And…we’re back! With part two in this mini-series. As I mentioned before, the motivation behind everything I do in my studio is to inspire my students to excellence. However, I find that it is not crucial if my students are inspired with me.
The students that thrive are the ones that are inspired with themselves, and with the teacher who mines the depths of their individual creativity to create beauty.
Here is a continuation of ideas to help guide you through the process of inspiring your students with their own creativity.
5) Provide a simple framework for transcription of their ideas.
Once students are comfortable talking about their own ideas and even playing some of them on the piano, it’s time for them to transcribe them, so they can be practiced and preserved. Now, many students are daunted by just reading our complex musical notation system. So forget writing it, right? Wrong! Music is a language of its own, and if we are to train our students to be proficient in using this language, that has to include writing, not just reading (what would we think of an English student who could not write a sentence or a paragraph? I rest my case).
Agree with your students that actually writing full notation on the grand staff is a bit like writing in Chinese or German. However, it can be simplified, and provided that students are given bite-sized assignments, they can learn to do this! How? Begin with what they know and do in school – words and pictures. In sentence or bullet format (older students), or through simple pictures (younger students), have them list the ideas they have for their songs. Then, choose one idea to develop (ex. “Sledding”). Take that idea and find sub-ideas (ex. Climbing the hill, wind in my face, speed on the slope). In those ideas, discuss the emotions and physical feelings they would experience in each idea (breathless, cold, excited, etc). After identifying feelings, find a simple musical sound that can go with each idea – these sounds are the backbone of the piece. Have students then begin with “invented notation” – where symbols and shapes demonstrate sound (see picture). For this, I highly recommend the book, “Can I Play You My Song,” by Rena Upitis – this provided me with fantastic ideas for bringing notation down to my students’ level.
6) Learn and use the “tools of the trade”
Every student needs a toolbox of technique, and we teachers recognize that as we train little fingers – scales, chords, arpeggios, ornaments, octaves, and more. However, these technical tools are our creative tools as well! Do your students know that the famous and sparkling opening passage of Mozart’s Sonata in C major is simply… scales? They need to know this! And they need to know that they can create beauty out of those simple building-blocks as well! To continue with our “Sledding Song” example, show your student how a chromatic scale has the feeling of climbing mini steps, how tightly formed diminished chords sound icy, and how cheery descending major scales sound much like a sled ride! There you have it…a mini masterpiece in the making! Then, in each section mentioned above, form a motif – a 3-7 note musical pattern that they will repeat with variations to form a well-structured sound.
7) Remember that “great artists steal”
Mozart stole ideas from Bach. Chopin stole ideas from Mozart. Everybody and their students’ since wants to use sounds from Chopin. Have your student begin with the concept of a motif borrowed from a famous classical piece, or from your students’ own lesson book. Motifs can also be found in church or pop music – the sky’s the limit! Just find them! From there, they’re ready to learn about motivic development. While it sounds fancy, your students need to know that it’s simple. Show them the ways you can vary a three-note pattern – playing it fast or slow, loud or soft, major or minor, with embellishments, transposing it onto different keys, etc. This is big stuff – and it can be practiced for months. The practice is worth it, because motivic development, in essence, is the biggest part of composition.
8) Keep assignments specific
Nothing is more frightening to a student than the feeling that they don’t understand something. Clarity and specificity save the day in composition class! Use clear commands to guide your student through creating a song of their own. One assignment that has helped my students overcome their fear of creating their own music is to give them small and specific mini-improv assignments in their daily warm-ups – “Play as many sounds from the D major scale as possible in one minute.” Or, “Using these three chords (G, D7, and C), repeat them in all octaves of the piano for one minute straight in quarter and eighth notes. The only rule is, you can’t stop.”
9) Just do it
Yes, there is always fear in stepping into the unknown. However, start small. Begin by discussing what it means to be creative. Show them how you have navigated this process and the immense enjoyment it has brought to you. And then progress slowly through the other ideas outlined above, checking out some of the recommended resources and fueling the process through your own research and creativity. Over time, the application of these concepts into your studio can be a launchpad into inspiring your students – not with yourself, but with themselves.
Do you have questions or comments? Send me a message: www.annaferraromusic.com/contact
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