Contemporary Techniques in Music Composition 2


Authored by Gabriele Vanoni


Course Code: OCOMP-485

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 4

Level 4

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, music has experienced an unprecedented acceleration in its language and aesthetics. Arguably, the past 50 years of compositional development saw more innovation than the previous four centuries. Contemporary art music played a key role in this musical revolution, being cutting edge in several aspects, including the expansion of instrumental techniques, the creation of new compositional systems, and the introduction of computer technology. The intellectual and musical development of this period is undeniable and the music created by these composers was unprecedented.

Read More

Music for films, commercials, and video games are now filled with these effects, granting composers of every kind of media a larger palette to express their ideas. Any music student interested in composing in new forms and genres will find the achievements of these artists worthy of study.

Upon completion of this music composition course, you will have a solid knowledge of modern instrumental writing and competence using twentieth century techniques in composition. In addition, you will gain enhanced listening skills to identify and appreciate new musical styles, and be capable of implementing these skills in your writing, enriching your capacity to express yourself in this intellectually stimulating musical idiom. The lesson material is presented through listening exercises, analysis, and weekly composition projects.

Because of the complexity and fragmentation of the curriculum, this course is organized in units. You will start where you left off in OCOMP-285: Contemporary Techniques in Music Composition 1 by expanding your knowledge of extended techniques for traditional instruments and voice. The second unit of this music composition course will cover new compositional systems and styles from the early 1920s through the modern day, such as serialism and minimalism. The third unit will focus on the relationship between tradition and tonal music, focusing on those composers with an interesting relationship to the past, such as the post-modernists. Finally, there will be a set of lessons on technology, allowing you to get a glimpse of computer-assisted composition with the help of a software tool developed especially for this course.

You will become familiar with the compositional innovations of Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Gyorgy Ligeti, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, George Crumb, Luciano Berio, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Helmut Lachenmann, Mario Davidovsky, and Sofia Gubaidulina.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Compose using tonal and non-tonal material, adding more extended techniques to your compositional palette
  • Experiment with microtonality, scales and chords beyond the equal temperament, and notate and play them
  • Discover how writing for voice has evolved in the last few decades and experiment with some techniques using your own voice
  • Acquire the main techniques of serial music and compose a serial piece
  • Compose and demonstrate the key techniques of process-based music, such as minimalism
  • Experiment with meter and rhythm, including metric modulation
  • Implement music quotations in your own music and explain postmodern music and aesthetics
  • Write a tonal piece informed by the most recent uses of tonality
  • Compose with "pure sounds" and use technology to create your first collage piece
  • Compose your first computer-assisted composition and learn about technology-based techniques developed by movements such as Spectralism and Musique Concrète using ad hoc software
  • Be capable of identifying several contemporary musical styles just by listening
  • Create a final piece of music that reflects your personal and unique take on the concepts covered in the course
Read Less
Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
Request Info


Lesson 1: Extended Techniques for Strings, Winds, and More

  • Writing for Strings: Expanding Harmonics
  • Harmonics in Ligeti 2nd String Quartet
  • More String Effects: Pizzicatos, Bow Techniques, Beyond the Fingerboard
  • Extended Techniques for Winds
  • Extended Techniques for Harp and Accordion

Lesson 2: Microtonality and Tunings

  • Temperaments, Tunings, and the Harmonic Series
  • First Explorations Beyond the 12 Notes
  • Microtonality in Practice
  • The Microtonal Pioneers: Ben Johnston;  La Monte Young; Harry Partch;
    John Luther Adams; Alois Haba, Charles Ives, Ezra Sims, Enno Poppe, Jon Catler
  • Writing Microtones for Strings, Winds, and Brass
  • Microtonality and Notation

Lesson 3: Writing for Voice

  • How Our Voice Works
  • Vocal Registers and Ranges: A Quick Review
  • Extended Techniques for Voice
  • Overview of Singing Techniques

Lesson 4: Serial Music

  • Historical Context: The Need for Something New
  • The Core Concepts of Serialism
  • Expanding the Row: Transposition and Canonic Transformations
  • Triad Extensions
  • Transformations and the Magic Square
  • Rhythmical Devices and Serial Counterpoint
  • Other Serialisms: Total Serialism and Beyond

Lesson 5: Process Music/Textures and Soundscapes

  • Definition of Texture
  • Monophonic  
  • Homophonic  
  • Heterophonic
  • Polyphonic
  • Basic Techniques of Process-Based Composition
  • Texture in the Twentieth Century: The Context
  • Composing with Texture/I: Morphing and Stratification
  • Micropolyphony

Lesson 6: Minimal Music

  • Historical Context
  • Key Techniques of Minimal Music
  • Further Developments
  • Post-Minimalism
  • Other Minimalists: Rzewski, Adams, Laurie Anderson (2.40 Glass)

Lesson 7: More Rhythmic Devices

  • Expanding Meter/I: Polymeter and Charles Ives
  • Expanding Meter/II: Metric Modulation and Elliott Carter
  • Expanding Meter/III: Metric Modulation in Practice
  • Other Uses in the Twentieth Century: Serial Rhythm, Accelerando/Rallentando Patterns
  • Rhythm and Meter/I: Polyrhythm
  • Rhythm and Meter/II: Hemiola
  • Rhythm and Meter/III: Polyrhythm and Non-Western influence

Lesson 8: Postmodernism, Musical Quotation, and Appropriation

  • What is Postmodern Music?
  • Quotations and Classical Music: a Never-Ending Idyll
  • Quotation in the Twentieth Century/I: The Early Years
  • Quotation in the Twentieth Century/II: After 194
  • Pushing to the Limit: Multiple Quotes and Humor
  • Quotation vs. Music Appropriation: Imitating Style

Lesson 9: New Tonality, New Spirituality

  • Looking at the Past
  • Hinting at Tonality
  • Tonality as Spirituality: Pärt, Tavener

Lesson 10: Spectralism

  • What is Spectralism?
  • The Precursors: Proto-Spectralists
  • The Spectral Composer at Work: Basic Techniques and Terminology
  • More Techniques and Terminology
  • Software Tools: Preparing for your Assignment

Lesson 11: The Early Pioneers of Electronic Music

  • Noise, Electricity, and Experimentalism: Electronic Music and Sonic Arts
  • The Early Electronic Instruments: Theremin and Ondes Martenot
  • The US: Minimalism and other Experimentalisms
  • Germany: Elektronische Musik
  • France: Pierre Schaeffer and Musique Concrète
  • Hands-On: The Key Techniques of Early Electronic Music

Lesson 12: Looking Ahead

  • Tape, Instruments, and Live Electronics
  • Composing with Live Electronics
  • Music and Multimedia
  • Music Installation
  • Beyond Spectralism and Minimalism: Saturiation Music and Totalism


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Contemporary Techniques in Music Composition 1 or equivalent knowledge or experience is required.


  • No textbooks required


  • Students are required to submit MP3 files based on their scores which can be produced using either notation software, recording live musicians, or MIDI sequencing in a DAW of their choice.


  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software, such as GarageBand (Mac), Mixcraft (PC), Cakewalk by BandLab (PC), etc.
  • Students are required to create notation and submit it in PDF format. Options include:
    • Notation software (recommended option), such as Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, MuseScore (free), etc.
    • Handwritten notation captured by a digital camera or a scanner can be used in lieu of notation software.


  • Students are required to capture their performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (required if multitracking and/or input monitoring)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need an XLR cable, microphone stand, and pop filter.
  • Scanner or digital camera to convert handwritten notation into PDF format

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Gabriele Vanoni

Author & Instructor

Gabriele Vanoni was born in Milan, Italy in 1980. He obtained two Bachelor’s degrees in Piano and Composition at Milan Conservatory, followed by a Ph.D. in Music Composition at Harvard University. His compositional interests range from acoustic music to live electronics. His works have been widely performed in Europe and the Americas, in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Biennale di Venezia, ManiFeste, Moscow Conservatory, June in Buffalo, IRCAM, NYU, BIT Teatergarasjen in Bergen, and Accademia Chigiana di Siena, among many others. Likewise, various soloists and ensembles have now been involved in performing his music, such as the Ensemble Intercontemporain, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Talea Ensemble, Moscow Studio for New Music Ensemble, Ensemble L’arsenale, Mario Caroli, Diotima Quartet, Les Cris de Paris, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, and many more. Gabriele was also awarded several prizes and mentions in local and international competitions. In addition to his activity as a composer, he served as the artistic director and founder of Suggestioni, a festival of Italian music in the United States. He also holds a degree in Business for the Arts, Culture and Communication from Bocconi University.

Read More

After two years in Paris attending Cursus 1 and 2 at IRCAM, he moved back to the United States where he is currently an Assistant Chair in the composition department at Berklee College of Music. His recent commissions include a piece for the 2015 Universal Exposition in Milan (Nutrire La Musica) and a new piece for accordion and string orchestra. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Contemporary Techniques in Music Composition 2 can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Major


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

Get Info