This is the first of the articles in our new Composition Corner.

Many teachers have told me that they do not feel equipped to teach composition.  They feel that they do not have the tools that they need to critique a student’s composition and help them improve.  If you feel this way, I want to encourage you that you can indeed help a student improve their composing skills.  While it is true that at a certain point a student serious about composition should study with a composition teacher, there are many things that a piano teacher can teach a student that will improve their skills long before they need serious composition lessons.  Over the next few weeks, I’d like to show you a few small ways how to do this.

Tip #1 – Ask the student what they want from the experience.

When a student brings in a composition to play, I’ve found that it is important to ask, “What would you like me to do?  Would you like me to just listen? Would you like me to make any suggestions for improvements?”  Young students will often just want me to listen and older students are sometimes hesitant to answer these questions which usually alerts me to the fact that they probably just want me to listen initially.

Asking these questions is important because when a student shares a composition, they are sharing something very deep and personal to them.  Students need to feel that they are safe sharing their musical feelings with you.  Over time, the trust that is established in just listening will enable them to receive constructive criticism more easily from you.

This may seem to be a rather dull and unnecessary tip, but asking this question could mean the difference between whether the student’s excitement fuels the rest of their lesson or drops dead in its tracks.

Stay tuned for more general and specific tips on teaching composition in Composition Corner.  If you have questions about teaching composition, please contact me and I will try to answer these in a future blog post.