musical theatre composition
And now, some advice!
compose for the areas you listen to most
In my syllabus, there were options of several different genres to write for. But as I'm more likely to be plugged into Les Mis and Louis Armstrong than Moby or Mozart, musical theatre and jazz are what were easiest for me to write.
You pick up a feel for the genre and its typical chord progressions by listening to it, which will make it a lot easier to write for. You can even borrow little melodic ideas, which leads me to...
feel free to be heavily inspired by others
In my musical theatre piece, you can hear the
blatant plagiarism nods to other musicals. Staccato chords borrowed from "The Wizard and I". An excited feel reminiscent of "Something's Coming" and "For the First time in Forever". Singing animals, a la Snow White. And a catchy chorus essentially copy-pasted from the "something incredible" section of Book of Mormon's "Two by Two". I'm not endorsing stealing from other songs, but a pinch here and there can prompt you to write more of your own.
know your syllabus, and box-tick
The boring part; if your syllabus wants dynamic variety, or stylistic instrument choices, or a contrasting minor key section, or a sexy bass solo, deliver it. Your fab piece might be hindered by not doing what your syllabus wants. But a pretty much universally-appreciated thing is to...
They show that you're a versatile writer. Here are some ideas:
a key change, instrument solo, quiet section, tempo change, introduction of a new melodic theme, shift in tonality, syncopation or straight rhythms, new subject for lyrics, section without drum beat, staccato or legato section, change in time signature.
for jazz, use your juicy chords
I'm talking those 9ths, 13ths, 7ths. Throw them into chords, it adds interest.
don't get too precious about lyrics or song titles
I found out very last-minute that my song needed lyrics, so I was stressing myself over it. (I mean, it includes the gem "look at the woodland birds/ harmonizing in thirds". Really.) But from my eventual good result, and the fact that another A* entry in our class was given the last-minute title of "chocolate chip sundae with sprinkles and cherry sauce", I can assume that this doesn't really matter too much.
get your teacher to check frequently
So important! Teachers, or even friends, can pick up on little crap notes or areas for improvement that you wouldn't have noticed. If you're lucky, your teacher might even re-write little sections of your piece as that deadline approaches! So it's always worth giving them a shout to make sure you get the mark you deserve.
I hope this (long) post was useful to you. Do feel free to holler in the comments and give me a follow if I helped you out in any way, it would make me very happy indeed to know.
Best of luck, musicians!