Benjamin Williams


Rushing, Michael and Williams, Benjamin. ”Structural Composition in the Beginning Piano Lesson: A Schenkerian Approach.” CMS Great Lakes Regional Conference. North Dakota State University, Fargo (2014).

Abstract: Piano teachers often include a creative component in their lesson plans that reinforce primary concepts being studied. These activities are often loosely structured and not crafted in the manner of a refined composition. This presentation will demonstrate a method of teaching structural composition in the piano lesson using as its basis Schenkerian analysis.

Schenker found that much of the music from the common practice period has the same basic “core”. Melodies, despite their incredible variety, generally descend through a scale to the tonic. The harmonic progressions primarily emphasize tonic, subdominant and dominant. This basic model, or “skeleton,” serves as the starting point for our compositional exercises.

Using this method, the teacher introduces a “skeleton” that consists of a descending melody harmonized with primary chords. This structure is then elaborated using rhythmic and melodic motives. This “skeleton&rdquod; is essentially a Schenkerian background structure, upon which an incredible variety of layers of musical expression may be added.

The presenters will give a brief overview of Schenkerian analysis and show video clips of this method in practice with beginning- and intermediate-level piano students. Students and teachers both benefit from this approach: 1) students create musically satisfying compositions; and 2) teachers are provided a means of showing immediate relationships between student-created music and the repertoire of their lessons, allowing for reinforcement of concepts in an authentic, musical context.

Williams, Benjamin. Music Composition Pedagogy: A History, Philosophy and Guide dissertation, The Ohio State University (2010).

Abstract: Music composition pedagogy is a complex field that seems to defy codification. The idea of the composer as a creative 'genius' that arose during the eighteenth and nineteenth century changed the field forever. This study aims to understand the historical divide between Music Composition and Music Theory and its pedagogical implications.

Part I of this document is a history of music composition pedagogy that begins with the earliest mappings of musical knowledge as provided by Greek philosophy and continues to the present. Methods and modes of instruction are examined from a cognitive perspective to discern their effect on learning. Ultimately, the technical exercises that developed over time for the teaching of music composition were relegated to the domain of Music Theory apart from the creative field of Composition.

Part II of this document includes a philosophy of music composition pedagogy together with a guide for practical application. Recommendations for change are made both for the teaching of Music Theory and Composition. Educational perspectives inform an examination of previous practices and provide guidance for informed pedagogical decisions.

Tomasacci, David and Benjamin Williams. "Distinguishing Predominant and Subdominant Behavior in Functional Analysis." Confounding Expectations—Inspiring Minds. University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta (2010).

Abstract: The prevailing approach in undergraduate theory texts to harmonic analysis of common-practice tonaility is to refer to the harmonic window preceding the dominant as predominant. Subdominant is typically introduced as the name of scale-degree four or the diatonic triad with scale-degree four as its root. However, this terminological approach fails to address situations in which harmonies (e.g., IV, iv, ii, ii, Neapolitan, Augmented 6th chords, c.t. diminished-sevenths, lowered-VI, etc.) normally found in predominant windows or tonic prolongation (as in the phrase model T-PD-D-T) in Classical and early-Romantic music are used in the late-Romantic as structural harmonies part of a T-S-T phrase model on multiple levels.

This paper will advance a methodology for distinguishing between predominant and subdominant harmonic behaviour in functional analysis, focusing on the efficacy of this distinction in music of the late-Romantic era by drawing on examples from literature as early as the Baroque to as late as the Barbershop tradition of the twentieth century. By examining and synthesizing the works of Rameau, Riemann, Harrison, Stein, Lester and Proctor as well as incorporating Miller's recent clarification of the various aspects of the term function (quality, kinship, province, identity and behaviour) this paper will advance a refined model for subdominant functional behaviour. Furthermore, the paper will cite several examples in which this paradigm is a more appropriate analytical approach.

While these issues may have been addressed variously in the extant body of research, they have not been conceptualized in a way appropriate to undergraduate theory textbooks. As a result, there exists a terminological void for addressing the distinctions between 1) dominant preparation (predominant); 2) tonic prolongation via subdominant motion (tonic); and 3) structural subdominants in a T-S-T phrase-modael (subdominant). For pedagogical purposes, the distinction between predominant and subdominant functional behaviours makes available a finer degree of specificity when discussing the range of possible harmonic behaviours across multiple eras and can ultimately serve as a framework for differentiating between Classical and late-Romantic harmonic practice.

Plazak, Joseph, David Huron and Benjamin Williams. "Fixed Average Spectra of Orchestral Instrument Tones." Empirical Musicology Review 5.1 (2010).

Abstract: The fixed spectrum for an average orchestral instrument tone is presented based on spectral data from the Sandell Harmonic Archive (SHARC). This database contains non-time-variant spectral analyses for 1,338 recorded instrument tones from 23 Western instruments ranging from contrabassoon to piccolo. From these spectral analyses, a grand average was calculated, providing what might be considered an average non-time-variant harmonic spectrum. Each of these tones represents the average of all instruments in the SHARC database capable of producing that pitch. These latter tones better represent common spectral changes with respect to pitch register, and might be regarded as an "average instrument." Although several caveats apply, an average harmonic tone or instrument may prove useful in analytic and modeling studies. In addition, for perceptual experiments in which non-time-variant stimuli are needed, an average harmonic spectrum may prove to be more ecologically appropriate than common technical waveforms, such as sine tones or pulse trains. Synthesized average tones are available via the web.