Composition and Notation, Part I: Don’t Sweat the Small Staff

I used to get very frustrated trying to teach notation or getting students to accurately notate their compositions on the staff. But I’ve changed, and so can you!*

Don’t get bogged down with notating compositions. It kills the creative flow. Young composers know what they want their music to sound like. They can often remember it without writing anything down. If not, record it, and they can probably reproduce it.

As students start writing more complex music, or even just lengthier music, they can create a “musical map” of their piece. They should create symbols that another person can understand (i.e., there should be some logic behind them), and the map should show us the time relationships (i.e., where to begin and end, where there may be spaces, and some sense of relative duration).

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Parallel to language literacy, young students can speak and think at a much higher level than they can fluently write. By not requiring students to notate in a specific way, you are allowing them to focus their energy on creating interesting musical compositions that are not limited by their notation abilities.

*Note: I’m not suggesting that students shouldn’t notate–or be able to notate–music. I’m simply saying that we shouldn’t let it be an obstacle to creativity. I no longer think that notation is as important for every student, from an early age, as I used to believe it was. Ready to move on to notation? Read Part II here.

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