Teaching Composition to Students

Or this post could be titled, “Reason #47 Why I Love Piano Safari!” 🙂

When Alyssa first began piano lessons last fall we tried some simple improvisation activities, but she was reluctant to play anything without knowing that it was the “right” notes. As we’ve worked through my all-time favorite piano method – Piano Safari – she’s gradually gained confidence and creative freedom. After a couple weeks of hashing out some ideas and discussing possibilities at her lesson, she came back with this fabulous original composition, Thunderstorm Over the Prairie.

The way this is presented in the method was perfect for her! She got to draw a picture to represent each part of the thunderstorm, then come up with musical ideas to reflect each element. She told me after she played this at her lesson that having the pictures was so helpful for enabling her to memorize her composition and keep track of where she was. As you can hear, she also enjoyed incorporating a familiar folk tune into her piece. I just love watching my students flourish as musicians who are comfortable all over the keyboard, whether playing written music, pieces by rote, or original compositions!

3 Tips for Getting Millennials Interested in Music Learning – A Guest Post by Alternate Tone Music School

Millennials were born into a world full of electronics and gadgets. They have no memory of a world without the Internet, smartphones, and laptops. Many of them have been plugged into an electronic device since they were toddlers. Surrounded by an overwhelming amount of stimuli, millenials often have a very short attention span.

The generational divide between many music instructors and the millenial generation can pose considerable challenges. Millennials are frequently described as privileged, always looking for fun in work, and valuing friends and lifestyle. Many of them also place an emphasis on collaborative learning experiences like shared work assignments. As instructors, we need to be able to adapt to their learning style and needs in order to stimulate their interest in music learning.

1. Using Technology to Enhance Interest

Since Millennials are avid users of gadgets, it is important to integrate technology as a learning tool. This provides a perception of “playing a game” instead of a mundane learning class.

At Alternate Tone Music School we use the latest musical technology for classes and conduct musical workshop that provide music exposure to kids of all ages. One example is our featured innovative kit. This kit allows students to expand their world of imagination, creativity, and invention.

The innovative kit transforms every day objects into touchpads and combines them with the internet. For example, we plug fruits and vegetables into the device and convert them into piano keys where each piece of fruit or vegetable represents a specific key on the piano. For a fun challenge, you can even try to use items that begin with the same letter as the key name, like this:

C – Carrot
D – Dragon Fruit
E – Elderberry

At the end of the day, not only will they recognize the different key sounds, but they will also remember the layout of the piano keys.

2. Develop Collaborative Courses or Workshops

Millennials enjoy working in groups, so at Alternate Tone Music School most of our programs encourage group learning.

While individual lessons allow the instruction to be tailored to the student’s learning style and goals, group classes can be more fun and interactive, spurring a student’s interest for music or reigniting their passion for learning. Collaborative learning sessions are a great way for students to meet other like-minded musicians.

At Alternate Tone Music School, we provide jamming sessions with our students in addition to their regular classes. This helps build their confidence as they perform and play with their peers. Occasionally, we also have special music-related workshops like song composition skills to broaden their knowledge about music and how they can explore it further.

3. Promote creativity

Our school systems are said to be killing creativity in our children. Kids are often punished for making mistakes and are discouraged from thinking or acting differently. They are taught how to follow instructions and replicate what their teachers do. However, these practices do little to encourage creativity. Children who are restricted to such frameworks are less capable of coming up with new solutions and engaging in self-expression.

Alternate Tone’s core belief is that it is the responsibility of us instructors to help promote creativity in our students. Using another fun innovative music-making kit, students explore their creativity by using everyday objects such as toilet paper rolls, paper, sticks, cardboard, water etc. to build a structure that makes music.

Here are some examples of our students’ musical creations:

In the words of Frank Fitzpatrick from the Huffington Post, “Imagination is the wellspring of creativity, for it is our audacity to imagine that pushes the boundaries of possibility.”

A successful music instructor has experience and knowledge, is adaptable, and is a source of inspiration for his students.

Alternate Tone Music School is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. They specialize in providing piano lessons and guitar lessons in Singapore. Contact them for workshop and teaching opportunities. We are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

Using Key Signature Flashcards to Make a Circle of Fifths

This may be a no-brainer, but for some reason it just occurred to me this week that key signature flashcards (I love this set of Student Flashcards from TCW Resources!) would provide a great hands-on opportunity to create and understand the Circle of 5ths!

Mercy has been working hard on memorizing all of her key signatures, so at her lesson this week, we laid out all of the cards in order and then I arranged them in a circular pattern and asked if she could figure out why this arrangement of them was called “The Circle of 5ths.” After thinking about it for a minute, she realized that each subsequent key was a 5th above the previous key. The proverbial lightbulb flashed and she couldn’t stop thanking me for explaining this to her because now it all made so much sense!

We discussed the enharmonic keys and then moved into the flat keys until we arrived back at C Major/a minor. Doing this activity together helped her see in a very tangible way how the Circle of 5ths works and it finally clicked for her why you could count up in 5ths to determine the sharp keys and down in 5ths to figure out the flat keys. It’s so fun to help students grow in their understanding of music theory – hopefully in a way that they will never forget!

Learn From Your Musical Heroes – A Guest Post by Andy Trowers

The best musicians are truly inspiring. They evoke strong feelings through their playing. One of my favourite things is to listen to artists I admire and try to emulate the way they play or compose. You can learn so much from the way they express themselves in note placement, note selection, rhythmic patterns, and technique.

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but many musicians neglect the listening side of music. Analysing a composition, whatever genre, is a key part of improving as a musician. It inspires ideas and enhances your ear, which is essential for improvisation. It’s even a great idea to listen to musical forms you don’t particularly like. You can often listen to them more objectively and gain unusual ideas that can be incorporated into the style you play in an innovative way.

Here are five of my favourite musicians and composers and what I learned from them.

Keith Richards

KeithRichards‘Keef’ Richards was the first musician I truly idolised. His guitar playing is understated and has one sole purpose – to deliver a great song. He is perhaps not the most technical of guitarists when it comes to solos but he is the undisputed master of catchy riffs. He taught me the importance of ‘weaving’ or blending in with other musicians as you play. Playing in the space other musicians leave is essential in a band situation and he epitomises this approach. His passion for blues also turned me on to some great old blues masters who have greatly influenced the way I play.

Stevie Wonder

StevieWonderStevie Wonder was born into music. A child prodigy, he signed to Tamla Motown at the age of 11 years old. He became blind at birth but didn’t let that stop him from becoming one of the most influential musicians of all time. His 1973 album Inner Visions is an acknowledged classic and he played most of the instruments you hear on the album. Whenever I listen to it, I am struck by its outrageous funkiness. His rhythmic playing is second to none, yet he also manages to incorporate beautiful melodies. This fusion of funk and catchy song writing is something that has inspired my own efforts at composition over the years.

Bob Dylan

BobDylanWith his gravelly voice and unkempt appearance, Bob Dylan is an unlikely pop star. He is a prolific songwriter, though, having written many famous hits performed by many different people. He recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature for song-writing.  His poetic lyrics have been a great influence on many songwriters over the years. His early work is based primarily on the acoustic guitar and I learned fingerpicking technique from it, essential for folk and blues playing.

Nina Simone

NinaSimoneThis classically trained pianist-turned-jazz-singer fought against prejudice to become an internationally acclaimed artist and songwriter. Her haunting voice and assured compositions defy description, yet are recognizable the world over. The way she fused classical music with jazz and soul to create a unique sound should be an inspiration to those looking for innovative directions in music.



WolfgangMozartAnother child prodigy, Mozart was composing and performing in front of royalty by the age of five. He was a master of the classical art-form composing concertos, symphonies, operas, sonatas and string concertos. He created more than 600 works and influenced countless musicians throughout the generations. For me, his final unfinished requiem is a masterpiece. Though there is controversy over how much of the final piece is his, it is a striking example of dynamics in music. The ebb and flow of the music show how powerful near-silence and changes in volume and tempo can be in a piece.

Andy Trowers is a freelance writer and regular contributor to www.cheap.forsale and is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. We are grateful for his support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

The Best Way to Motivate Students

My husband shared this quote with me the other day and I thought it was very relevant to teaching students and learning to play an instrument:

“Action never follows motivation…It’s the other way around. When you act, motivation inevitably follows.”

I’ve seen over and over again that when students (or I!) make practicing a discipline and a priority in their lives, they become more motivated. So, in a nutshell, the best way to motivate students is to require them to practice. Because the more they practice, the more skilled they become, and the more motivated they will be!

[Read the whole article here.]