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Just Let Your Students Compose!

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A Mural at Sunset Ridge School

There is not a day that goes by that I get twitter/plurk followers looking for royalty-free music or asking me 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! Click here for interesting student files. So why are so many people looking for original music, when their students can easily compose?

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 using 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 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 all the measures is 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 to compose/create all they want to do is compose/create.

So, here is my charge to music teachers across the land, get out of the way and let your students compose, let the ear lead. You are a musician, tell them to delete, then copy and paste. Forget about ABA form and I, IV, V chords.

A well-balanced music program MUST have composition part of its curriculum, if not the center. Both performance and composition are important, but more students will go on and compose/create than perform, so composing MUST be a central part of every music curriculum.

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.

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

Composition Page on www.carolbroos.com

Student Files on musictechie.pbworks.com, my presentation wiki – all files link back to www.carolbroos.com

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2 Responses

  1. Carol, I would love to have my students compose, but I don’t know how to get started. I also don’t have any resources – no computers, no SmartBoard – nothing. What would you suggest I do?

  2. Thanks for your post! Music curriculum has to be effective, updated and balanced. Music teachers, private music studio owner and administrators as well as all the other music educators around the globe should always take into consideration the effectiveness and efficiency of each activity and lesson injected and integrated in the curriculum.
    Please consider piano teaching tips and resources in your next posts.

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