About a month ago, our music teachers association had a workshop on teaching composition to students. Wendy Stevens was our presenter, and gave us lots of practical tips. Plus, as part of the workshop she played portions of her newly published Christmas book, All is Calm! (BTW, if you haven’t seen Wendy’s website, you must check it out! It is loaded with all sorts of great resources!) One of the tips Wendy shared that has already gotten a lot of mileage in my studio is to have the student pick out a favorite part in a piece that they are playing. Then identify what it is about that part that makes it their favorite and have them incorporate those elements into an original composition. She emphasized the importance, above all, of having a good melody.
This process has looked different for different students, but the picture above represents the chord structure for a portion of the piece Solfeggietto by C.P.E. Bach. After selecting this piece as her favorite, my student identified the section she liked the best. We discussed it and determined that it was the chord progression that really captured her ear. So we analyzed the chords and then I assigned her to use that progression as the harmonic basis for an original melody. She’s still working on it, but it’s proving to be a great way to provide organization while also allowing for plenty of her own creativity.
I still have a long ways to go in learning how to effectively teach composition, but this idea from Wendy has been a great launching pad!