Aleatoric/ Chance Music

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What is Aleatoric/Chance music?

Aleatoric/Chance music is music in which either composition or method of performance is determined by elements of chance or unpredictability. Music composed by the random selection of pitches and rhythms. Frequently found in some professional opera choruses.

The origins of Aleatoric/Chance music:

  • Originates from the Latin word "alea" which mean "dice".
  • Aleatoric/Chance music describes music where an element of the composition is left to chance.
  • Can also be when some primary element of a composed work's realization is left to the determination of its performer(s).
  • The term is most often associated with procedures in which the chance element involves a relatively limited number of possibilities.
  • In aleatory music, aspects such as the ordering of a piece's sections, its rhythms, and even its pitches are decided at the moment of performance.
  • When not purely improvising, players follow lists of arbitrary rules or interpreted "graphic" notation that merely suggest the sounds.

Charles Ives and Henry Cowell had used such techniques, but John Cage became the principal figure in aleatory; other aleatory composers include Earle Brown (1926 – 2002), Morton Feldman (1926 – 87), and Pierre Boulez.

  • John Cage is the 20th century conceptual artist who famously "composed" the piano piece titled 4' 33" (1952), which consists of the pianist(s) sitting at a piano and not playing for exactly four minutes and 33 seconds. He continued to experiment and push the boundaries music, and embarked on a career of what he called "an exploration of non-intention." Cage used found objects and ambient sound, experimented with magnetic tape editing and splicing and used a variety of composing methods to create compositions that were usually performed live instead of recorded.He became known outside the art world in the 1960s as an influence on pop art and rock music, and continued to lecture and compose until his death in 1992. Some consider Cage little more than a charlatan, but his idea that "everything we do is music" has undoubtedly influenced modern composers. Some of his other works include Imaginary Landscape #3 (1942), Variations I and II (1958) and Thirty Pieces for Five Orchestras (1981).

The features of Aleatoric/Chance music:


The term Aleatoric/Chance Music is simply used to describe works that gives the performer a certain amount of freedom with regard to the sequencing and repetition of particular parts throughout a piece of music. One feature of Chance Music is;

  • Musical Dice Games!

This was an early genre of composition during the 18th and 19th Century. It consisted of musical measurements. To define exactly how Chance Music evolved a simple game was created in the early 18th Century. This game was entitled Mozart's Musikalisches Würfelspiel. The idea behind this game was that Mozart wrote the measures and instructions for a musical composition. The rule being to cut and paste pre-written measures of music together to create a Minuet. Therefore once the piece was played through it sounded muddled up! which created the 'Random' effect of the pieces. The following link is to see exactly how Mozart's Dice Game works.

Why listen to Aleatoric/Chance music?

The reason that people would listen to this genre of music is because of it's randomness! Composing Aleatoric music means leaving some element of chance to determine the outcome. Therefore people like the idea of allowing the music to change after various sequences throughout a piece. A typical example of this can be found on ,YouTube. This video is entitled "La Ronde" and it greatly emphasises Chance Music. The piece takes the general form of a round where players imitate what comes immediately before, then change according to the rules of the piece after.

Many people can argue that this type of music is in fact classical and in one sense it does sound like it because of the instruments being used however Aleatoric music does not follow the same guidelines as that of classical music.


  • Classical Music would take on the form of the concerto, typically in three movements.
  • Chance music results in performances being different every time depending on the player as the

composition is left entirely to the performer although the composer does have significant control over the notation..

Composers & Examples:

  • The French composer Pierre Boulez [1] was largely popular for popularizing the term,using it to describe works that give the performer certain liberties with regard to the sequencing and repetition of parts.
  • Another French composer, Pierre Schaeffer[2]developed the term' jeu' (French for play) in reference to a technique of allowing random sounds to enter into a musical composition.
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen[3] composed Klavierstuck XI(1956), which features 19 elements to be performed in changing sequences.
  • Alfred Schnittke[4] composed First Symphony[5] which uses aleatoric techniques only one of a number of approaches to the 'chaos' of 20th century life.
  • Roman Haubenstock-Ramati[6]omposed a series of influential "mobiles" such as Interpolation (1958).
  • Andrew Ackers harp solo[[7]]is the final section of ten sections in a three movement contemporary classical (aleatoric) suite.


There were many websites that contributed to Aleatoric/Chance music:

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