Guide to presenting a piece

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This article is aimed at helping a composer organize their ideas so that they can present them properly. This is specially tasking when it comes to music, and so I thought it would be helpful to write something about it. The presentation of a piece should invite dialog and its consequent discussion, and it's the job of the composer to know how to translate his ideas into clear and eloquent speech/text. -SSC

Preparation - Good things to prepare beforehand

Before posting something, or presenting something, one must make sure the score is properly written, spaced and checked for errors both in instrument technique and writing. All this can be cleared up by going and learning in depth about the instruments, techniques and how to properly write them down. There are many resources both online and off where one can get a good idea of what's OK and what isn't. Also, for example, if it's an orchestra piece, it's very good to be familiar with other orchestral pieces by various other composers of different styles and eras.

After the score is neat, playable, readable and technically correct, then it's a good idea to prepare material concerning, for example, why a specific tone system was picked, or why such instrumentation and not other. If something is neo-romantic, what aspects of the piece are comparable to the romantic era, and what aspects differentiate it from a style exercise, or imitation. If a specific tone system such as 12 tone is used, prepare an appendix containing the tone-rows and other such information which will prove helpful in explaining the composition process.

If an explanation is necessary for certain parts of the score, these should be written IN THE SCORE, and a mention should be made in the text/presentation. When the piece uses extended technique, this is very important, as often this requires symbols that aren't standardized or invite questions.

When the piece has no score, such as an electronic piece or process music, it's important to point out what materials were worked with, what techniques were used, etc.

Very important is, above all, to know what one wants as a composer. What effect should be accomplished, through what means.

Opening - Where to start?

The first thing that helps orient a composer towards what kind of presentation he should be shooting for is the piece in relation to other works, by the composer himself or others. This can go from the instrumentation, composition techniques to the structure and so forth. If a piece is, for example, a string quartet, there's not a lot that needs to be said since this is a very well-established category. Comparisons could be made, for example, to Mozart, Haydn, Bartok, etc.

If the piece is not for a traditional western European disposition/instrumentation, then more can be said about the reasons for choosing such an instrumentation, why this or that instrument, and such. If instruments are used in non-traditional ways, such as extended technique or playing in non-typical registers, a mention should be made as to why this was done beyond "I liked the sound" (which is of course also valid if you really have no other reason.)

Also, when starting if the score has features that require explanation, or the piece itself has things that must be made clear and explained, this should usually go at the start. Additionally, the audio need not go always at the end. It can be so that the composer can opt to have the audio heard before the explanation, but in an internet forum it's always up to the discretion of the viewer.

The piece itself - Things to look at

It doesn't matter which aspect of the piece is first spoken about, but it helps to go by elements such as the form/structure, tone system, etc.

What is meant by form or structure, in this case, is the disposition of the piece in terms of dividing it into sections, and if those sections are meaningful as such. If the piece was written with multiple movements, or divisions already intended and marked, then they should be pointed out. Talking about why the divisions are there, or if the divisions can be made because of this or that reason (such as different keys, modulation, or instrumentation, etc) is also helpful. Also, of course, if the structure/form has to do with a concept or intention, it must be also pointed out. These links are fundamentally important, specially when the piece is of conceptual nature.

By conceptual pieces, the emphasis should be on the connection between the concept and the music. How does the concept translate into musical elements, or how is the use of musical elements consequent with the concept. It can also be the case that there is no relation between a concept and the music, all of this has to be cleared up. The concept should also be exposed to the best possible extent, as sometimes inspiration and concept go together, and being inspired by "A photo I saw" for example would require seeing the photo, but it's not always possible to have such luxuries.

The idea that an inspiration influences a piece's composition process and it the ways it does so should be explained even if the piece is not "conceptual" in nature. It's a matter of seeing how the inspiration is represented, if at all, in musical elements, and how that's all done to fulfill a specific effect or intention.

It's also important to talk about the composition process itself. This means the process by which the music is written in terms of what was first, how was it developed. Was it intuitive? Was a structure planned beforehand?

What was the goal of the piece, and does the composer believe they have achieved it? All of this is helpful and important.

The idea is that through the exposition of such things it becomes clear that the composer had a good idea of what they wanted and by which process they came to the results that better represent what they wanted. Of course, it's always difficult the first few times, and even with practice, to explain every single aspect of a musical composition, however it is the opinion of this composer that doing so helps bring a degree of detail in the handwork which otherwise is difficult to develop.

When it comes to explaining the actual tone-material it can be done in many ways depending on what is used in the piece. As mentioned previously, a 12-tone composition would benefit from an appendix with the tone-rows and other useful information. Free-tonality, free atonality, and sound-oriented tone systems should be explained as such, with emphasis on the specific colors intended and ways they were achieved. It's important also, if traditional elements are brought into question, to explain the way harmony is being used (if it's the case) or perhaps how the traditional elements are different from the same elements in historical literature.

If something is written using function-harmony, and following guidelines of historical recreation of style, it should be exposed as such and a functional analysis should be written. It's not so important or necessary, but it may help better illustrate where parts that stick out are, and why they may stick out. IE, if a piece is written following the Vienna classic (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (arguable) sonata-form guidelines, then an analysis should focus on what makes the form particularly pertaining to the Vienna classic period and composers and not something else, such as Schumann or Brahms. If a fugue is written in style of the north-German style (Buxtehude, Bruhns, early Bach, etc), what are the characteristics that distinguish that from other types of fugues (Late Bach, Pachelbel, Franck, etc).

When a piece was thought-out from a point of view of a specific instrument, such as a piece which is composed and developed from the use of different registers and techniques of the flute, perhaps a technical explanation to the techniques used would be helpful, specially if they play a big role in the composition.


A piece with a proper exposition and presentation invites questions regarding aspects perhaps not mentioned, and may invite discussion of techniques or other things relevant to the composition process or technique. And that's always nice.