I'm a starting composer and I've been trying to write some pieces "in-the-style-of" to hone my craftsmanship. Today I tried to emulate Schumann's Op 94 first movement by looking at the melody/harmony/form and trying to come up with something similar. However, I find it quite hard to comprehend how Schumann wrote texture this complex and how did he make the harmony and counterpoint work this well? Do you think that when trying to write something like this, should I start with simpler texture and work from there, or should I think about the embellishments etc. as I go? The problem is that I'm having trouble making all the lines sound good

So my question really is that if somebody could suggest, step-by-step, how to study someone elses work for a composition exercise like this?

1 Answer 1


Start by copying more than emulating. For example, do a thorough chord analysis of a piece you want to emulate, come up with your own subjects/motives/themes that are the same length and character as the piece you are going to almost-copy, then develop your new material following the exact same chord progression as the original. Make your almost-copy the same number of measures, modulate in the same place, etc.

Exactly how many elements you copy are up to you, but merely changing the primary melodic material and copying everything else is one way to make a “new” work that sounds very much like an existing work.

This process is not meant to be artistically satisfying or original, merely to help you understand deeply the style of the composer you are copying.

You might also take a step back and emulate a more fundamental style before tackling something longer and more complicated. A Bach 2-part invention is a relatively simple type of piece to emulate and they generally aren’t very long. A minuet and trio is another fairly straightforward structure.

The important thing is to fully analyze and copy the chord progression and structure. One advantage of that level of copying is you will run into the same challenges as the original composer and you can often employ the same “fixes” to harmonic and melodic “problems”.

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