How to Teach Composition

Updated: Mar 2

My students love creating their own compositions because it allows them to get creative and make music that they enjoy. How do we teach students how to create their own music? I will be sharing the step-by-step plan so your student will have a beautiful composition by the end of the lesson.


1) Style

First ask your student what time signature they would like their piece to be in (for early beginners use a 4/4 time signature) and how fast they want their piece to be. Do they want their piece to be major or minor? You may want to look at some famous pieces to determine the style they are looking for.


2) Rhythms

Have your student clap and count the rhythms they want their piece to be while you write down their rhythms on a blank piece of paper. Show them all of the rhythms they can use. If they get stuck, ask if they want the first rhythm to be faster or slower. Show them the rhythms they have created after 4 measures and ask if they want to change anything. Choose the rhythms for younger students.


3) Notes

Ask your student what key they want to be in (if they are just beginning use the C position). Place their right hand in that position and tell them to play any notes in that position (or key) for their piece. While they are playing the notes, write them along with the rhythms they have picked. Show them the melody they have created with their combination of notes and rhythms and ask them if they want to change any notes or rhythms. If your student is just starting out with music, skip steps 4 and 5.


4) Accompaniment

Place their left hand in that position and ask them to play their melody while trying I, V, or IV chords for every measure. Whatever chord they prefer more will be selected for that measure. Once they have their chords, more advanced students can use broken chords or varied patterns. Show them different left hand patterns and ask them which one they prefer the most.


5) Form

Ask your student if they want to repeat their melody. Have them repeat the same process for their second part of the piece. Ask them if they want to create a third part or to repeat the first part again. Show them the different forms (AABA, ABA, ABC, etc.) and have them select which one they think will fit best.


6) Final Details

Ask your student what dynamics they want to use for each part of their piece and ask if they want to add any slurs, staccatos, accents, etc. Show them the final piece that they have created with all of the dynamics and articulation and ask them if they wish to make any changes. Below is a performance of one of my students performing her own composition. I made up a teacher duet part to go along with it.


7) Title

Play their piece to them and have them close their eyes. Have them imagine a painting and their piece represents the painting. Play the music to them and ask them what they saw in the painting. Was the painting of something inside or outside? People, buildings, food, scenery, etc? With what they come up with, ask them what kind of title suits those characteristics the best.



Want to start teaching composition in a simpler way? Start by having the student improvise with a teacher duet. Then you can have the student make up their own rhythm on a certain note. A great resource for practicing both of these ideas is Alphabet Party. The book starts by teaching the student how to find all of the C's, D's, etc. on the piano. They hold each note for 4 beats with the teacher duet part. Once they get this, have the student make up their own rhythm that they repeat on each key.


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