composition

Teaching music composition may seem like an easy task: you show your students the tools, you teach them how to use them and that’s it.

However, the most difficult thing is to teach them how to be creative and translate unmeasurable things such as feelings into music.

Teaching students to use composing skills  is not an easy subject, but to make things a bit more organized let’s go through the steps to guide a young music student through their composition journey.

A Passion for Music

Composition

Now, the first thing that should be clear from the start is that there is a passion for music.

There are many cases in which a young student can become a great performer but there is no passion for music, and it is very hard to  change that.

It might be a bit controversial since it involves parents who wish the best for their children by helping them learn music but when it comes to art, the act of creation can’t be taught, it’s an impulse and sort of a second nature.

That doesn’t mean that some young students can’t find a passion for music after learning a few key things and discovering a whole new world.

But it is important for the teacher to identify these things in order to strengthen their students’ weaknesses.

Rhythm Composition

Rhythm is the backbone of every music composition, there is no music without rhythm but there can be music with just a rhythm in the form of percussion.

This is also some of the easiest ways to make your students feel like they are making some form of music and feel the happiness of success.

It is definitely the best way to approach music composition at first, as it’s quite easy to make it fun and involve several students in exercises.

Encourage Improvisation and No Restraints Approach

This may be easier for musicians that focus on genres of music such as rock, punk, blues or electronic music due to the nature of those types of music.

But when it comes to including improvisation in the formation of music students, it’s a bit more difficult.

After helping your students build a strong musical foundation with music reading and writing, you also have to teach them to let go of all of that and just play.

This not only encourages new and interesting combinations of music due to the lack of restraints, but it also makes the experience fun because of the excitement of not knowing what will come out of a playing session.

Think about it as fishing, it’s all about being relaxed, patient and not knowing what you are going to get, and when you realize you have something, it’s time to reel in and not let the fish escape.

The waiting part is just playing and improvising, the fish is that surprise chord, and reeling in it’s about finally writing and recording that big idea.

To encourage this “fishing” idea in music makes being a musician very exciting.

Feedback

In order to help your students improve their skills as composers, you need to provide good feedback so that they can feel that sense of progress and learn from their mistakes.

But how do you provide good feedback as a teacher? Well there are a few things to consider when giving feedback to students on their compositions.

First of all, focus on the good things, a sense of accomplishment is very important in order to keep them motivated.

Then as a teacher, you need to show them where they could improve.

And lastly, you need to let them know that there is always room for improvement while also giving them some pointers in order to help them focus on their weak spots.

Remember to use Music Teacher’s Helper to allow you to have a lot more time on your hands to plan your composition lessons instead of using that precious time for tedious but necessary tasks.

 

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Being a virtuoso has a lot to do with something that is near magical, sometimes some techniques and compositions come from a place that can hardly be copied, that’s why is so easy to know when someone is being replaced in a band, someone that really made it shine, and the new person filling the spot feels like an imitation.

There are two interesting subjects that can arise when bringing up the subject of virtuosism, first there is the virtuoso as a composer and original perfomer and then there is the question of, is another virtuoso good enough to satisfy the hearing of a person that enjoyed the orginal composer?

Of course there is also another imporant part of this virtuoso dilemma that should be taken into account, which is the question of, is there virtuosism in performance only, or is it present in composition as well?

Virtuoso Performance

When it comes to performance, it’s just about playing, a musician can be a virtuoso without having the need for composing. Technique alone can make someone a virtuoso.

In concerts, the virtuoso approaches each performance, each interpretation as a unique occasion – something I feel is increasingly hard for performers when high-quality recordings are so readily available, benchmarks by which pianistic prowess is measured and which lead audiences to expect a certain manner of playing in live concerts. The virtuoso appreciates that there is no one “perfect” rendition of a Beethoven Concerto or Chopin Étude; that one should never aspire to have the “last word” on any work. It is for this reason that many of us seek out the same virtuoso performers in the same repertoire, either on disc or in concert, to hear how their view of certain works changes and develops over time. Yet for some musicians the constant revisiting of certain works (the Beethoven piano sonatas, for example), or playing them on different instruments (fortepiano, for example) suggests an overly reverential or literal attitude to the composer’s “intentions” as they perceive them, and a wish/need to make a final statement on this music and set it in stone. Such performances, for me at least, may come across not as virtuosic but rather as academic, mannered or overly precious.

The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Composition

virtuoso

The concept of virtusism is generally more tied to the performance itself, and by 19th century standards which is when this notion came to be, it referred mostly to a masculine artist that was able to perform complex pieces of music with fast and precise playing.

While this may be true, what about the composition itself? Well in the 19th century the virtuoso was the composer many times, but there were cases in which the composer would rather someone else play it. How is it that something can be thought but not performed as the composer intended it to be played?

What do we actually mean by compositional virtuosity? – A compositional sense of technical virtuosic display or mastery in the context of that art or practice in a similar or parallel sense to that of the performer. As a composer, I am not trying to steal limelight from the performer, but I am aware that the composer as an artist also must possess appropriate technique, stamina, technical agility etc. in order to be a master of their art. This is better perceived in the finished artefact (either score or performance) rather than in the process (in as much as one can separate the process from the finished result of course).

This was presented by Peter Fribbins at the Virtuosity and Performance Mastery symposium.

So in a way one must be a virtuoso in both categories in order to be able to compose something that only a virtuoso can play. However there is another factor that can’t really be measured by how polished the technique is or how fast the musician can be, sometimes it’s something else.

There is the example of one of the two greatest pianists/composers of all time Chopin and Lizst who actually shared quite a lot during their prime. Chopin said: ” I would love myself to acquire from him[Liszt]  the manner in which he plays my etudes.”

Why Lizst, shouldn’t Chopin be better at his own composition? Or is he a better composer by aknowledging the fact that someone else is better suited for the performance, not because of virtusism but Lizst personality and approach to music.

So yes virtusism is present in composition but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also present in performance. While there are no concrete answers, thinking about this may be useful when teaching or as something to just reflect upon.

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Delivering a message is one of the most important accomplishments in music, because it’s not just about saying something, through music you create something that is not just understood, it’s about something that can be felt, and in some ways establish a connection between the composer and the listener.

In the end this is one of the most honest goals of a musician, to be able to make something that will reach a good amount of people not for the popularity or the money, but just to be listened, after so many hours of isolation in practice, of trial and error, it all comes down to being listened and felt by other people, and this is no easy task.

Music is personal most of the times, when you sit down by yourself and start playing something, writing, composing, you are translating a specific feeling into sounds and melodies, and a lot of the frustration that comes from not being able to nail the song that you wish to make, comes from difficulties with this translation.

There are a few things that one must take into account when thinking about making music and achieving this goal.

Personality

Everyone is different, every approach to music is inherently different if done correctly however it’s easy to fall into a specific pre-made sound, because there is a feeling that so much has been done already, and some even go as far as to say that everything has already been done, but music is not really that finite, there are endless resources, combinations, inspirations and every musician out there has its own color.

Finding yourself is not easy but the only way to deliver the message you want, is to first find your own sound, which can take years. A good way to think about it, is as if you’re tuning your music sensibility to slowly get to a perfect note where it becomes a second nature to use creativity to make the most of strong human feelings.

Mind and Heart

As with every message, there is an emitter and a receiver, and while it’s a very logical thing, it can be easily forgotten, but sometimes you may understand something you are saying because you are the one doing all the thinking, and sometimes the person listening needs some extra thinking to make them be in sync with what you are trying to say.

This is a very difficult part during composition, because the message has to stay the same, it just needs some kind of filter to make it something that that the ones listening will understand.

Message of Connection

It’s all about a human connection, music gathers every feeling and makes it a celebration of what it is to be human, even at times when electronic music and technology make us be tangled in wires, music will always be a very human thing, sometimes a very complex one, sometimes a very simple one, but always a way to connect with people, with sadness, anger, happiness, or make people connect with each other through dancing and fun.

Music is another language, it’s a universal language that everyone can find to be a bridge between cultures and political barriers, sometimes music, is a common ground, or sometimes it can be used as a very bad influence, but regardless of the message, there is no denying that music has a lot power due to the reach and appeal it can have, besides, when are we not listening to music? Life has become a movie in some ways, and music is there to be the soundtrack of our lives. Will you be making music to send a message?

 

 

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