Teaching Composition in the Classroom

Part 2

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

If you’re still asking why invest time and effort in musical creativity, the short answer may be, and I’ll elaborate in another article more on the subject: 

  1. It brings forward needs for learning, like how to read and write notes, how do we indicate loudness and so on… Because now the student has to use them to right their musical piece
  2. Students spend time with their musical instrument and figure out how it works by themselves and for their own purposes.

Cool! Now that you are passionate about normalising composition in your lessons let’s dive in a little deeper. 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Where to start? What do you do? How do we achieve an open-minded teaching approach, be truly inclusive with the students’ ideas of solutionising, and not get hung up on our own expectations ?

Top tip, we may be incorporating non musical elements to make points clearer and activities more appealing.

We’re interested in a holistic way of teaching music, and composition is part of this learning.

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

Let’s start by aborting any notions there may be about (a) talent – it’s a different discussion – and people born composers, and (b) not everyone can teach composition. You might agree as well, school is the time when children get to observe, experiment and investigate what otherwise they wouldn’t have the chance to. Like how to do stuff and how the world works, how to think and problem solve using all of their senses in order to learn the whats and the hows. The Whys come through creativity.

Composition, musical creativity, in the classroom is an activity for every student and not only extra work for the (“talented”) few that might be up for the challenge. Of course, if you discover a child showing a bit more interest then by all means offer more material to work with. But you may consider presenting it like the bonus exercises they get in Maths, where those extra exercises are there for every student to decide if they want to solve them and the teacher will encourage as well.

Every music educator can teach music composition. You don’t have to win an IVORS award to do it. You don’t even have to study specifically music composition to qualify as the educator for musical creativity. If you think about it, not all primary school teachers have written articles for big newspapers or published books, yet teaching students to write essays, poems, diary entries and more is part of the national curriculum so they all teach it. The children finish primary school and know the process to writing a narrative. Throughout their school years the students practice different writing techniques, some abstract, some more concrete but the purpose remains to provide a set of tools and knowledge to use later on. 

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash (cropped)

Adding music composition and creativity into our lesson plans will become a habit. Some teachers enjoy music composition written on 5 lines with a clef, and a key and time signature, finishing each piece on the tonic, regardless of what the children know about theory. This is acceptable. It’s closer to what the children are used to hearing and by practicing the same concept many times they will eventually realise what the more technical terms mean and how they are used (see reason 1 above). Other teachers use more abstract and kinaesthetic approaches, like tracing the periphery of an object with vocal sounds to play with aspects of musical form (see reason 2 above). The end product remains:  a musical piece (sound piece) written and performed by the students.

Identify your learning objectives for each lesson and that will lead to the best approach for the creative segment of the lesson. Every music educator is qualified to incorporate music compsition in their lessons and every student is entitled to being creative through music. It can be a short segment where the focus is on a small creative activity or creativng a new piece. But every time is for every child. I strongly suggest the Orff method for inspiration. Part 3 is following with tools on putting a your creative segment together.

You can read Part 1 here.

All thoughts and ideas written here come through personal experience and observation.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

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