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How Not to Make a Song.

It is strange how the uninitiated view music: To some a song is just simply a tune, a succession of tones arranged in an inoffensive manner, conveying no par­ticular thought, and therefore pliable enough to be twisted into companionship with any set of words, regardless of the sentiment expressed by them, the only requisite being that the number of syllables shall not exceed the number of notes employed, or vice versâ, waiving both accent and rhythm.

A young man, a very young man, once came to my studio with what might be called a finger edition of a song he had concocted—composed, was the word he used. When asked for his manuscript, he said he had none; that was exactly why he had called; he wanted one, and desired me to make it for him. He also wanted my opinion of the song. He produced a copy of the words and declared he would play the song on the piano.

He played by ear, he said. He composed by ear, too, although he seemed to overlook that fact.

The song began in D-flat. The right hand had charge of the melody, but evidently the fingering had no charge, judging from its ludicrous gymnastic struggling. The left hand undertook the task of ac­companist, and performed many a digital misde­meanor. When he had finished I inquired:

“Is that the end?”

“Why, yes,” looking at me with misgivings as to my ability. He evidently thought any musician ought to know an end when he hears it.

“0, I thought you might perhaps return to the key.”

“What key?”

“D-flat, the key of your song.”

“That’s so; I end on E-flat, don’t I?”

“You don’t really end on E-flat; you stop on it.”

He looked puzzled.

“Do you know what a cadence is?”


“Get———- ‘Harmony’ and look it up. Did you ever hear of consecutive octaves and fifths?”


“Dominant seventh chord, perhaps? Sixth chords? Six-four chords? Diatonic chords, chromatic chords, or part-writing? Well, they and many more can be found in _____’s work on ‘Harmony.’ It is necessary

to know languages before one can write in them, and the subject music furnishes a peculiarly similar paral­lel. You asked me to be frank with you, and I will.

“That which you have just played is not a com­position. It is a perpetration. Various themes from various composers are, with faulty progressions, intermangled in your song. When quoting others one should at least be accurate.

“My advice to you is: ‘Don’t do it again. Don’t compose by ear. Don’t let anyone hear this work of yours, and, if you want to attempt composition, do study.’”—Alfred H. Hausrath.

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You are reading How Not to Make a Song. from the December, 1901 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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