Teaching and resources for English and Music

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Mediant Studies

Arranging a melody for string quartet requires all the skills needed in writing for voices (e.g. a chorale for SATB choir).  Firstly, we need to be aware of the structure of the melody:  where do phrases end, and where does the music come to a point of rest.  Which cadences are appropriate for these points of rest?  Which chord progressions do we use to approach those cadences?  Where does the music change key, and how do we make the key changes effective?  Secondly, we need to aware of the sort of texture that might be appropriate.  How do voice the chords vertically so that the gaps between notes are appropriate?  (Usually the biggest gap will be between the lowest notes.)  How do we create effective voice leading so that each voice moves horizontally in an interesting way?

It is obvious, then, that students need to be spot key changes, use appropriate cadences, write strong chord progressions (probably using some chromatic chords), and pay attention to the way that notes are spaced apart in chords (thinking about which notes - if any - should be doubled, and avoiding consecutive fifths and octaves), as well as the shape of each voice.  All of this should have been learnt when studying Lutheran Chorales at AMusTCL level.  It is then important that students who have not done this begin with the Chorales section of the Composition Module of the AMusTCL course.

There are however important differences between arranging music for four voices in Baroque style and arranging music for string quartet in Classical or early Romantic style.  In quartets, phrases and cadences are not always obvious.  The texture is quite different.  (Instruments can do things that ordinary singers can not.)  The chord progressions and chromatic chords that were popular between 1760 and 1840 were different from those popular in Bach's lifetime.  There were also differences of style between the main composers - Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn (and often differences in style between works they wrote early in life and those they wrote later).  Most importantly, there is little need for melodic development when arranging a Bach chorale, whereas in quartets imitating and developing themes tends to be very important.  Often a whole section will be based on one or two short motifs. Articulation, expression, bowing and ornamentation are also important.

The notes cover these topics:

1.   Phrases

2.   Cadences

3.  Texture

4.   Melodic Development

5.   Chord progressions

6.   Chromatic chords

7.   Modulations

8.   Beethoven

9.   Schubert

10. Mendelssohn and Schumann

With each topic, there are assignments, in which you can learn to put into practice the knowledge and skills taught in the notes.  There is a simple chordal extract to complete, in which you can concentrate on the harmony, without having to worry about imitating or developing ideas.  Then there is a study of the string quartet question from the Sample Paper published by Trinity College, showing step by step how to complete the parts.  Special attention is given to writing in the style of the composer (in this case Mozart).  Finally there are two specimen exam questions, offering one or two suggestions as to how to complete the arrangement most effectively, but leaving you to make your own decisions.  The originals are given, so you can see what the composer actually wrote, and learn to imitate his style.

As with all LMusTCL materials, there is a choice of two options:

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