Next Generation Composers

Have you ever wanted to teach composing to your piano students, but were skeptical to start because:

1. It would take too much time out of the lesson

2. You know some of your students would resist with every fiber in their being

3. You’re not quite sure how to teach composing

4. It feels a little overwhelming?

I can honestly tell you, I’ve been there and felt all of the above. There is a definite reason I put the first statement at the top of the list. In a thirty-minute piano lesson, I try to pack as much learning and playing in as I possibly can. I really felt that composing was an add-on. Maybe we would get to it someday….maybe during summer lessons…

I can tell you, I have sat through workshops on how to teach composing. I have read books and blog posts on how to teach students to develop themes, teach form, etc. I was not sold.

So I decided to do it my own way. In the piano studio, my motto for years has been “just try something”. I know – it’s very philosophical and lofty. 🙂 So in keeping with my motto, I kept the composing very low-key and free.

I introduced the idea in lessons by just having the student play something. Anything. Some kids dove right in. They already had songs within them, waiting to come out. Easy. All we had to do was write it down.

Other kids gave me blank stares. What???? These are the kids that like a plan and don’t want to sound ridiculous. They needed a little guidance, so I might suggest a certain 5-finger position (possibly one they were already studying) to begin the process.  I gave them permission to play “wrong” notes and sounds. And I would usually busy myself with something out of their line of vision so they could improvise and play around with sounds without the pressure of someone staring at them. And guess what? All of these kids came up with something, and it sounded good.

The whole process did not take as long as I was worried about. It only took a few minutes in each lesson for maybe a few weeks. We just got a quick idea down on paper – I would usually write it down myself because my goal was not to teach how to notate. It was the creativity of the project that we were going for.

Most of the pieces are not very long. Some kids creatively used chromatic scales, glissando, dynamics and rhythms. Others did not. It doesn’t matter. They wrote what they wanted to. Some kids edited and improved their pieces throughout the week at home. Some played their pieces at the spring recital. They had varying levels of excitement and commitment to the project.

I felt they learned to be creative. To make choices based on what they liked and what sounded good to them personally. They then could understand from a composer’s viewpoint the published pieces they were learning.

I put everyone’s piece in my Finale program and “published” the pieces in a book that I bound together. Everyone received a copy at the spring recital. It was very festive and fun.


I had everyone sign their name in my copy on their own piece. “So I can have your signature when you are famous!”DSC_0296 DSC_0297 DSC_0298 Front and back covers.DSC_0299If you want to have your students compose, do it. Figure out something that works for you. It doesn’t have to be grand or win competitions. You will give your students a new skill and a sense of accomplishment at having completed a cool, fun project together.