Blog Posts Composition & Orchestration Teaching Materials

Studying Art Song

Preparing to teach a unit on Copland’s Twelve Poems Of Emily Dickinson to a class of composers who will, in turn, compose the “thirteenth song” as a style-study exercise. Thanks to Robert Maggio for the genesis of this unit and for most of these ideas!

And, for a quick link, here are the complete poems of Emily Dickinson.

When studying these songs, be sure to consider…

What characteristics make the song “special” or “distinctive”

Accompaniment texture:

  • Types/approaches to composing for piano
  • Variety, pacing of changes, and relationship of changes to vocal phrases
  • Use of ornaments or effects
  • Registral span and use of middles or extremes
  • Connections (or lack thereof) between voice and piano
  • Harmony, voice-leading, use of seconds or dissonant tones
  • Chord voicings
  • Moments when there is piano but no voice


  • How syllabic accents align (or do not align) with meter; use of syncopation
  • Registral span and use of middles or extremes
  • Leaps vs. stepwise singing
  • Use of melisma
  • Moments when there is unaccompanied voice
  • Moments when melody resolves but piano does not
  • Repetition of text
  • If phrases begin on, before, or after downbeat (for good or ill effect)
  • If voice creates closure (or if that is left to piano)
  • Melodic phrasing and use of elision, extension, breath, silence, etc.

Text painting

Meter & changing phrase lengths

Modulations: abrupt? brief? smooth?