of a tune will come to me, and then the only thing I will actively "compose" are additional parts. I also don’t change things around much after the fact except minor adjustments. I don’t try to reformat a tune based on feedback from others - it is what it is.

If you want to see stuff I’ve come up with, there are some tunes in my profile description.

Best of luck to you and happy composing!


Re: GCSE music?


One of the nice things about most tunes is that there is often a lot of repeated parts. I once attended a workshop by Vicki Swan and she called it the Sausage Factory, because once you have a couple of parts you can repeat several of them.

Unfortunately I can’t remember the actual formula Vicki gave us (this was 11 years ago), but if you look at a few tunes you’ll find that many of them repeat bars both within the A part and the B part.

It certainly makes it easier if you do this, because you end up with fewer things to compose.


Posted by .

Re: GCSE music?

Thank you for everyone’s help, I came up with a jig im very happy with however now i need to compose a reel to go with it, ideally contrasting to my jig, and i was wondering if anyome had any ideas of how to start because im finding it quite a struggle

Thanks again, anna