Alan Belkin, composer

A Practical Guide to Musical Composition


The aim of this book is to discuss  fundamental principles of musical composition in concise, practical terms, and to provide guidance for student composers. Many of these practical aspects of the craft of composition, especially concerning form, are not often discussed in ways useful to an apprentice composer - ways that help him to solve common problems. Thus, this will not be a "theory" text, nor an analysis treatise, but rather a guide to some of the basic tools of the trade. It is mainly based on my own experience as a composer and teacher.

This book is the first in a series. The others are: Counterpoint, Orchestration, and Harmony.

For more artistic matters, related to composition, please see my essay on the musical idea.

A pdf version of this book (in English) is available here. A French version of this book is available here. A version in Spanish is also available as a pdf, as is a version in Italian. These are the older versions, with no audio; updates in these languages are due before long.

This series is dedicated to the memory of my teacher and friend Marvin Duchow, one of the rare true scholars, a musician of immense depth and sensitivity, and a man of unsurpassed kindness and generosity.

Note concerning the musical examples: Unless otherwise indicated, the musical examples are my own, and are covered by copyright. To hear other examples of my music, please visit the worklist page.

Scores have been reduced, and occasional detailed performance indications removed, to save space. I have also furnished examples from the standard repertoire (each marked "repertoire example"). Unfortunately, copyright issues make it prohibitive to supply scores and audio for these: It would be impossible to continue supplying this work free of charge.

For those having problems with the plug-in required to hear the examples, Riccardo Distasi kindly wrote a script adding plain links for each example.

Table of contents


Basic Notions Beginning Elaboration/Continuation, pt. 1

Elaboration/Continuation, pt. 2

Ending Forms: a Glossary

Conclusion, acknowledgements, bibliography

© Alan Belkin, 1995, 2008. Legal proof of copyright exists. The material may be used free of charge provided that the author's name is included.

website © Alan Belkin, 2008

email: (replace _at_ with @). I am always glad to hear comments or suggestions concerning the content here. I do get a great deal of email from this website, so I may not reply to you immediately. Since so many have asked, I do offer private lessons, either in person or via the Internet; please inquire for my rates. Please do not send me your music without an invitation; I unfortunately do not have time to respond to everyone who just wants my opinion of their score.