timbre-based composition, guitar composition, non-guitarist composers, notation, mapping, physical mapping, analogical mapping, organizational mapping


Composing for the guitar can be intimidating for non-guitarists, but their fresh perspectives can uncover new ways of thinking about music for the instrument. This paper discusses timbre-based composition, an approach to writing for guitar that may be more intuitive for non-guitarist composers than traditional polyphonic composition. The rich palette of timbres available on the guitar, including pitched and nonpitched sounds, is conceived as primary compositional material. Issues of notation and mapping are addressed, focusing on three categories of mappings: (i) physical mapping from notational symbols onto physical objects, such as parts of the guitar; (ii) analogical mapping from notational symbols onto models from other domains, such as vowels; and (iii) organizational mapping from notation onto musical structures, especially nonlinear structures. The paper argues that notation should not be viewed as a closed system within which the composer is bound to work, but as an open system over which the composer has a certain amount of creative control, which may be modified freely to reflect the particular problems and solutions of a given project.


For video and audio of much of the music discussed in this article, please visit:


Noble-Cowan-bibliography.pdf (435 kB)



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