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3 Composing Help and Reference

Conventions of the Western Classical Tradition

Looking for quick reference whilst composing? Use the WCT Composing Hub

Although there is some general composition help on these pages (particularly the instrumentation guides at the bottom), the focus is on the conventions of the Western Classical Tradition. In other words this is primarily help in style composition rather than free composition.

Sibelius Shortcuts

As well as this general page, there is a list of common features (or fingerprints) that you can include in your compositions to make them sound more authentically Classical.

Melody and dissonance  Guide to standard dissonances in the WCT – if you need your work to sound like Classical and early Romantic music you need to stick to these conventions (dissonance Rogue’s Gallery)
 Harmonic conventions  Some brief DO’s and DON’Ts for chord progressions as well as some pointers towards common progressions that work well
Rhythm Look at the melodies at any WCT example on this site. They are normally relatively simple. In particular you should avoid: 1) complex syncopations 2) rhythms that cut across the meter 3) too much variety
 Dynamics and articulation  You need to think about dynamics and articulation right from the outset. This page offers some initial guidance and tells you how to put them in on Sibelius.
 Keys and modulation  Music the Western Classical Tradition tends to stick mostly (but definitely not exclusively) to a range of closely related keys. This page offers a brief guide to keys and modulating.
Voice-leading conventions Voice-leading describes both the shape of individual melodic lines AND the way in which they work together. Composers in the Western Classical Tradition tend to avoid certain types of voice-leading (including the dreaded parallels) and this page outlines some key points to remember.

When you are composing you need to know not just what the range of the instruments you are writing for, but what they sound like in different parts of their range. Follow the links below for a quick overview of each family of instruments.

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