Composing is a fabulous way to engage piano students, and get them to think about music in a different way.
For the past few weeks, almost all of my students have been working on the Spring Themes Composing Project.
I designed this project as a very loose template so I could use it with all levels of students. While suggestions include articulations and harmonies that newer students might not have come across yet, it’s easy to just skip over these parts as necessary.
We’ve been having so much fun writing these pieces, coming up with fun titles and trying out different ideas at the piano. We started with just a short melody, which became our A theme, and then fleshed it out over several weeks.
Everyone has learnt so much through this process, understanding form, the importance of articulation and dynamics, and basic harmony. In fact, all four awesome added benefits of teaching composing have sprung into action with this project.
These photos show some of the pieces at various stages. Apologies for the photo quality, but I hope this will give you an idea of the diverse ideas and styles students have ended up with. The left and right pieces are from more intermediate students, and the middle photos are from beginners.
The top centre photo is a student who has only been taking lessons for about a month and a half. She composed the B melody at home, using letter names and writing the numbers 2 and 4 above some letters to indicate longer notes.
With beginners I prefer not to prescribe how they write things down. I just tell them they can write it whatever way will help them to remember.
The most important thing to keep in mind if you’re new to teaching composition, is to be encouraging. For me at least, this really isn’t about creating the most sophisticated, original music ever; it’s about building confidence and inspiring.
No matter what a student comes up with, I will assist them in taking that seed and turning it into a complete piece. Don’t try to “help” too much, the piece has to remain their own. If your student is stuck, always give them choices rather than telling them what to do.
Now that my students have almost all completed their compositions, I’m really excited about the next stage in this project, putting together a CD! The CD will feature all my students playing their original pieces, and will make a lovely gift for my piano parents.
You can download the Spring Themes Composing Project here, and inject some creativity into your own lessons this season.
How much composing do you do in your studio?
Is it a consistent part of your teaching? An occasional composing project? Never?
I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!