Contemporary Techniques in Music Composition 2


Authored by Gabriele Vanoni


Course Code: OCOMP-385

Next semester starts June 28

Level 3

Level 3

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.

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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
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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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
  • Writing Microtones for Strings, Winds, and Brass
  • Microtonality and Notation

Lesson 3: Writing for Voice

  • Authoring Introduction
  • Extended Techniques for Voice
  • Overview of Singing Techniques

Lesson 4: Serial Music

  • Historical Context
  • Triad Extensions
  • How Serial Music Works
  • Integral Serialism

Lesson 5: Process Music/Textures and Soundscapes

  • Definition of Texture
  • Basic Techniques of Process-Based Composition
  • Texture and Extended Techniques
  • Texture and Notation

Lesson 6: Harmonic Movement

  • Historical Context
  • Key Techniques of Minimal Music
  • Further Developments
  • Post-Minimalism

Lesson 7: Beyond Modernism: Later Developments on Rhythm

  • Expanding Rhythm Devices
  • Loops, Patterns and Non-Western Influences
  • Metric Modulation

Lesson 8: Rehashing the Past: Post-Modernism

  • Quotations and Transcription
  • Polystylism and Humor
  • Absorbing New Genres
  • Found Objects

Lesson 9: New Tonality

  • Tonal Music in the Twenty-First Century
  • Reinventing Tradition
  • New Simplicity and New Spirituality
  • Recovering Immediacy and Capacity of Communicating a Message

Lesson 10: Cut and Paste: the Early Pioneers

  • Musique Concrète
  • Minimalism and Technology
  • Music Synthesis
  • Combining Tape and Instruments

Lesson 11: Spectralism

  • Giving Priority to Sound
  • Redefining the Vocabulary
  • Basic Spectral Techniques
  • Beyond Spectralism

Lesson 12: Other Extended Techniques

  • Composing with Live Electronics
  • Real-Time Sound Processing
  • Music and Multimedia
  • Latest Trends


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of Contemporary Techniques in Music Composition 1 or equivalent knowledge or experience is required.

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Software Requirements

  • A Digital Audio Workstation  (Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Logic, GarageBand, etc.) will be used for one or two lessons. If students have no access to such software, they can obtain a free copy of Audacity online.
  • Notation software (although hand-written notation is acceptable)

Hardware Requirements

  • Scanner (if using hand written notation)

After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact for any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in live chats. 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 (available in the course when joining your first chat)
  • 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.

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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 these associated programs:

Associated Degree Majors


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

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