This is going to be a post about an approach to composition that I think almost no-one is talking about but could be effective.
Our school is looking into LCM exams and the exam board has an interesting composition course. It is accredited by the LCM but strangely instead of the Grade 1-8 performance exams that we are used to, the composition tasks are only Grade 2, 4, 6 and 8. So the one we are interested in is the Grade 2 composition, as it’s the easiest one. Here is what would be expected:
I put this out on Twitter and didn’t get much response except one person thought it might be too hard for Year 6. It certainly would be if you can’t read and write music. And you really need to have some basic knowledge of harmony. However, if you started to learn how to use MuseScore in Year 5 then suddenly it would be a lot more manageable. It’s certainly something Key Stage 3 teachers should think about. Before I would consider doing anything like this I would make sure students had copied out a lot of music onto MuseScore. And before anyone accuses me of stifling creativity, the great composers of yesteryear copied loads of scores of music they liked – you can learn an awful lot from copying out music.
The reason for using MuseScore is that it is awesome, it is free and has a great music community. It’s a different way of thinking about composition from a notation point of view rather than sequencing or live performing and the major disadvantage is that you could easily get bogged down with notation problems. But I really think there would be a lot of learning through this approach. It would definitely help with music theory. And at the end of the course you could submit it to LCM (for a fee) and obtain an accredited qualification or not if that isn’t what you want (or can afford).
It’s certainly something to think about for students who are working at a very high level. I think to myself what we can do in a class where there are some kids who can’t find middle C, and others that have just passed their Grade 5 with distinction. Perhaps we need a two-tier music system and give this challenge to the high fliers and just let them get on with it and feedback every couple of weeks to see how they are getting on. Perhaps it should be a dedicated after-school composition club. Perhaps for some crazy teachers it might be something that all children could do in class-time. Perhaps in KS3 this could be music homework for the entire year and you won’t need to set any small tasks. That could certainly cut work load (until you have to mark it, or let someone from the LCM mark it for you for a fee).
I hear a lot of talk about creativity and the importance of composing but not a lot about actual compositions and a final product (apart from at GCSE). I’ve even heard people say that it is the process of composing that is important and not the actual completed composition. I don’t think this is a good example to give to students – they need to know that in the real world, yes there is an expectation for a final product and the process on its own is not good enough – results matter.
Anyway, I will put my money where my mouth is and I’m going to trial the course by doing it myself so hopefully I might pass my Grade 2 Composition by the end of the school year!