How Do You Introduce Composing to Students?
I wrote an article about this in a past issue of the American Music Teacher and also frequently present this idea in the Composition for Kids workshop. It’s one of those questions that is asked frequently but has a multitude of possible answers. I’d like to give you an EASY way to introduce composing to students.
If you are reading this, it means that you are at least mildly interested in incorporating composition into piano lessons – which is fabulous! You’ve probably already realized that there is nothing like a student making up their own piece to motivate them to be at the piano!
So, what’s the best way to do it? It’s actually easier than you think. As a matter of fact, the best way to introduce composing is to NOT introduce it formally at all. Why? Read on…
The Worst Way to Introduce Composing Music:
Now we are going to compose a piece of music.
This is probably the worst way to introduce composing. Why? Because it immediately makes many students feel intimidated or doubtful about their ability. We want them to feel confident and excited about this new experience!
The Best Way to Introduce Composing Music:
I’d like to encourage you to fold composing into what you are already doing! If you’ll take whatever concept on which you are currently working and explore the sound of that concept, then you’ll have the perfect opportunity to create a “composition moment.”
For example, let’s say you have just introduced half steps. Take a minute to play some half steps on the piano and ask the student:
What do these half steps sound like to you?
Get their wheels turning about the exciting nature of those creepy half steps and you have set the stage for the perfect composition moment.
Half steps are so much fun! Let’s play some half steps all over the piano.[Then do this with them in different rhythms.] Do you think you could mess around on the piano at home this week using only half steps? Why don’t you come up with some fun sounds this week and play them for me at the next lesson.
The idea here is that composition doesn’t have to be long. Practicing the art of finding a good motive is an important skill in composing any piece of music. If you introduce it this way, they typically won’t be intimidated and if they are, you can assure them that their half step motive doesn’t have to be very long at all.
Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, as you are tell them this little assignment, show them some of your own little half step ideas on the fly (nothing major. Just play a few half steps going down or up and then alternate the rhythm.).
5 Tips for Introducing Composing
So here are 5 tips in summary to introducing composing music to students:
- Piggyback on a theory concept you are already teaching them.
- Explore sounds on the piano and ask them what it reminds them of.
- Start by asking them to compose a motive (“a little ditty,” “a little idea,” “fun sounds”), but don’t ask them to “compose a piece.”
- Demonstrate your own brainstorming of motives at the lesson.
- Praise them for anything they come up with.
Now, if you want a few more examples of this or see me present this idea in a live setting, here’s a 6 minute video of a workshop I gave for teachers a number of years ago called “Composition for Kids.”
You can see more of this workshop if you subscribe and explore the videos on the ComposeCreate YouTube channel! Don’t forget to email me your questions about teaching composition and make sure you are subscribed to the ComposeCreate newsletter to get all the updates in your inbox.
- Composition Corner – loads of articles to help you teach your students composition
- Happy, Happy Birthday – the best birthday present to give a piano students is a colorful birthday song!
- Jingle Bell Variations – a great studio project to encourage composition. Why not do it with a folk song if it isn’t Christmas time?