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, 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 of my name to musical notes as follows:
B = B
R = D
A = A
D = D
L = E
E = E
Y = D
S = E
O = A
W = B
A = A
S = E
H = A
Placing these pitches in order, he created this very sweet tune. (The melody enters at 00:28.) Thanks Julian!
I still remember the surprised expression on Spencer’s face at our first lesson several years ago when I asked him about his preferences for playing a particular piece. Having been previously trained by a very traditional teacher, he’d never been asked to consider how he wanted to interpret a piece. His Mom sent me an email the next day, “…It was like he walked through the wardrobe door into Narnia and discovered a world he had only dreamt of before! Just your statement that ‘There’s more than one way to play a song’ was enough to intrigue him.”
From there, his creative impulses and ongoing investigation of music theory led to an avid interest in film scoring. What to do when requests for soundtracks from major Hollywood directors are not forthcoming? Spencer decided to direct and score his own movie. Here’s the trailer:
When Spencer included this in his portfolio for his application to attend their school, the folks at Interlochen Center for the Arts recognized his skills and offered him a scholarship. What a great way for a bright and musical kid to spend his senior year.
Are you teaching the creative skills of improvisation, composition, and/or playing by ear to your students? Please share your observations. How does it feel to teach these subjects? What are the challenges? What are the joys? What do your students report about learning to make their own music?
Here’s a brilliant article about why teaching all aspects of making music and not just reading notes is so important.
Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey,
Want to teach improvisation?
Learn about Bradley’s Creative Chords keyboard improvisation method.