Composing Music Part 3 – Rounds, descants, polyphony

Project 9 – Descants

Going as far back as the 12th century vocal improvisations known as descants were added over an existing tune sung by another singer. Composing a variation over a well known tune is a successful technical resource for a composer and a step towards creating independent melodic lines that can be heard together in a complimentary manner.

The descant should be have some rhythmic independence from the chosen tune, so it can be heard clearly but it must not be overpowering over the tune that it is intended to enhance.

It is effective to allow the descant to. move when the chosen tune is less rhythmically active (and vice versa) and take some opportunities to move in an opposite direction to the tune

Two well known Descants above a melody that are well known in school are “Morning has Broken” and Happy Birthday


In this exercise we are asked to devise an intersting descant for three out of five given tunes. Here are my three choices. I have included the originals we are asked to work on and how they sound and then will follow these with the versions that have my own descant over the top.

Descant versions of the chosen pieces