A piece of music exists in the form of a composition in musical notation or as a single acoustic event (a live performance or recorded track). If composed before being performed, music can be performed from memory, through written musical notation, or through a combination of both. Compositions comprise musical elements, which vary widely from person to person and between cultures. Improvisation is the act of composing during the performance, assembling musical elements spontaneously.
Piece is a, "general, non-technical term [that began to be] applied mainly to instrumental compositions from the 17th century onwards....other than when they are taken individually 'piece' and its equivalents are rarely used of movements in sonatas or symphonies....composers have used all these terms [in their different languages] frequently in compound forms [e.g. Klavierstück]....In vocal music...the term is most frequently used for operatic ensembles..."
Composition as musical form
In discussing the structure or organization of a musical work, the composition of that work is generally called its musical form. These techniques draw a parallel to art's formal elements. Sometimes, the entire form of a piece is through-composed, meaning that each part is different, with no repetition of sections; other forms include strophic, rondo, verse-chorus, or other parts. Some pieces are composed around a set scale, where the compositional technique might be considered the usage of a particular scale. Others are composed during performance (see improvisation), where a variety of techniques are also sometimes used. Some are used from particular songs which are familiar.
Important in tonal musical composition is the scale for the notes used, including the mode and tonic note. In music using twelve tone techniques, the tone row is even more comprehensive a factor than a scale. Similarly, music of the Middle East employs compositions that are rigidly based on a specific mode (maqam) often within improvisational contexts, as does Indian classical music in both the Hindustani and the Carnatic systems, gamelans of Java and Bali, and much music in Africa.
People who practice composition are called composers. Compositional techniques are the methods used to create music. Useful skills in composition include writing musical notation, music theory, instrumentation, and handling musical ensembles (orchestration). Other skills include extended techniques such as improvisation, musical montage, preparing instruments, using non-traditional instruments, and other methods of sound production.
One method to compose music is starting with a base series of chords. These chords could be selected arbitrarily or with specific purpose to reflect the tone of the emotion being conveyed. For example, selecting a minor key, but with mostly major chords (i.e. III, VI, VII) might convey a hopeful feeling. Once the series of chords is selected, additional lines are added to embellish, adding depth to the music. Usually this includes at least a lead melody line and often one or more harmony lines. Popular music is often written this way (see: Song structure (popular music)) where a selected series of chords forms the structure of each of a particular section of the song (ex. Verse, Chorus). The melody line is often dependent on the writer's chosen lyrics and can vary in detail from verse to verse.
Another method involves free playing of your desired instrument. For example, a pianist might simply sit and start playing chords, melodies, or random notes that come to mind in order to find some inspiration, then build on the discovered lines to add depth.
As technology progresses, new and inventive methods of music composition come about. One such method involves using computer algorithms to directly translate the phonetics of speech into digital sound.
Composers may decide to divide their music into sections. In classical music, one common form of songwriting is Sonata form. This form involves an Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation. The end speaks to the beginning, concluding things, while the development allows for deviations from the norm of the exposition. Many contemporary songs are organized into sections as well. These sections are usually alternating verse and chorus, often with a bridge before the last chorus. The differing verses will share chord progressions while the chorus is often exactly the same throughout.
The task of adapting a composition for musical instruments/ensembles, called arranging or orchestrating, may be undertaken by the composer or separately by an arranger based on the composer's core composition. A composition may have multiple arrangements based on such factors as intended audience type and breadth, musical genre or stylistic treatment, recorded or live performance considerations, available musicians and instruments, commercial goals and economic constraints.
Based on such factors, composers or arrangers must decide upon the instrumentation of the original work. Today, the contemporary composer can virtually write for almost any combination of instruments. Some common group settings include music for Full Orchestra (consisting of just about every instrument group), Wind Ensemble (or Concert Band, which consists of larger sections and greater diversity of wind, brass and percussion instruments than are usually found in the orchestra), or a chamber group (a small number of instruments, but at least two). The composer may also choose to write for only one instrument, in which case this is called a solo.
Composers are not limited to writing only for instruments, they may also decide to write for voice (including choral works, operas, and musicals) or percussion instruments or electronic instruments. Alternatively, as is the case with musique concrète, the composer can work with many sounds often not associated with the creation of music, such as typewriters, sirens, and so forth.
In Elizabeth Swados' Listening Out Loud, she explains how a composer must know the full capabilities of each instrument and how they must complement each other, not compete. She gives an example of how in an earlier composition of hers, she had the tuba above the piccolo. This would clearly drown the piccolo out, thus giving it no purpose in the composition. Each instrument chosen to be in a piece must have a reason for being there that adds to what the composer is trying to convey within the work
Arranging is composition which employs prior material so as to comment upon it such as in mash-ups and various contemporary classical works. The process first requires analysis of existing music, and then rewriting (and often transcription) for an instrumentation other than that for which it was originally intended. It often (but not always) involves new supporting material injected by the arranger. Different versions of a composed piece of music is referred to as an arrangement.
Copyright and legal status
Copyright is a government-granted monopoly which, for a limited time, gives a composition's owner—such as a composer or a composer's employer, in the case of work for hire—a set of exclusive rights to the composition, such as the exclusive right to publish sheet music describing the composition and how it should be performed. Copyright requires anyone else wanting to use the composition in the same ways to obtain a license (permission) from the owner.
In some jurisdictions, the composer can assign copyright, in part, to another party. Often, composers who aren't doing business as publishing companies themselves will temporarily assign their copyright interests to formal publishing companies, granting those companies a license to control both the publication and the further licensing of the composer's work. Contract law, not copyright law, governs these composer–publisher contracts, which ordinarily involve an agreement on how profits from the publisher's activities related to the work will be shared with the composer in the form of royalties.
The scope of copyright in general is defined by various international treaties and their implementations, which take the form of national statutes, and in common law jurisdictions, case law. These agreements and corresponding body of law distinguish between the rights applicable to sound recordings and the rights applicable to compositions. For example, Beethoven's 9th Symphony is in the public domain, but in most of the world, recordings of particular performances of that composition usually are not.
For copyright purposes, song lyrics and other performed words are considered part of the composition, even though they may have different authors and copyright owners than the non-lyrical elements.
Many jurisdictions allow for compulsory licensing of certain uses of compositions. For example, copyright law may allow a record company to pay a modest fee to a copyright collective to which the composer or publisher belongs, in exchange for the right to make and distribute CDs containing a cover band's performance of the composer or publisher's compositions. The license is "compulsory" because the copyright owner cannot refuse or set terms for the license. Copyright collectives also typically manage the licensing of public performances of compositions, whether by live musicians or by transmitting sound recordings over radio or the Internet.
||The examples and perspective in this section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
In the U.S.
Even though the first US copyright laws did not include musical compositions, they were added as part of the Copyright Act of 1831.
In the UK
- Tilmouth, Michael. 1980. "Piece". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, sixth edition, 20 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie, Vol. 14: 735. London: Macmillan Publishers; New York: Grove's Dictionaires. ISBN 1-56159-174-2.
- BaileyShea, Matt (2007) or reworking. "Mignon: A New Recipe for Analysis and Recomposition", Music Theory Online Volume 13, Number 4, December 2007.
- Sheet music was held to be covered by the term "book" in the Statute of Anne: see Bach v. Longman  but that merely conferred a right to print and reprint the music
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