The last session of the conference I attended was a wonderful one! It was called:
Get Out of That Musical Box: Teach Students How To Compose!
Dianne Higgins gave a delightful presentation about the summer composition camps she holds each year. It has been a great success even since the first year she tried it!
The first year, Dianne emailed her students and friends to ask for donations of keyboards, headphones, computers, and other equipment she would need. She was surprised with the response she received, and only had a few things left to purchase. Over the years, she has upgraded her equipment and now has 5 computer stations with small MIDI keyboards, and some keyboard/headphone stations too. She has a separate room in her house for these stations.
Dianne starts planning for the camp 6 months in advance. She creates a flyer about the camp and then talks about it often — in newsletters, on the website, with students, etc. She has found that the best times to hold the camps are starting at 1pm and 6pm, for 2.5 hours, Monday through Thursday. Dianne’s camp is open for ages 6-18.
At camp, students receive a composition folder with manuscript paper and a pencil. She also asks students to bring a flashdrive along if they have one for saving their composition computer files.
Each day of camp, they discussed a musical period — listening to music, looking at the art and fashion of the period, and the instruments. Each day, an hour is devoted to history, a half-hour for composition preparation, and an hour for composition.
Dianne shared some tips she gives her students in order to guide their compositions:
- Encourage them to keep everything they write! Even if what they are working on isn’t working, encourage them to tuck it into their folder and start fresh. They may end of using part of their previous tries.
- Encourage them to stay away from C position.
- Examine other compositions together to see the importance of form and repetition.
- Discuss the elements of melody and harmony.
- Consider assigning a theme of sort kind — having all students compose about weather, a place, a person, emotion, animals, etc.
- Give them a checklist of things to check for in their final composition: form (clearly marked), rhythm (encourage using rests too), melody, number the measures to check symmetry, check for correct notation, and that the RH and LH notes are properly aligned.
- Give gentle and careful criticism. Always find positive things to say about their compositions.
- Some students will want to noodle on the piano first before writing, and others will write first before seeing how it sounds on the piano. Either method is fine!
- Encourage a matching title.
- Encourage them to practice it to check it for accuracy and that everything works (hands don’t overlap, etc.).
On the last day of camp, there is a pizza party and a Show & Tell performance for the parents (even if the compositions are incomplete, they are shared in their present state). Dianne also sets up a display table for everyone to view the finished scores.
Note: once a composition leaves the camp, it is considered published. For copyright protection, the student can submit it to the government (for a cost), get it notarized, or mail it to themselves (do not open the sealed envelope; just store it away).
After the camp, consider encourage your students to enter competitions in the Explorer Magazine or local/state composition competitions. You can also consider making a CD of the compositions, or having your students perform their compositions on recitals.
This session was a wonderful! It was great to hear such practical information, and about how summer camps and the incorporation of composition has been so successful for Dianne!