I thought it might be interesting to write a 'group piece" - where we all write a variation on a theme presented.

Regarding the theme:  Anyone can submit a theme as the subject.  I think it should be at least 16 bars long.  It should start on any beat of the measure except the first.. If it is sensed as an upbeat, the next measure would be considered the first of the next 16 written.  It can be in any time signature. There should be no indication of key signature, so that there is not an immediate harmonic bias  - (at least at first glance).  There should be no tempo or dynamic indications...

Once the theme is chosen (by vote), we can get started with the variations to that theme.  

 Regarding the Variations:   if one wanted to employ various devices to the theme- inverted, or retrograde, --etc.  that can be allowed.  Mostly, i would say, work with the shape of the theme  as you would with any raw material…  Also - the melodic line can be transposed anywhere.  Passing tones are allowed.

Also, there can be any time signature applied to the theme, with rhythmic expansion/contraction employed as one sees fit.

How much Freedom afforded  within these parameters is up to each composer.  

I believe these parameters would allow for interesting possibilities  - with great variation.  

If 2 or more are submitted, perhaps we can vote on them… OR even starting another thread with other themes to be tried.

What do you guys think?


Here is one possible theme i just wrote:


(the D# - first measure, 2nd stanza, should be a half note; not dotted)

I think that this theme allows for a wide interpretation of harmonic possibilities, and can accommodate  various stylistic tendencies.  

I hope you like it. 

Theme w: metrnm..mp3

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  • This is great!  Thanks so much, Gregorio, for suggesting such a fun enterprise.

    Question about "the theme":  Do you mean a single part (or voice)?  Or could there be two parts?

    Clarification question: I did NOT understand the intent of the first sentence below, or the meaning of the second sentence:

    It should start on any beat of the measure except the first.. If it is sensed as an upbeat, the next measure would be considered the first of the next 16 written.



  • Hi, Mariza.  Thank you!

    Yes, a Single line...

    The theme should not start on the first beat of a measure -- (so that we are not boxed in by the tyranny  of the bar line) So it could begin on the & of 1 (or even the 2nd 16th of the first beat etc.  or any there after..  and then  proceed.  

    The next measure would/could be measure 1 if it is heard as an upbeat… This last sentence isn't so important as the first.

    I thought 16 bars would be long enough, but not too long.. Perhaps i should just say.. somewhere around 16 bars length would be acceptable..

    Is that clearer? 

  • I don't understand what's the problem with starting on the first beat. Why discriminate against that one out of all the possibilities? Besides, if you allow modification of the notes and application of arbitrary time signatures with contraction/expansion of note values, then barlines are kinda moot, aren't they?

    Also, 16 bars is very long for something that wants to avoid harmonic bias; usually after 2-3 bars or so it will readily become obvious what the harmonic basis is, if any.  Also, how would you measure bars if no time signature is to be given? That seems contradictory to me.

    I have a counter-proposal: what about starting out with a fixed sequence of pitches that are immutable, but participants are free to apply any rhythm to it?  The pitches themselves cannot be changed, and must appear in that sequence, and no pitch may be skipped.  The sequence should be relatively short to avoid forcing/implying a particular harmony.  The participant's first task is to turn that initial sequence of pitches into a motif, and expand that motif into a theme. Then the next task is to supply a series of variations on that theme. How's that?

  • And while I'm at it, here's a proposed sequence of pitches to start with: A - C - F - G# - C - G - G# - D - C# - F#. 

    Any of the sharp notes can be substituted with its enharmonic equivalent, at the composer's discretion, e.g., the G# can be interpreted as Ab instead. The composer is also allowed to transpose any of the notes up/down an octave.

  • Hi H. S. Teoh.

    Thank you for responding… I think your idea is an interesting one, kind of the blueprint for a 'tone row'.. I would like the theme to have a little more substance than that- so as to make a bit more of an impression.  …

    I would rather you submit a 16 bar theme with an upbeat.. That way the theme is not (at first step) dictated by the bar line… I think that starting Not on the first beat, circumvents (to some extent) a 'boxy' start to the theme…

    It's a simple idea… Just write a theme- roughly 16 bars.. Of course there will be some harmonic bias, but having said that, it is up to others perhaps to find other more interesting avenues for harmonic content..  I could see a theme, if written mindfully, could easily adapt from to Baroque to dodecaphonic. 

    Perhaps a tone row (like your display) would be a good idea for another thread.  I would like more motion and shape implied in the theme...

    Thanks for thinking about this.


    ps… Remember, as per the title of the thread, it is starting with a Theme… not a tone row.. 

  • Bob, you say:

    "Seems to me that if we stay away from meter and key, we would need to for the entire piece"

    I didn't say that the submitted theme Must Not  to have a time signature.  I said, that it didn't have to… But now i am thinking that it should.. But also that that time signature could be changed by those writing their variation..,

    This can work!   

    Don't concern so much…Just write a theme, and if others will as well, we can just vote on which one we all want to pursue… Or as I said, (in my opening statement of parameters) start another thread with those not used here… And continue the process there...

  • Perhaps i shall start to work on one, to show as an example… 

  • For those that would like to use the idea presented  (the parameters) as a jumping off point for their own parameters.. I would suggest starting another thread With those parameters… The ideas i have presented is an experiment i would like to try.. I would also be inclined to participate on someone else's  thread - with the variation on this theme of "group composition"… With Their parameters.

    The parameters are not to be voted on here… Just the picking of the chosen theme - is.

  •  Bob, you say:

    "My taste is not for things that drift in and out of tonality. One or the other. Otherwise anyone could write just about anything and call  it a variation."

    This is what may make it interesting…but also i am are curious about the 'taste' of others and how They would handle the same information..  Coherence is something different for everyone… It is an experiment!

  • Not trying to be contentious here, but I still don't understand what's the issue with starting on a downbeat. I mean, I can just shift the bar lines one beat to the right, and it would basically be the same theme, except perhaps with notes accented differently. Why is it such a big deal?

    I think I misunderstood your original proposal. I thought participants were to write a theme + variations piece based on a given theme, but re-reading your OP as well as your comments in the other thread, it seems clearer now that you wanted (somebody) to provide the theme, and then each of us would write 1 variation on it. Presumably afterwards we would collect all the variations to form a single theme + variations piece?

    Or are you thinking more in terms of "how many ways can you harmonize Mary Had a Little Lamb" (as in, one in Dorian mode, one in whole tone scale, one with jazz harmony/rhythm, one as rap, etc.)?

    If the former, I would say it makes more sense to constrain the parameters much more, say establish a particular tonality / meter for the theme, but what the participant writes will be a variation on that, not necessarily following the exact harmony / meter / etc., like how Mozart wrote variations of all kinds for Twinkle, Twinkle with diverse tempo, time signatures, figurations, etc..

    If the latter, there is much more freedom in terms of what each participant can do, as long as it "alludes to" the theme somehow (e.g., Tom Lehrer's Clementine).

    Now, as for tone rows, I have to say that what I proposed is nowhere near that.  I did not say that the given sequence of pitches had to be confined in any way to some tone row structure. Any (and I mean literally any) rhythm you fancy can be applied, as long as those pitches follow that sequence -- you can stretch the 2nd note 3 bars long and compress the rest into bar 5, and it's still valid.   To get an idea of what I mean, consider the digits of pi (3.141592...). Map each digit to a pitch.  In anybody else's hands, it would probably sound like brown music... in my hands, however (and I'm saying this tongue-in-cheek, not as a boast), it sounds like this: https://composersforum.ning.com/forum/topics/a-piece-of-pi

    But anyway, this is probably not what you had in mind, so I'll just let it rest here.

    A piece of pi
    So yesterday was Pi day (March 14, 2015, aka 3/14 '15) and somebody posted some pi-related humor. But this being the composers' forum, I thought th…
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