Creative Strategies for Composition Beyond Style


Authored by Eric Gould


Course Code: OCOMP-320

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

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 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music Theory 201 and Getting Inside Harmony 2 or Arranging and Producing Contemporary Music 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


  • 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.



  • Recommended: One (or both) of the following studio monitoring options:
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as an audio interface and necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.

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


Eric Gould

Author & Instructor

Eric Gould is the former chair of the Jazz Composition Department at Berklee. 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. 

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He has served as a consultant for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz National Curriculum Project, and 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

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Creative Strategies for Composition Beyond Style can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:


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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