A Guest Post by Elaine Hirsch
A music teacher who teaches students to produce and compose music must approach the subject of music on a deeper technical and creative level. Teaching students to compose starts with the same fundamentals as teaching them to play. Students of production and composition must learn more about the technical aspects of musical theory, however, and they must also spend more time developing a personal musical voice.
Teachers instructing students to play an instrument require students to listen to, perform, and analyze music. At elementary level education, students do not need to learn much about musical theory beyond the basics of keeping rhythm and reading sheet music. Teachers instructing older students should also provide further specifics about chord theory, harmony, structure, and the variances found in common genres of music. Teachers instructing students on music production and composition must start here, as well. They must instruct their students on how to play, and students should have a thorough understanding of how to play the instrument they plan on composing music for.
Today, on the other hand, teaching music production and composition requires additional direction; many tools used today are found online or are based on computer programs. Learning how to use these tools and navigate the different resources from an online school in music may be good opportunities for students to pursue.
Teachers of music production and composition must take instruction one step further, however, by teaching their students how to create music. Creating music requires more than simple knowledge about music theory. The National Association for Music Education interviewed Michele Kaschub and Janice Smith, authors of Minds on Music: Composition for Creative and Critical Thinking. In this interview, the authors explain that composition teachers must help students balance “thinking about music” with “thinking in music,” explaining that, “Children need to be invited to imagine sound, to hear music inside their heads, and to bring that music out.” Simply knowing how to play music is not enough. Teachers must help students hear music in their heads without hearing any out loud.
The manner in which teachers approach the subject of music composition varies depending on grade level. Teachers must focus on different aspects of composition based on the age of their students. Kaschub and Smith write that instructors must help elementary students discover “the relationship between sound and feeling,” while the focus with middle school students should be on finding “personal style and compositional voice.” Teachers of high school compositional students must emphasize the meaning behind individual pieces of music, helping students to make “strong personal statements to their listening world” through the pieces they compose.
At the high school and college level, teachers should also weave in more information about famous composers. In fact, many college production and composition programs, such as the one at the Berklee College of Music, require students to analyze “acknowledged masterpieces from different historical periods” in order to develop their “individual aesthetic vision and the critical ability to recognize and discuss music of quality.” When teaching older students to merely play an instrument, such in depth analysis has less importance. Teaching students to produce and compose their own pieces first requires instruction on what makes a piece significant from both a technical and creative perspective.
The greatest challenge for the teacher of music production and composition, as opposed to the teacher of music performance, comes in the nurturing of students’ individual sense of creativity. Teachers must, of course, have a solid understanding of musical theory and must be able to convey that information to their production and composition students. These instructors should also have detailed knowledge concerning famous musical masterpieces, and must guide students in analyzing why certain pieces work better than others from both a methodological and artistic point of view. All of this textbook information will not matter, however, if a teacher cannot also bring out each individual student’s musical voice.
About the author: Elaine Hirsch is a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. She is currently working as a writer for various education-related websites and writing about relevant education-related issues.