I've really enjoyed listening to student compositions this year. Students as young as 6 have explored and created their own piano works. Student composition offers a way to study music that is the complete reverse of studying an existing piece.
When we study an existing piece, we take every symbol and note seriously, and we include these in our performance of a piece. Other areas that we decipher include structure, character, style etc. All of these musical elements are discovered, deciphered, explored, and communicated in performance. But this relies on recognition that every black mark on a page of music is actually important and has meaning. Sometimes that's a lesson in itself.
When a student creates their own work, suddenly all of those annoying musical symbols begin to have meaning. Suddenly musical character, direction, expression, and cohesion matters. Suddenly it's important to think about the composer's intentions, because now the student is the composer.
This is the general process I've used in my studio so far:
- the student explores musical ideas at home and either memorises them or writes them down;
- they then bring these ideas to the lesson and we discuss where these ideas came from and why they like them. The ideas are often part of a narrative that the student has imagined. Because of this, students have often already made decisions about expressive markings because these are integral to their musical story;
- together, we look at a way to turn these ideas into something that 'makes sense'. This includes structure, repetition, and further extension of their ideas;
- we then begin to notate these using Sibelius. I always 'click' the notes etc in, and I encourage students to do this (rather than using a midi piano keyboard to 'play' the notes in). We check the work as we go and often changes are made at this point. It's always great to watch the student's (and parent's) face when they see their music printed. It's a real piece of music!!!
- the student then takes this home and plays it over the week. The following lesson they bring it back, often with changes. The studio record for number of drafts is currently 15, and these drafts were produced over a number of weeks. It's important that students write something that they mean to write.
Then the piece exists, it is part of their creative work and their own personal expression. But importantly, they have also learnt how musical parts come together to make the whole work, and that each of these elements have their own significance.
Most of my young students have composed pieces for piano. They always smile proudly when their name is typed into the 'composer name' area of a score. Some of the older students that I inherit are too inhibited to give composition a go but I will persist! It's such an enjoyable learning and creative process.
Reflections/news on music, piano and music teaching, and anything else that pops up.