Blog posts of '2018' 'August'

First Steps Into Composition


First Steps into Composition


One of the main problems with composition is this pre-set idea that in order to compose you must be an advance musician or some sort of super creative type. Or that in order to write music you need a muse and be inspired by something … well inspiring.


But composition and teaching composition doesn’t need to start complicated, and indeed it can be included in lessons from a very early stage.


Composing is just slow improvisation – and students of all ages and ability levels usually enjoy making music up.


Where to Start


Creative composition can be quite a freeing exercise. Use a great picture of a story idea and just encourage students to make sounds and noises to represent what that picture means to them.


So for example if you have a picture of a stormy landscape:


Students might start with slow rain dripping noises, then build it up louder and faster to represent the rain. Then loud and crashing for thunder, with lightning flashes… for it to all quieten down and go back to the gentle rain drops again.


Writing it Down


You might remember he Begin with the Blues post I made and teaching composition can start in a very similar place.


Language is all around us and is something that students can relate to. So by using language as a basis for rhythms it makes writing melodies a lot more accessible.


A Title


Starting with a title is perfect as your students know what they’re describing.


A Story


Encourage students to start by writing a question down (this gets them to already write in even phrases) and then to write down the rhythm that goes with that small sentence. By saying the words out loud and clapping they will also be recognising the relationship between crotchet and quavers. (It’s quite helpful if you try and ensure that their sentence contains some easy words otherwise you’ll have some difficult rhythms to write down!)


It might be something as simple as:


What will you have for your tea today?


Once they have the rhythm for the first question, then all they need to do then is write an answer to that question. This also then gets their melody writing to not only be focused on working in phrases, but it starts them thinking how melodies work together and should also ensure that they end up the same length. I like to think about melodies about being organic, so the melody rows from the first phrase.


So you might end up with:


What will you have for your tea today? I’m having sausage and chips


When they have a sentence and the rhythms written down then it’s just giving them a series of notes to experiment.


As with teaching improvisation it’s often easier to start with fewer notes so they can write something that to them ‘makes sense’ rather than having too many notes to choose from.


Pentatonic scales are a brilliant resource for this – but any sequence of notes you fancy would work.


Encouraging students to start on the first note of the scale or sequence and ending on the same note at the end of the song also helps students find a melody that they find satisfactory.


Happy composing!


Book Review: The Intermediate Pianist

New Music Review: The Intermediate Pianist

Piano Trainer Series

by Karen Marshall & Heather Hammond

Intermediate Piano Series

If you’ve not come across any of Karen and Heathers musical works before then there’s a definite gap in your piano shelf! They write music that clicks with students of all ages and this new piano course is no different.

I know I’m a bit of a sheet music hoarder but the new Intermediate Pianist series is one that is going to get used a lot come September.

What strikes me most about the collection is how well it fits. It’s got its niche market to a T and is a spot on buy.

The focus is for students who are, as it says in the title, Intermediate. So those students who are about grade three / four in standard. It’s perfect for those who have done the first few grades but are lacking in repertoire knowledge and need something to give them a break without buying lots of different books with different styles in. It’s also great for those who are returning to playing after a gap and perfect if you have a teenager who needs a tuition book without pictures in.

Some sections can be slightly more jazzier based that other series out there, but I find this is often a better way for students, especially teenage ones, as they feel more ‘fun’.

The whole series is littered with useful facts, puzzles, suggested activities (such as go out and LISTEN to music) as well as being a great reference for students who need to know the composers and periods of music (aka those students who are about to sit grade five having only ever looked at exam based pieces and have no idea how to spot whether it’s Classical or Romantic.)

I do like including theory in students lessons – but here you have a whole series that introduces pieces with the new concepts so the random theory questions also become relatable.

There’s some great technique tips and the progression is nice and steady.

The only downside would be if you have a student who really doesn’t like playing jazzy pieces and I personally would have enjoyed a few more duets in the book.

But defiantly a good staple reference course for teachers and a great piano collection for students too.