What Next? Creating Music at Home >

In this activity you will have the chance to compose a duet for BCMG's NEXT musicians by creating a graphic score. Send your graphic score to us, and the NEXT musicians will perform a selection of your music in an online concert on Tuesday 22 July.

Activity Panel

1. Introduction

Special activity:

This week we have special activity for you! You are invited to compose music for musicians from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's NEXT programme. Your task is to compose music for two of them - a duet

NEXT group

NEXT is a training programme that BCMG runs with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire for music students and professional musicians looking for a career as performers of contemporary music.

As this activity is bigger than other ones in this series, we have broken it down into a series of pages, which you can navigate through on the blue band above. There are five pages as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Meet the musicians: short videos in which the three of the NEXT musicians introduce themselves and their instrument, give a little demonstration and share some musical ideas.
  3. Graphic scores: what is a graphic score? And what to think about when making one.
  4. Conversations: thinking about composing a duet where the musicians have a conversation.
  5. Accompaniments: thinking about composing a duet when one musicians accompanies the other. 

Your task is to use the ideas you find on these pages to create your own graphic score for two musicians


Take a listen:

At about 5 minutes into the video below, you will hear Maja (violin) and Rebecca (flute), two of our NEXT musicians, playing a Duet No.4 by composer Harrison Birtwistle. Listen carefully:

  • Who starts?
  • Who has the main idea and who is accompanying? Does this stay the same?
  • How can you tell which is the main idea and which is the accompaniment?
  • Who is leading, who is following?
  • If you drew what they were playing what would your lines and shapes look like?
  • When are they doing similar ideas and when are they doing different ideas?

Register to have your music played:

If you would like our NEXT musicians - Maja, Raddon or Raymond to play your music, please register by sending us an email HERE by Tuesday 30 June (so we know how many to expect). Then, send us your graphic score by Tuesday 7 July. You can also tell us which two instruments/musicians you would prefer to compose for. We will try to make sure they are the ones playing your piece but can't guarantee this as we want all our NEXT musician to have a go! 

You can now watch our What NEXT? Performance HERE.

For a PRINTABLE version of the resource CLICK HERE

2. Meet the Musicians

You will have the opportunity to compose for two out of three musicians. Maja Pluta (Violin), Raddon Stephenson (trombone) and Raymond Brien (Clarinet). Each of them will introduce themselves and their instrument then share 6 ideas:

  1. A slow melody
  2. A fast melody
  3. A long note drone. This might have trills, flutter tongue, tremolo or changes in dynamics.
  4. A rhythmic ostinato - an ostinato is a repeating pattern or musical idea
  5. An interesting sound or musical idea that their particular instrument does well
  6. A second interesting sound or musical idea

As you listen to the videos, you might want to draw the shapes of the sounds that you hear. You could use these when you compose your duet.

Maja Pluta - Violin

Raddon Stephen - Trombone

Raymond Brien - Clarinet

3. Graphic Scores

You are going to create a graphic score for your duet. A graphic score uses shapesimageslines and words to tell musicians what you want them to play instead of traditional music notation. Google graphic scores to see lovely examples. 

It is really important to IMAGINE your SOUNDS first, and then think what shape or line it might be, not just draw any old shapes and lines

When you draw your graphic score, there is lots to think about. First of all you need to know that the musicians will be reading from left to right, like reading a book. This means your lines can't go backwards like in a loop.

You also need to think about:

PITCH (how HIGH or LOW a note is): move from bottom to top or top to bottom of the paper to show how high or low you want a note/pitch to be. 

high low

DURATION (how LONG or SHORT a sound is): makes lines and shapes longer or shorter to show how long or short you want a sound to be. 

long short

DYNAMICS (how LOUD or QUIET a sound is): make lines and shapes thicker or thinner to show how loud or quiet you want a sound to be.

loud quiet getting louder getting quieter

CHARACTER: change or decorate your line or shape to show the character of your sounds and melodies.



4. Conversations

One way you can think about your duet is as a conversation between the two musicians. Maybe you could imagine that each of the musicians has a particular character?? 

In a conversation, one person starts (in green) and the other replies (in purple). When they reply they could answer with:

The same shape/line:

conversation 1

The same shape/line with something added to the beginning, middle or end.

conversation 2

The same shape/line but at a different pitch or dynamic:

conversation 3

All or a bit of the idea broken up, backwards, upside down etc.

conversation 4

Something completely different!

conversation 5

And sometimes they are rudely interrupted!

conversation 6

Make sure it is clear which bit is for which musician. You could divide the page in two horizontally or you could use different colour for each musician as I have done here.

5. Accompaniments

Another way for two musicians to play together in a duet is for one musician to have a main idea and for the other to accompany them with a simpler idea.  This second idea might complement, decorate, interrupt or give a particular character or mood to the main idea. Accompaniments could include:

drone (long note): this might change dynamics (how loud or quiet) or how it is played (trill, tremolo, flutter tongue).

accompaniment 1

An ostinato (repeating pattern) underneath: this could stop and start and could also be melodic as well as rhythmic

accompaniment 2

counter-melody or second idea

accompaniment 3


accompaniment 4

Complementing and decorating:

accompaniment 5

Remember, you can swap as many times as you like which musician has the main idea.

Again, make sure it is clear which bit is for which musician. You could divide the page in two horizontally or you could use different colour for each musician. I have done both here.