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Composition Lessons with Aniolel


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Extended Techniques

Extended techniques has implemented since at least the 1800’s, but has really grown in popularity in the 1900’s, especially with the likes of Varese, Xenakis, and John Cage. In Varese’s landmark piece Density 21.5, he includes, for the first time, key clicks in the flute. Similarly, John Cage experimented on the piano attempting to make it sound like a percussion ensemble. Because of this, the prepared piano technique was born.

Extended Techniques can be anything from tapping on the piano to playing on the tailpiece of a violin; it is really up to your imagination and what interesting noises you can create with the different instruments. Every instrument has its own unique extended techniques. In the following examples, you’ll be able to ear some of them.

In density 21.5, linked above, listen for the key clicks near the middle of the piece. Notice that they are very soft and don't carry very well. When writing extended techniques you need to understand how the sound will work: How long it takes the sound to decay, how loud it will be, will the players really want to use it, how does it relate to anything in my piece?

While extended techniques can be great sound effects, if used correctly, they can become just as important to the piece as the main melody. If used incorrectly a listener won't understand why it is used and it will make the piece worse. Consider these questions when listening to the following works.


In this work by Penderecki, the whole orchestra piece consists of extended techniques. How does this make the piece successful? How does he create form by just using extended techniques?


How about this composition by Rzewski? How come the use of extended techniques is successful? What kind of sound world is he trying to create? How does it add value to the overall composition?


Write a 32 measure solo work that includes at least 2 extended techniques. You must make sure that they have a purpose in the piece, they need to make sense in the entire scope of the composition. Good luck.

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