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Let Students Fly Faster In Composition, Get Out Of Their Way

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There is not a day that goes by that I either I get over twitter/plurk teachers looking for royalty-free music or if I have any original music for others to use.  Since I teach fourth through eighth grade music and all my students create and compose I am a bit perplexed. My students compose so much material I can barely get it posted!

Now, first, of course I have GarageBand with its wonderful loops and simple interface. Students can easily drop and drag in the loops or create their own. Students quickly understand how to layer and create moods. As they progress through the composition process, they begin to score movies and eventually use standard notation with Sibelius. Yes, every student, regardless of his or her music background composes, from the non-musician to the “seven  years of piano” student.

So, how do I teach composition? Do I show them the simple form of ABA or chord structures? I DO NOT. I let them fly through their compositions, I let them make mistakes and let them create. Basically, I get out of their way and let them compose. We learn a lot through mistakes and let the ear take over. As the students compose more and more, I find they put “too much” into their compositions, so we delete! When I get a page of all quarter notes, I quickly ask the student to pick a number one to four, if they select three, then every third beat in all the measures are deleted. In GarageBand, I have them delete loops and leave a lot of white spaces. This is quite different from anything else they experience in school, that deletes works wonders!

Yes, some students are taught theory, but only on a “need to know.” The early composers want to create without rules. It is so cool, that students have their own basic rules and their individual “voice” comes through. Once they realize that it is so much fun that is all they want to do is compose.

So, here is my charge to music teachers across the land, get out of the way and let your students compose by letting the ear lead. If you are a musician and your composition is too busy musically or no line, delete, then copy and paste some measures together. Forget about ABA form and I, IV, V chords.

Finally, if you do have a little “Mozart” in your midst (which I have many) the Vermont MIDI Project for $150 (12 compositions) offers a password protected website that you can post compositions and professional composers can comment and help your “Mozart” compose on a professional level.  Here is a wonderful website that shows the development of music theory – http://www.claymagic.com

If you would like to see some compositions or podcasts here are some links. You might need to download scorch to view (it’s a free plugin) Enjoy!

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