How Composers Approach Teaching Composition: Strategies for Music Teachers

In “How Composers Approach Teaching Composition: Strategies for Music Teachers,” teacher educator Clint Randles and composer Mark Sullivan suggest practical strategies for teaching composition to students.

They frame their article in helping students to begin, continue, and end pieces of music. Randles and Sullivan provide lists, musical examples, and narrative excerpts between students and teachers to describe strategies for beginning (e.g., rising lines, unresolved harmony), continuing (e.g., suspense, renewal of interest through contrast), and ending (e.g., harmony, melodic line) student compositions.

Interested readers may benefit from Randles and Sullivan’s reference list, as well as “Suggested Resources for Composition,” which includes a variety of textbooks, edited books, and web resources. Among those most recent are: Maud Hickey’s Music Outside the Lines: Ideas for Composing in K-12 Classrooms; Musicianship: Composing in Band and Orchestra, an edited book soon to be released by GIA Publications; and A Practical Guide to Musical Composition, a web resource developed by Alan Belkin.

Randles and Sullivan also point out the importance of teachers learning to compose in facilitating compositional experiences, reminding readers that “educators who are serious about teaching composition [should] first learn to compose themselves” (p. 57). Although not mentioned in the article, composer and educator Rob Deemer has developed resources and presentations to help music teachers learn to compose themselves, suggesting in a recent NewMusicBox column that besides obvious educational value, learning to compose might be fun:

“Having fun, or composing simply for the intrinsic enjoyment of creation, isn’t something that’s discussed much in education or composition circles, but I think it should be. Teachers tend to think that composing is something that is a mystery, an alchemical process in which they are, by default, not worthy to participate.”

Music teachers, what do you think? We encourage you to read Randles and Sullivan’s article and discuss in the comments below. Do you compose? Do your students compose? Why? Why not? Is composing fun? Could it be?

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