Credit points


Campus offering

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MUSC268 Song Writing and Arranging OR MUSC269 Contemporary Harmony

Unit rationale, description and aim

Musicians working as teachers, performers or content creators in the creative industries require the ability to compose music as they are regularly called on to create, adapt and interpret music in a diverse range of styles and genres. In this unit students explore and apply a range of contemporary compositional techniques applicable to diverse musical styles and contexts including contemporary art and popular music, commercial music (including film, television and advertising) and educational music. The aim of this unit is to support students as they develop a folio of original compositions that simulate the activities of professional musicians.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Utilise contemporary compositional techniques drawn from diverse styles and genres of music (GA4, GA5, GA8)

LO2 - Construct idiomatic musical material via the use of music notation and digital resources (GA3, GA5, GA6, GA10)

LO3 - Compose and contextualise original compositions in a range of formats such as notated scores, digital recordings, and live performance in response to a brief or commission (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA10)

Graduate attributes

GA3 - Apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - Think critically and reflectively

GA5 - Demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession

GA6 - Solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - Locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information

GA10 - Utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively


Topics will include:

  • An examination of diverse musical styles, genres and contexts including contemporary art and popular music, commercial music (including film, television and advertising) and educational music.
  • Contemporary compositional techniques connected to form and structure, horizontal and vertical pitch determination, tonal and atonal harmony, diverse rhythmic devices, minimalism, extended techniques, textural composition and musical affect.
  • A study of idiomatic writing for a range of instrumental and vocal resources with the aim of understanding how to write for performers of differing skill levels.
  • A consideration of the cultural, legal, ethical and industry frameworks in which composers operate in contemporary Australian society including the practical and ethical issues associated with collaborations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musics/musicians.
  • An awareness of the interaction between theory and practice in contemporary Australian music composition.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Students encounter musical techniques in a sequential and developmental manner in regular online lecture vignettes. These techniques are discussed and explored in the context of workshop classes that see students listen to and analyse music, experiment with different modes of music making and deepen their knowledge of the ways music is composed. Students participate in the construction of the repertoire used to examine the ideas considered in this unit. The philosophy underpinning the unit is one that posits music composition as a craft accessible to any musician. As such, the learning outcomes of the unit are designed to allow students to focus their efforts on the type of compositional activity tied to their specific aspirations as a musician.

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with university assessment requirements. Such procedures include short formative exercises in music analysis and music composition, and the composition of a folio of works to creatively apply concepts covered in the unit. Students explore compositional techniques in short, low-weighted exercises. The skills developed in these exercises are applied in longer compositions that ultimately form a folio of original compositions. The first of these compositions is submitted as a sketch. This compositional sketch receives feedback designed to shape the development of the piece and provide students with further opportunities to develop skills. Students are encouraged to produce authentic work that conforms to the professional expectations of the music industry.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Short exercises in analysis and composition


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8

Developed compositional sketch


LO1, LO2

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8

Folio of three developed compositions



GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA10

Representative texts and references

Adler, Samuel. The Study of Orchestration. Fourth ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2016.

Auner, Joseph. Music in the Twentieth And Twenty-First Centuries. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Carl, Robert. Music Composition in the 21st Century: A Practical Guide for the New Common Practice. New York: Bloomsbury, 2020.

Dave Collins. The Act of Musical Composition. SEMPRE Studies in The Psychology of Music. London: Taylor and Francis, 2016.

Greene, Liz., and Danijela. Kulezic-Wilson. The Palgrave Handbook of Sound Design and Music in Screen Media Integrated Soundtracks. 1st Ed. 2016. ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK : Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Phillips, Winifred. A Composer's Guide to Game Music. The MIT Press. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014.

Raines, Robert. Composition in the Digital World: Conversations with 21st-century American Composers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Smoira-Cohn, Michal., and Herzl Shmueli. The Mission and Message of Music Building Blocks to the Aesthetics of Music in Our Time. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Pub., 2010.

Wikström, Patrik. The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud. London: John Wiley and Sons, 2019. 

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