Over the past few months, I’ve had several conversations with teachers from Indiana, Florida, and elsewhere about how to encourage more students to compose and enter compositions in festivals and competitions. Well, as I was judging the Indiana Music Teachers Association’s Opus Composition Festival, I thought of a new idea!
A New Way to Get Students Entering Composing Festivals
Before I tell you about the new idea though, it might be helpful to just mention a few of the reasons many students don’t enter festivals to begin with (like ones in which they get an evaluation from a judge on their piece and may even compete against other students).
There may be a lot more reasons than these, but I think these are the top 5:
- Teachers don’t think there is time in the lesson to help students with composing.
- Teachers don’t feel like they know how to teach composition.
- Students feel overwhelmed because they are asked to do too much.
- Students don’t have time to finish a composition.
- Students don’t think they have a chance at winning or that their composition stinks!
So if you categorize these, there are 2 things going on here:
- Teachers have issues with the “teaching composition” process.
- Students have issues with the “finishing the composition” process.
Teacher Issues with Teaching Composition
The first one is fairly easy for me to address, because the answer lies in articles I’ve written about teaching composition:
- How to teach composition in less than 5 minutes (which also outlines how to give students “just enough” of an assignment not to overwhelm them.
- How to Harmonize a Melody
- Working with Motives
- Contour Issues
- Rhythm Issues
- Typical Problems with Melody
- The Most Basic Help You can Give a Student
- Other Teaching Composition Articles – there are lots more, so feel free to browse here
Okay, so let’s say you now feel equipped to start working with your students on composition (even if it’s just that 2 minute idea listed in the first article). What can we do about the student’s issues?
Student Issues with Finishing a Composition (and a NEW idea for your festival!)
As I was judging the Indiana Piano Teacher’s group’s compositions, it occurred to me that in my critiques, I was actually teaching a mini-lesson on composition. As a matter of fact, two of the teachers that are in this group told me that they felt they were getting a mini-lesson when I did this the year before. So, I began to think,
What if I [or any judge] could give a mini-lesson to those students who weren’t finished with their composition, but just needed a few new ideas on how to put it together or what to do next?
Well, why not? Why couldn’t you have a new category, in addition to age division categories you already have, that is called “Unfinished Composition Mini-lessons” or something like that? Students that are stuck on their melody or don’t know what do use for their B section, or just aren’t happy with it and know they need some guidance, could then submit their unfinished composition and the judge could give a short set of suggestions for things they could do with their idea.
You’d have to work out some of the logistics:
- You’d have to find the right judge (who can teach composition) who would feel like they could give students assistance and write in a language that would connect with the student.
- You’d have to decide whether to charge the same as the other entries or a higher fee for more detailed help. For example, when I judge a composition festival, I try to spend the same amount of time on each composition. I do end up spending more time on longer compositions of course, but I try to give the same amount of feedback for everyone. In order for a judge to really give helpful advice, I would advise that they be paid a higher fee for the unfinished compositions.
- Judges would have to have specifics from you on what kind of feedback is expected in the unfinished category.
Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think, especially if you are involved in any composition festival or competition. Teachers, would you be interested in entering students in this new category? Would some of your students benefit from this?