How to Write a Musical Round

Writing a successful musical round requires an understanding of harmony and music theory. When all of the parts come together at the right time, the individual parts of the melody combine to create a musical round. Composers have used this technique for simple nursery rhymes and complex orchestrations, such as the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s first symphony. He uses the nursery rhyme “Are You Sleeping” in creative and ingenious ways in the orchestra. Children often sing simple songs such as "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in which each child will be assigned a group and start the melody at different times to create a round.

Write a chord progression on a piece of staff paper, using half-notes that last for two bars and end on a whole note. Start on the tonic (or dominant) chord, so that if the composition’s key emphasizes C major, you will have a C major chord on the first beat. The remaining chords should use common tones to create a smooth progression from each chord. Common tones ensure stepwise motion, making it possible to construct a smooth transition between notes.

Use a new sheet of staff paper to start writing a melody. Using the chord progression created in Step 1, write a melody that uses stepwise motion and stems from the notes in the chord progression. For instance, if you have a C major chord and an E minor chord, use the C from the first chord and the B from the second chord to create a step-wise melody. Write only the first two measures of the melody.

Create the next two measures of the melody by using the third of the chord progression created from Step 1. Again, ensure that the notes move with stepwise motion.

Construct the last part of the melody by using the bass notes from the chord progression created in Step 1. This part of the melody does not have to be stepwise. At this point, you will have a complete melody that lasts for six measures.

Insert passing tones on nonessential weak beats in the second and third or first and fourth measure of the melody. By using these measures to introduce the passing tones, you will avoid creating dissonance with other notes in the melody. In a 4/4 time signature, the weak beats fall on the second and fourth beat.

Play the melody in a round fashion by starting the melody by itself first. Then, start the melody in a second part at the beginning of the third measure. Finally, start the third instance of the melody on the fifth melody. By doing this, the melodies will combine to create a round.

Allow the musicians to repeat their melody for a predesignated length of time. After that, have each player stop playing at the end of his melody for a gradual fade-out.


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