In every KeyNotes workbook we have a theme or a story, we learn pieces based around that theme or story and then we end the workbook by taking everything we have learnt and putting it into a composition.
So here in this video, we have been learning about Mussorsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition". We have listened to some of the movements whilst looking at the pictures they accompany, students have played some original pieces and drawn pictures that they think are suitable for their piano pieces, and this is where we ended. Students drew their own pictures to compose about.
So why do we think composing is an important part of our lessons?
Well there are several reasons:
So how should one approach composition in a piano class?
Well it helps to have a theme or a topic. Or for them to be composing for a part of a story. Even when I was teaching 16-year olds for their GCSE (exams syllabus in the UK) composition, I always told them to think of a story, to structure their music around different parts of the story. If they were composing theme and variations for example, I would suggest they have a different season for each variation, something that could help illustrate different moods and therefore vary their musical elements. I would never ask anyone to compose a piece of music without intention. So that should be your first consideration.
Next, you need to make sure that your students are aware of the musical elements. We use this table to make sure we are considering all of the elements both in our composing tasks, but also in our listening tasks.
It will take time for your students to build their understanding of these elements and how they can be used for various means (although some are more straightforward than others!), but these form a great basis for children to think about their music.
What is essential to carrying out composition tasks, is the teacher modelling. We should attempt a composition ourselves with the children, talking them through our decisions, encouraging them to offer their views and ideas, and showing the nature of the fact that it is a work in progress!
I also take them through some "rules" (although the more expressive the thing that they are composing for is, the less strict the rules are!). I alluded to some of these rules above but they generally outline the rudiments of music - using the home note/tonic, having short repeated patterns/motifs that have a question and answer phrasing (I talk to them about finished and unfinished motifs which they can identify correctly 100% of the time. I also talk about a comma and a full stop). Moving melodies by step or small leap and making sure that we can sing it back easily. As they get more experienced I will talk to them about chords, notes of the chord and passing notes etc. But on the whole I don't like them to get too bogged down in technicalities.
I actually don't often encourage them to write their compositions down (either letter names, or notation) because this often tends to stilt their creativity and particularly their performance of the composition. Instead I get them to think in elements and motifs. To think about how they are going to play the chick (duckling!) motif high, and then higher, faster, louder as the ducks get more and more excited!
Most of all, they should enjoy the process and feel proud of what they have created.
Have you ever used composition in your piano lessons?
If you would like to use this Pictures at an Exhibition composition sheet as seen in this video, you can download it from our free printables site - join here.