Composing is the most useful, yet least utilized skill in a piano teacher’s toolkit. It has the ability to improve note reading, home practice, and self-confidence. It can, quite literally, save a student who is on the verge of quitting piano lessons.
But despite all of its benefits, composing is rarely taught in piano lessons.
Most teachers do not have experience composing, and therefore, do not believe they have the skill set to teach students to compose. Composing can be difficult to teach. However, using composition as a teaching tool, and teaching kids to compose the next masterpiece are two very different things!
On this page, we’re sharing piano composing resources designed to help you use composing as a teaching tool to improve the lesson experience. The tools and strategies are simple and can be employed by teachers with any level of composing experience. Your students will not be composing the next famous nocturne; instead, they will be creating mini-musical excerpts that will make them better piano players.
Why Is Composing Important For Piano Students?
If you are intimidated about composing, know this: if you can help your students string together two measures of music in a 5-Finger Scale that sound pleasant, you have all the skills you’ll need to bring the benefits of composing to your studio.
Most of the printables and strategies you’ll find on this page are created as “fill-in-the-blank” composing activities where your students create their own simple, measures of music that complete ready-to-play piano pieces. You can check out these activities here
Let’s keep learning about composing as a teaching tool:
1. Using Composing As A Theory “Crash Course”
It is impossible to predict the musical areas in which your individual students will excel or struggle. It is even harder for piano publishers to make these predictions. For this reason, finding a piece of piano repertoire that reinforces a student’s specific struggle can be almost impossible.
So, what do you do when you can’t find the perfect piano piece? You and your student compose your own!
Imagine your student is struggling to identify guide notes in the C 5-Finger Scale. Armed with blank staff paper and a pencil, you and your student can create a one-line musical composition that uses only guide notes. By giving your student choices as you create the composition together, he will feel like a co-creator of the mini-piece and will practice the piece relentlessly.
In this case, your goal is not to create a complicated hands-together piece, but rather a simple-to-play, note-by-note melody that begins and ends on the tonic of the scale with plenty of note-reading practice built right in. Title it “The Hamster’s Escape” and it will be instantly transformed into a practice-worthy morsel for your piano student.
2. Using Composing As An Ear-Training Tool
As you explore this page you’ll discover that many of the activities require your students to create mini-musical excerpts to complete ready-to-play piano pieces.
When your students create these mini-measures, they will be actively listening to melodies and note combinations and assessing whether or not they are creating music that sounds pleasant and fits with the corresponding piano pieces. These are essential skills that all capable piano players must develop.
Teaching students to actively listen to what they are playing is something I call a “sleeper skill”. Most people would assume that kids listen to themselves as they play the piano. But this is just not true. Young piano students are often so focused on reading the notes on a page of music, that they do not hear mistakes as they play.
Composing fixes this problem. The entire purpose of writing a piece of music is to create music that sounds the way the composer wants it to sound, and this requires active listening!
3. Using Composing To Motivate Uninspired Piano Students
If you have piano students who are rapidly losing interest or who are unimpressed by the repertoire choices you present, then composing can be the tool that flicks the light switch of motivation to the “on” position. The ability to create short, easy pieces put your students in the driver’s seat and gives them a sense of ownership over their own learning.
When taught simple compositional methods, your piano students can generate music with themes, ideas, and sounds that appeal to their sensibilities. This not only improves practice time at home but also gives teachers valuable insights into the kinds of repertoire they may enjoy studying.
When encouraged to experiment, piano students learn to see the piano as a tool for creativity and self-expression rather than simply as a means of replicating the music of others. This shift in thinking is powerful and can solidify your piano students’ enjoyment of the piano and their desire to improve their skills in order to continue to develop their own composing abilities.
Composing Articles And Activities For Piano lessons
Below you can discover a collection of articles and activities that will help you bring composing instruction to your piano studio. Click on any image to get started. Check in on this page often as we will be updating it regularly.