Student Composers

Improvisation is the main focus of what I teach and write about mostly because it is the quickest, most enjoyable way to access creative music making. However, teaching composition is also near and “ear” to my heart. As part of a larger goal of helping music teachers integrate more creativity in their curriculums, I anticipate speaking and writing in more detail about the pedagogy of teaching composition in the future. In the meantime, I’ll just dip my toe in the water by sharing a couple of pieces written by two of my most exemplary students in this area of music making. Julian Dittmer Julian, now a freshman music major at Capital University (on a full tuition scholarship), honored me with a heartwarming gift at our last lesson. He wrote, performed an recorded an original piece based on the letters of my name.  Using a process detailed in an another blog post (Composing with Names), Julian translated the letters … Read more…

Jingle Bells Variations

One of the most enjoyable aspects of teaching creative music making is to witness the variety of approaches students take to rethinking a tune according to their own tastes and preferences. Every year around this time, I ask select students to come up with new versions of Christmas tunes. I might throw out a few suggestions to get them started but I specifically avoid guiding them very much at all. The idea is to get them to get them to apply what they’ve internalized from their studies as independent creative musicians. Mashup Here are three different versions of this classic holiday tune as interpreted by my students. 1. Fourteen year old Michael Wade creates new music easily. At some point in almost every lesson, (usually while my back is turned) he’ll launch into his latest composition. Here is his twisted version of Jingle Bells in a minor key with a “jump bass” or “basic stride” … Read more…

Composing with Names

Here’s a splendid variation on the “Bach Motif” you or your students can use as a composing prompt. Steps: 1. Encrypt someone’s name into musical pitches using alphabetical equivalents.  For example, the musical equivalent of the name “Jack” would be C, A, C, D. Letter  Pitch a     =     A b     =     B c     =     C d     =     D e     =     E f     =      F g     =     G h     =     A i     =      B j     =      C k     =     D etc. 2. Play the letters you encrypted on the keyboard with your right hand. 3. Find chords to fit the melody.  Alternatively, the pitches can be interpreted as the roots of chords. So “Jack” could also be thought of as the chord progression: C, Amin, C, … Read more…

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