Do you teach composition skills in your studio? Many teachers tell me teaching composition is something they would like to do, but never seem to get around to doing. There are many reasons given: no time, not sure where to start, student hasn’t shown an interest, not sure how to teach it.
I would not really say I “teach” composition, but more that I “encourage” composition. This is the level of intentionality that I have found to be comfortable for me in this area. Hopefully you can find one or two ideas for your studio in this blog.
The biggest help I have found is to start early, before the student thinks it might be hard! Composition grows out of improvisation, so I include improvisation at the very first lesson, and give it a little time every week for the first year. Just 3-4 minutes is enough to keep the spark alive. Emphasize that there is no “right” way, and that the student’s ideas are just as legitimate as yours.
There are so many ways to do improvisation with young children. Start improv on the black keys so that everything sounds harmonious. Model ideas for the student, and encourage them to listen for interesting textures and sounds. Make the improv tell a story. Sometimes I make up a story line that matches a Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper
Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived! Is that what comes to mind when you think of the famous Tudor King of England? I imagine that his chat up line should have gone something like this: “Don’t worry; I won’t keep you for long!”
On a more serious note, probably a lesser known side to this colourful character of history was his ability as a musician and a composer! Born in 1491, Henry received an excellent education from the leading tutors of the day. As was expected of children born of the nobility, Henry was to become proficient in many skills such as hunting, fencing, jousting, archery, hawking, wrestling, dancing, writing poetry, singing as well as learning to play several musical instruments.
A Very Long iTunes Playlist!
Henry developed a life-long love of listening to, performing and composing music. He built an extensive collection of musical instruments over the years including some 78 flutes, 76 recorders, 10 trombones, 14 trumpets, 5 bagpipes and many others! He was well respected as a competent musician and singer, doing much to actively encourage the very best musicians of the day to attend court. Many of the finest musicians and composers were attracted to this centre of musical culture with some coming from faraway European countries! During his reign, much experimentation in combining different musical instruments together in ensemble playing contributed greatly to the developing Renaissance era. At the height of this musical community, Henry had almost one hundred musicians and composers at his beck and call! They were highly organised, taking shifts to provide the King with an almost constant soundtrack to his day. From his waking moments, appropriate instruments would entertain his seemingly insatiable appetite for music.
Who Needs a Barry White CD!
Perhaps rather shocking is King Henry the VIII’s requirement for musical accompaniment whilst he entertained the ladies in his Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts, Music Theory
Prelude – For this month’s blog, I thought I might share five notation tips that you probably won’t find in the average theory textbook but nonetheless are important rules in music writing. Just before we get started, it’s important for you to remember that in music notation, the standard measurement of distance is worked out in stave (staff) spaces. In the music publishing industry, stave (staff) heights can range anywhere from 9.2 millimetres for educational music to 3.7 millimetres for a full orchestral score. Generally, for normal instrumental parts, a size of between 6.5 and 7 millimetres is commonly used. (All 5 tips are illustrated in the diagram which you can click to enlarge).
- How long should a stem be? – Normally, the length of a note’s stem in music notation should be three and a half spaces. An easier way to work out stem length though, is that wherever the pitch position of the note-head on the stave (staff), the stem needs to go up or down an octave. When the note-head is positioned with two ledger (leger) lines or more, the stem always extends to the middle line of the stave (staff).
- Where should a clef be positioned? – The clef must always be indented to the right by one stave (staff) space. It’s vertical position must also be precise to render the intended pitches of the notes that follow.
- Which side of the note-head does the stem go on? – Here’s a killer tip to help students remember that Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Teaching Tips
The Music Teachers National Association conference is held every year at different locations throughout the US and Canada. This year it was held at Disneyland (nuts!) and it was magical. The reason I say magical is that it seems the tides are changing. Here’s how my colleague and business partner, Bradley Sowash called it:
Bradley unlocking the secrets of chord symbols. His tips are incredible!
I’ve just returned from the Music Teacher’s National Association conference in CA where I was fortunate to serve as chair of the jazz/pop track along with project manager Leila Viss [that's me]. I’ve been swimming upstream on the subject of teaching creativity as a necessary ingredient to comprehensive musicianship at music teacher meetings all over the country for several years. So it was with particular delight to find that we could attract a packed room of teachers for nine hours of sessions with experts on the subject of teaching popular music styles, improvisation and creativity.
It seems the old model of only teaching the “masters” using only the written page is finally giving way to a more balanced approach or as someone at the conference quipped, “the Queen Mary (of music education) is slowly turning.” I can get even more dramatic by declaring, “The eye/ear revolution has begun!” Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music News, Professional Development, Teaching Tips
It strikes me that there are basically three groups of music users:
Group 1 is made up of the vast majority of humans who enjoy listening to music. But that’s as far as they will ever take it!
Group 2 are the ones who aren’t content with just listening to music. In addition, they want to make music as a singer or a musician.
Group 3 are musicians who, whilst they enjoy listening to and performing music, want even more! For them, creating music from nothing is the ultimate musical expression giving them an additional voice. Traditionally this activity was supported by at least a measure of technical ability at a musical instrument but increasingly people with no previous experience are using computers or even apps on their phone to create music!
Sadly though, many students and even teachers are convinced, even if they would like to compose, that they Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips
Usually new resolutions are made to break a habit–over eating, avoiding exercise, partaking in a favorite yet unhealthy past time.
Why not add a habit that my enrich your skills as a musician and enhance your students’ experience at the keys? Join the Eye Ear Revolution….Here’s the scoop:
Eye players read music; Ear players improvise. To broaden their musical creativity and stylistic range, contemporary musicians need instruction in both. Reading music and playing by ear used to be common among European classical musicians until about 100 years ago. Then, as the minimum technical abilities required to interpret and play the repertoire grew with increasing complexity, creative music making gradually ceased to be a part of formal music education.
Creative Keys, a joint effort of Bradley Sowash and me, Leila Viss, is carving a path for 21st century strategies that balance and combine the eye and ear. At 88CreativeKeys.com (a blog founded by Creative Keys) you will find the following: Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips
Where’s a lead sheet when you need one? More often than not, I need to comb through binders of miscellaneous charts (which I attempt to keep alphabetized) or google a tune and hopefully find the one I’m looking for.
The Paperplane Co, makers of a brand new app called Treble, have stepped in to provide a place to find, read and store lead sheets on your iPad. They invited me to check out their Limited Christmas Preview Version 1.0.
Here’s what I found:
Tune Directory: A lovely, I might even say “decked out” opening page featuring an alphabetized directory of 25 holiday tunes. For a complete list, check out their facebook page.
Notation of Tune: Once a tune is selected, the tune’s melody appears on the treble staff with lyrics below and the composer and transcriber is included if available. As I prefer to read the tune off the treble staff, I adore this feature.
Chord Symbols: Chord symbols are provided above the staff in typical lead-sheet fashion.
Time signature: Always good to note.
Key Signature Buffet: THE most attractive feature of this app: the key signature can be determined by YOU! At the top of the screen, there is a slide ruler. Slide the pointer to your desired key and the tune and chord symbols are immediately transposed. Talk about convenient!
As I continue to engage students in reading from lead sheets, this will be an invaluable tool to encourage “faking” LH chords but also changing keys with confidence. For those singers who request a key to fit their range, this app is a true gift for accompanist and bands…
Here’s some things on my wish list for Treble:
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Product Reviews
If your students are anything like mine, they will have been playing Christmas carols for a number of weeks now. As it gets closer to Christmas and the carols are well known, my students use them as a basis for composing a theme and variations. This activity can either be improvised at their instrument or notated. Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Teaching Tips
“Judaism in Music” by Richard Wagner, 1869
It was the dead of night. A large marble statue of the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn was quietly dismantled to avoid attention. It was hurriedly moved into a nearby cellar and completely smashed to pieces!
Who was responsible for such an act? And why such extreme hatred?
It all started just three years after Mendelssohn’s death. In 1850 an article entitled “Judaism in Music” appeared in a music paper. The author’s identity was concealed but he later republished his article in 1869, this time boldly revealing his identity. It was Richard Wagner! In the article, Wagner fiercely attacked Mendelssohn’s music and the music of other Jewish German composers whom he had previously praised. “The life and works of Mendelssohn clearly demonstrates that no Jew, however gifted and cultural and honourable, was capable of creating art that moved the heart and soul.”
In 1881, Wagner truly revealed the extent of his anti-Semitic feelings in article in the Bayreuther Blätter entitled “Know Thyself!” In it he praises the massacres of Jews in Russia as “an example worthy of imitation.” He concludes with these impassioned words about the Jews: “Drive them out, German people-but not like the Egyptians, those Hamitic fools, who even gave them golden vessels for the journey. For they must go away empty-handed. Whither I know not, but I wish them all the same fate. May they find no shelter, no homeland; unhappier than Cain, may they seek and not find; may they descend into the
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts
Image by aaron.michels
Have you ever noticed that you experience music differently depending on its context? I don’t mean just whether you are in a concert hall or a supermarket (although that can be significant too), but also depending on what you have just been listening to. Juxtaposition can be illuminating. One day I had my iPod on shuffle on a long car journey, and although I have a very eclectic collection of music of all kinds- classical, indy, world, etc.-the iPod kept selecting African-American singers. After the third song in a row, my hair began to stand on end. I think it must have played at least eight songs before the spell was broken. It felt as though my iPod had its own, very meaningful agenda. Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts, Performing, Professional Development