Creative Strategies for Composition Beyond Style


Authored by Eric Gould


Course Code: OCOMP-320

Now Enrolling for Sept 30 Term Start

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


One of the most important things that effective composers learn over time is how their own creative process works. Creative Strategies for Composition Beyond Style teaches you how to develop upon virtually any kernel of an idea, from a melodic fragment to a catchy rhythm or phrase or a nice chord. And, ultimately, it will provide you with a much greater level of comfort in undertaking new creative projects. Each new lesson explores an approach to composing and how it works, complete with examples, composer perspectives, and more.

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This music composition course spotlights a very diverse pool of creative artists, from James Brown to Johannes Brahms, Sting to Herbie Hancock, and from Bach to Beyonce. You will complete exercises that result in short work samples that reinforce the processes you are learning—exercises that are not driven by stylistic constraints or specific harmonies, but by sets of parameters intended to guide the creative process. Upon completion of this course, you will have learned the tools and methods necessary in helping to harness your creativity.

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

  • Generate templates for sketching out ideas
  • Practice options and strategies for composition beginning with a bass progression
  • Use rhythmic patterns to help generate musical ideas
  • Evaluate options for harmonizing music or creating a harmonic progression
  • Employ methods for expanding harmonic progressions
  • Identify strategies for creating effective transitions within a piece
  • Make aesthetic and practical choices about instrumentation
  • Apply self-evaluation of work and process
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Lesson 1: Basic Course Premises/Establishing a Baseline

  • The “Comfort Zone” with Respect to Composition
  • Self-Evaluation through Introspection
  • Challenges of the Compositional Process
  • Generating Work Samples for Evaluation

Lesson 2: Overview of the Compositional Process

  • Basic Elements of the Compositional Process
  • Parallels to the Compositional Process
  • Global Decision-Making as Related to Composition
  • The Basics of Compositional Strategy

Lesson 3: Project Decisions and Templates for Sketching

  • The Decision-Making Process for Developing a Specific Project
  • Templates for Sketching Out Ideas
  • How to Apply Methods to a Template

Lesson 4: Composing “From the Bottom Up”

  • The Importance of Mastering Starting Points
  • Options and Strategies for Composition Beginning with a Bass Progression
  • Implications of a Bass Line Melody
  • Harmonic Options Presented by Bass Progressions

Lesson 5: Composing “From the Top Down”

  • Options for Creating Work Beginning with a Melody
  • Implications of a Melody
  • Harmonic Options Presented by a Melody

Lesson 6: Using Rhythm as a Source

  • Using Rhythmic Patterns to Help Generate Musical Ideas
  • Polyrhythm and Its Implications
  • The Relationship between Rhythm and Style

Lesson 7: Creating and Expanding Harmonic Progressions

  • Global Principles of Harmonic Motion as Applied to Composition
  • Options for Harmonizing Music or Creating a Harmonic Progression
  • Options for Expanding Harmonic Progressions

Lesson 8: Developing Melodic Materials From a Harmonic Progression

  • Options for Developing Melodic Materials Based on an Existing Harmonic Progression
  • Expanding Upon Strategies for Melodic Development

Lesson 9: Conceiving Form

  • Basic Elements of Form
  • The Relationship Between Sections of Music
  • The Formal Road Map: Conceiving of Formal Structures
  • Begin Planning an Expanded Formal Structure for the Final Project

Lesson 10: Transition

  • Transition as it Applies to Composition and Form
  • Musical Problems that Create the Need for Transition
  • Strategies for Creating Effective Transitions within a Piece

Lesson 11: Orchestration and Arranging

  • Making Aesthetic and Practical Choices About Instrumentation
  • How Choice of Instrumentation Affects the Musical Possibilities
  • Basic Principles of Score Setup

Lesson 12: Final Project

  • Articulation of Processes Used
  • Sharing Insights
  • Self-Evaluation of Work and Process


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of Music Theory 201 and Getting Inside Harmony 2 or Arranging: Contemporary Styles and Music Theory and Composition 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

You should have:

  • basic keyboard or guitar skills
  • fundamental working knowledge of harmony and chord/scale relationships, including an understanding of seventh chords, tensions, and associated scales

You should be able to:

  • harmonize and write a melody over a set of harmonies
  • construct harmonies for a given bass progression
  • use notation software to generate PDF files 
  • use audio recording/editing software to generate MP3 files

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Software Requirements

  • Audio-editing software for generating MP3 files (Audacity, GarageBand, etc.)
  • Notation software that is capable of generating PDF files (MuseScore, Finale NotePad, etc.)

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



Author & Instructor

Eric Gould is the chair of the Jazz Composition department at Berklee College of Music. He has taught at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the College of Wooster, and has conducted numerous workshops, residencies, and classes, in addition to private instruction, festival organization, and arts management consultation. He has performed and recorded in collaboration with world-renowned instrumentalists such as Jimmy Heath, Ron Carter, James Newton, Bobby Watson, Antonio Hart, Winard Harper, Cindy Blackman, and Terri Lynne Carrington, in addition to leading his own trio. His debut CD, On the Real, rose to number 11 on the national jazz radio charts in 1999.

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Eric has composed music for various ensembles. “Bohemia After Dark,” his concert of arrangements of the music of Oscar Pettiford, premiered at Tribeca Performing Arts Center in Manhattan in 2006 and featured legendary Ron Carter along with an all-star octet. “Diaspora of the Drum,” his 30-minute work for chamber orchestra, jazz ensemble, and tap dancer, premiered in April 2008 with Savion Glover and the Grammy-award-winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony at Playhouse Square. The Canton Symphony Commissioned his work for orchestra entitled “An American City” through the National Endowment for the Arts on the occasion of the bicentennial of Canton, Ohio, in 2005. “Dameron’s Dance: A Tribute to Tadd Dameron,” a concert of octet arrangements of the music of Tadd Dameron, premiered at Tri-C JazzFest in 2004 and featured the legendary NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath. The Cleveland Chamber Symphony premiered his piece “Midnight Excursion” in 2003.

In 2000, Eric served as a consultant for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz National Curriculum Project. He has served as an advisory panelist for the National Jazz Service Organization, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Cleveland Music School Settlement. He holds a Master of Music degree in Composition from Cleveland State University, where he studied with Edwin London, Rudolph Bubalo, P.Q. Phan, and Andrew Rindfleisch. Read Less



Described as “elegant, beautiful, sophisticated, intense, and crystal clear in emotional intent,” the music of Omar Thomas continues to move listeners everywhere it is performed. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1984 to Guyanese parents, Omar moved to Boston in 2006 to pursue a Master of Music in Jazz Composition at the New England Conservatory of Music. He is the protégé of lauded composers and educators Ken Schaphorst and Frank Carlberg, and has studied under multiple Grammy-winning composer and bandleader Maria Schneider.

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Hailed by Herbie Hancock as showing “great promise as a new voice in the further development of jazz in the future,” educator, arranger, and award-winning composer Omar Thomas has created music extensively in the contemporary jazz ensemble idiom.

He was appointed to the position of Assistant Professor of Harmony at the world renowned Berklee College of Music at the surprisingly young age of 23. Omar was nominated for the Distinguished Faculty Award after only three years at the college, and has twice been awarded the Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from Harvard University, where he serves as a Teaching Fellow. He has been awarded the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award in 2008, and was invited by the ASCAP Association to perform his music in their highly exclusive JaZzCap Showcase, held in New York City. In 2012, Omar was awarded the Boston Music Award’s “Jazz Artist of the Year.”

Omar’s music has been performed in concert halls across the country. He has been commissioned to create works in both jazz and classical styles. His work has been performed by such diverse groups as the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble, the University of Georgia Graduate Tuba Ensemble, the 500-member James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, to name a few. Omar has had a number of celebrated singers perform over his arrangements, including Stephanie Mills, Yolanda Adams, Nona Hendryx, BeBe Winans, Kenny Lattimore, Marsha Ambrosius, Sheila E., Leela James, Dionne Warwick, and Chaka Khan. His work is featured on Dianne Reeves’s Grammy Award-winning album, “Beautiful Life.”

Comprised of the best of the best of Boston’s up-and-coming young jazz musicians, the 18-piece Omar Thomas Large Ensemble was formed in 2008. The group’s first album, “I Am,” debuted at #1 on the iTunes Jazz Charts and peaked at #13 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Albums Chart. Their second release, “We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece In Four Movements,” has been hailed by Grammy Award-winning drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington as being a “thought provoking, multilayered masterpiece” which has “put him in the esteemed category of great artists.” Says Terri Lyne: “Omar Thomas will prove to be one of the more important composer/arrangers of his time.” Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Creative Strategies for Composition Beyond Style 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

We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.