TEACHER FEATURE: Andy Villemez on his Creative Commissions Project (CCP)

Last year when I blogged about my composition Where the Train Tracks End, I mentioned my Ohio-based colleague, Andy Villemez — the mastermind behind the Creative Commissions Project (CCP). In this blog post, I thought it would be fun to interview Andy and learn more about CCP!

In a nutshell, CCP seeks to bring working composers in direct conversation with music teachers and their students. Each student is paired with a composer who writes a piece based on the student’s current technical and musical abilities, personality, and interests. I was involved with CCP back in 2017 as a composer. I wrote two pieces — one for a student in Durham, NC and another for a student in Columbus, OH. 

Let’s have a conversation with Andy to learn more about this project!

Continue reading “TEACHER FEATURE: Andy Villemez on his Creative Commissions Project (CCP)”

Roundup: Composition/Improvisation Resources for Piano Teachers

In today’s post, I’d like to round up a few of my favorite resources (both free and paid) on my blog relating to composition and improvisation.

Composition and improvisation are skills I love integrating into my teaching. When students show an interest in creating their own pieces, I always foster this and coach them through the process of formulating and notating their compositions. To help expose all of my students to composition, I offer a composition-themed summer camp at least every-other-year. I use improvisation, in simple but natural ways, in my teaching too — although I’d like to get better at doing more!

20160614_11-18-49 w

In this blog post, there are three main sections: (1) First, I will first round up my free printables related to composition and improvisation. (2) Then, I’ll list some blog post links to some articles that discuss how to integrate improvisation and composition into your teaching. (3) Finally, I will tell you about two paid resources from my shop you might find useful for teaching composition and improvisation to your piano students.

I hope you’ll discover — or rediscover — some fun resources you can use in your teaching!

Continue reading “Roundup: Composition/Improvisation Resources for Piano Teachers”

Just Released: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano, Set #2!

I’m pleased today to announce the release of a sequel — Set #2 of Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano! Below, I’ll tell you more about it and share a free sample page for you to try out with your students.

It was early on in my teaching career when I began helping my students compose their own pieces. It was fun, and I could see how my students were benefitting from experiencing the compositional process.

Still today, I enjoy being able to help students compose on demand throughout the year. I also love offering composition camps during the summer — it’s my favorite camp theme! (Some years we use this curriculum, and other years not).

20160614_11-18-49 w

Sometimes, students have a hard time getting started with a composition project. There are two main challenges I’ve observed in students:

Continue reading “Just Released: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano, Set #2!”
Composition, Music Camps

2016 Composition Summer Camp: Day 4/4

[Click to view Day 1Day 2, or Day 3.]

On our final day of camp, students reviewed the drafts of their composition that I had updated and printed from Finale the previous evening. We made small tweaks and reprinted as needed.

20160616_10-39-54 w

Students took turns using the piano and keyboard to practice their compositions, so that they could perform them for the group.

20160616_10-44-38 w

A group selfie taken during our snack break.

20160616_11-05-53 w

Then, it was time to share our compositions.

20160616_11-11-47 w

It was fun to hear each student’s piece.

20160616_11-25-42 w

There were a number of other games and activities we used throughout the week, but I mostly wanted to highlight the process of guiding all ten of my students to complete a composition by the end of the week. It wasn’t easy!

What helped was to create daily goals and clearly communicate those goals along the way. I was proud of how the students rose to meet the challenge.

Here are a few of the resulting compositions.

Isabella M - Friendship w

I used guiding questions to help the students figure out how to dictate the rhythm and properly notate their compositions.

Ariana A - The Dance Off w

I made very little critique of the student compositions. The goal for this four-day camp was to experience the process of expressing something through the piano and writing it down. Honing of their compositional skills can occur during later opportunities! I have no doubt that this group of students will be composing more pieces down the road, sooner rather than later, at which time we can spend more time on refinement during their private lessons.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with how the week went and with the resulting compositions!

Elise A - Shooting Star w

Composition, Music Camps

2016 Composition Summer Camp: Day 3/4

[Click to view Day 1 or Day 2.]

The goal for Day 3 was to have our compositions basically finished by the end of the day. With that in mind, we spent time discussing form (AB, ABA, through-composed, etc.) as well as various aspects of proper music notation.

My cat, Coda, loves to help my students with their compositions.

20160615_10-36-31 w

It is exciting to see our compositions taking form!

20160615_10-51-38 w

Halfway through each day, we enjoyed a snack outside on the patio. On this particular day, one of my students brought in a birthday snack to share: homemade ice cream sandwiches!

20160615_11-10-38 w

Composing is hard work. 😉

20160615_11-34-55 w

That evening, I updated each student’s composition in Finale and printed nearly-completed drafts for students to work from the following day.

[Click here for Day 4.]

Composition, Music Camps

2016 Composition Summer Camp: Day 2/4

[Click here for Day 1.]

On Day 2 of our composing camp, our goal was to get a good amount of our pieces composed and written down by the end of the day.

We used the piano or keyboard to improvise until we found music we liked.

20160614_11-00-22 w

Then, we started writing it down on staff paper.

20160614_10-53-27 w

I had two stations arranged: my piano and my keyboard with headphones.

20160614_11-16-02 w

Students worked at the table and then took turns using the piano/keyboard.

20160614_11-01-20 w

I went from student to student, helping them as needed.

20160614_11-00-52 w

Hard at work, yet having fun!

20160614_11-18-49 w

It’s exciting to see the compositions taking form.

20160614_11-25-33 w

That evening, I took it upon myself to enter each student’s composition so far into Finale. I printed these drafts out for students to work from the following day.

[Click here for Day 3.]

Composition, Music Camps

2016 Composition Summer Camp: Day 1/4

As mentioned previously, this week is the week: it’s composition camp for my students and me!

So, You Want To Be A Composer?
June 13-16, M-Th from 10am-noon
Throughout this camp, students will experience the joy of creation while composing their own music: from the energy of the initial creative urge, following the path of their personal inspiration, then settling it all into a captured vision. By the end of the week, each student will take home an illustrated copy of their composition, printed using professional music notation software. In addition to individual work, students will get to take part in group-based improvisation and composition throughout the week. For students ages 5-14. No previous musical background necessary.

As it turned out, ten students — all current piano students of mine — registered for this camp.

On the first day of camp, our goal was for each student to (1) chose a subject for their musical composition and (2) draw an illustration.

20160613_10-54-58 w

It is so fun to see what each student chooses and how they choose depict the subject matter through their drawing.

20160613_10-58-36 w

Later in the day, each student took a turn improvising at the piano inspired by his/her drawing. This allowed us explore and experience the process of expressing through sound.

20160613_11-33-48 w

The rest of the group provided feedback about how the improvisation made them feel or what the music reminded them of.

20160613_11-33-18 w

This is good preparation for Day 2, when we will start formulating the structure of our compositions and writing them down on staff paper.

That evening, I scanned each student’s illustration so that it would be ready to digitally insert into Finale software later in the week.

Stay turned for more photos of our camp week! [Click here for Day 2.]


Student Composition: “The Wind”

My blogging has been sporadic at best for the past few weeks — I apologize!  I have been spending every moment of my free time working on a project with a Christmas-related deadline.  🙂  I will be sharing more details about it later this month.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of my student playing a piece she recently composed.  Rania is a very proficient composer.  🙂  Rania has composed pieces based on my “Prompts for Piano” eBook, although this particular piece was inspired by one of the composition assignments in the theory book of the Succeeding at the Piano method books.  Rania LOVES using the pedal, as you’ll hear in her piece:

Rania first wrote out her piece using her own kind of made-up notation.  After I heard her play the piece, I encouraged her to write it out on staff paper.  After that, I notated the piece for her in Finale.  She drew an illustration for the piece, which I scanned and inserted into the Finale file.  I also like to save the completed score as a PDF and send it to the parents.

Rania - The Wind wood with illustrated score

Rania enjoyed making the video, too, so that her family members that live outside of the state can see/hear her play!

Composition, Teaching Piano

Now Available: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano eBook

Last week, I wrote a blog post here describing how I help my students compose their own pieces.  Today, I am officially announcing the release of a new e-book resource called: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano!

Prompts for Piano - ebook cover 950x629

Continue reading “Now Available: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano eBook”


Composing in the Piano Lesson with Beginner & Elementary Students

Mack T - The DinosaurFor the past six months, I have been working on a new resource to help piano teachers compose and improvise with their students.  I am going to give you the full scoop on the new resource soon, but I wanted to introduce the resource with this article discussing how composition can be used in the private piano lesson.  Update: the new “Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano” eBook is now available here in the Shop!  

There are many challenges to having piano students compose.  For example, teachers might feel that:

  • I don’t have time in the lesson to teach composition.
  • I don’t know how to teach composition.
  • I don’t know how to give a composition assignment.
  • My students don’t understand how to compose a good melody.
  • My students are overwhelmed at the idea of composing their own music.

Despite these challenges (yes, I feel them too), I have enjoyed having my students compose their own pieces for many years now.  Here is how I incorporate composition in my lessons: Continue reading “Composing in the Piano Lesson with Beginner & Elementary Students”

Composition, Music Camps, Music History

“So, You Want To Be A Composer?” Camp – Now Available!

Hooray, the “So, You Want To Be A Composer?” camp has just been added to the Color In My Piano Shop!

Now, it’s time for me to focus on my next camp: “Music History Blast From The Past.”  Want a sneak peak?  Okay, if you insist:  🙂

Composition, Music Camps

Music Camp Freebie from “So, You Want To Be A Composer?”

Good morning!  The “So, You Want To Be A Composer?” camp is ready to be listed in the Color In My Piano shop……but I’m just waiting to hear back from one more student to get permission to share their composition in the lesson plan as an example.  I will post it as soon as I hear from them!  UPDATE: The lessons plans are posted now!  

For today though, I thought I would share a peek at a composition by one of my other students, and also share a FREEBIE from the camp lessons plans!  Read on.

During camp, we spent a lot of time discussing how composers make music SOUND like the title or the subject they are describing.  This student appropriately chose a minor key for his dragon piece.  I helped him very little, other than approving his first few measures and then encouraging him to add a B section.  Not bad for a first composition, is it?!  🙂  Once he had it worked out on the piano, we together figured out how to notate the piece.  Later, I transcribed his piece into Finale, printed it out, and then asked him to add an illustration.

As promised, I’d like to share a freebie from “So, You Want To Be A Composer?” camp….. a pdf containing TEN different sizes of staff paper!  I hope you can put it to good use.  🙂  Visit the Printables > Other Resources page and scroll down to the S’s for “Sheet Music A-J.”

  Staff Paper - A-J (180.5 KiB, 22,196 hits)