I finished my degree last week. The final step was an oral exam, for which I prepared the following:

  1. a transcription and analysis of one of my improvised solos from my recital
  2. analysis of one of my original compositions
  3. repertoire and text selections for various levels of high school and college jazz performance groups and classes

I wrote about my solo analysis last week. Today I'll discuss my analysis of my own composition. (Take a look at the Compositions category on From the Woodshed to see a few of my options.) I chose "Defending Their Turf". It's my favorite original tune with a conventional form. "Wacky Misadventure" is up there too, but the form is too complex for this kind of analysis. "Defending Their Turf" was an exciting surprise when I finished writing it. My mind and ears just clicked and I knew exactly what the tune needed at every step of the process.

Here's the original lead sheet.

Watch the video from my recital:

For the analysis process required, I primarily look at the harmonic movement. Any tonal movement should be identified first. The rest of the chords can be analyzed as chromatic modal, noting the distance of the root movement and the change in chord quality. Pedals (same root, different chord quality) and harmonic parallelism (same chord quality, different root) are important to point out. For a primarily chromatic modal tune like this one, ideal chord-scales should be identified for each chord. Justifications for each chord-scale can be chord symbol (CS), melody (M), or compositional context (CC). (The latter is a fuzzy justification based on the composer's intentions and similar moments in the tune.) After dealing with the chords, I look at the melody for motifs, developments, and references to earlier motifs.

Here's the annotated lead sheet.

In composing this tune, I made extensive use of an idea one of my professors mentioned in class last year, that of using the voicing as a pedal instead of the root. So the root and chord quality change between two chords, but the voicings used for each are the same, or at least strongly connected. Measures 9-11 are the most obvious display of this concept, holding three notes in the voicing static through three different chords. Other uses are less obvious, but voicing movements were on my mind with every chord I wrote. Sometimes I'd change one note in the voicing or move the whole thing chromatically to see what new chords could come out of it. See my post on Visualizing Chord-Scales on the Cycle of Fourths for a great mental tool for composing in this manner.

I wrote "Defending Their Turf" as a through-composed piece with four sections. It's 32 measures with a clear first half and second half, and each half holds its own clear first and second half. This was not pre-meditated, but came out as a nice symmetry after I finished. Working backwards, the final eight measures don't make any specific references to the previous eight, but are structured in the same manner with a repeating motif over a pedal tone. The latter half of the tune bears little resemblance to the first half, but still sounds like a logical progression of ideas, reinforced by the only tonal progression of the piece occurring over this transition, in measures 13-18. The connection between the first two 8-measure sections is much stronger, with several references to the quarter note triplet motif introduced in the first bar.

My compositional process for this piece was an excellent example of prodding my own creativity without forcing it. I literally started with a lead sheet full of random chords. As I played around with them, a real tune started to form in my head, and all I had to do was follow it. When the ideas ran dry, I changed something unexpected or looked at the piece in new ways until the path ahead made sense again.