Raymond Weiss Mini-Course: Teaching Music Composition and Theory


Return to: ETAP 623 Spring 2017 Raymond's Portfolio Page

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Unit 1: The Chord Map

Unit 2: Voice Leading

Unit 3: Instrumentation

Unit 4: Composition

About The Course


This course, designed for the intermediate student of music theory, is designed to demonstrate basic music composition techniques and theory utilizing contemporary musical examples in order to encourage individual music composition skills.

Topics that will be covered:

  • Chords
  • Voice Leading
  • Instrumentation
  • Composition

Teaching music composition and theory hinges on the classics; Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and the rest of the 'classical' composers. The problem with this is that classical music is not overly engaging among younger learners. Students generally have varied musical interests, ranging from classic rock to modern pop and everything in between. Modern music often plays a tremendous role in popular American culture and in the lives of people everywhere. The role modern music plays in lives everywhere can make classical music seem dull and a distant historical fact rather than emotive and powerful music. As Keith Swanwick of the University of London states; "Music is a web of human discourse, rather than some curious activity separated from life in general... Music is not object but always [a] contemporary event." (1)

In order to alleviate this barrier to learning music composition, this course takes a "choose your own adventure" approach to music composition and theory. Instead of throwing you into unfamiliar music to learn unfamiliar concepts, music composition and theory lessons here are centered around more modern genres of music, hopefully more interesting to you than the three B's of classical music.

What is to be Learned

You will gain the basics of music composition through learning about chords, voice leading, and instrumentation. These lessons will not be atypical of what you'd find in a typical music theory class, but the approach will be focused on your choice of music rather than the typical examples in music theory textbooks. Each genre of music will have selections chosen to exemplify proper chord structures, voice leading techniques, and interesting instrumentation.


In this course, you will learn basic compositional tools and techniques that will help their understanding of music theory and composition.

Note: You are encouraged throughout the course to practice what is being taught and to listen to the examples by visiting www.noteflight.com

End-of-Course Objectives

  • The student will demonstrate familiarity with music theory concepts.
  • The student will be able to explain voice leading and chord structures.
  • The student will be able to correctly identify the best compositional techniques from a number of choices.
  • The student will be able to utilize basic compositional techniques in their own writing.

Performance Objectives

Unit 1: Basic Chords and the Chord Map

  • Given a series of chords, students will be able to correctly identify them and their properties.
  • Given the chord map diagram, students will be able to correctly identify the next logical chord in a sequence.

Unit 2: Voice Leading

  • Given several chords, students will be able to identify individual "voices" within a chord sequence.
  • Given several chords, students will be able to identify the next logical chord based on voice leading principles.

Unit 3: Instrumentation

  • Given several instruments, students will be able to identify instruments by name and by relative range.
  • Given several chords and voice structures, students will be able to identify the instrument most likely playing the notes in the sequence.

Unit 4: Composition

Note: You will be able to choose at this point one of three possible "Unit 4's" to study from. The objectives do not change regardless of the "Unit 4" you select.

  • Given a series of chords with missing notes, students will be able to correctly identify the missing notes.
  • Given a series of chords with missing chords, students will be able to correctly identify the missing chords.
  • Given a series of chords, students will be able to choose which instruments play which notes in the series.


  • You must be somewhat familiar with common instruments.

If all the prerequisites are met, feel free to click below on one of the units to begin. It is highly recommended that you begin with Unit 1 and work your way through the four units in order.

Curriculum Map

The Chord Map

Voice Leading


Music Composition

Curriculum Map.jpg

References and Resources

1. Swanwick, K. (2001). Teaching Music Musically. Retrieved from: http://www.musica.ufmg.br/permusi/port/numeros/04/num04_cap_03.pdf

2. Apple Inc. (2000-2017). MusicTheory.Net. Retrieved from: www.musictheory.net

3. Noteflight LLC. (2008-2017). Noteflight.Com. Retrieved from: www.noteflight.com