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The Composers' Workshop: An Approach to Composing in the Classroom

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MENC: The National Association for Music Education
The Composers' Workshop: An Approach to Composing in the Classroom
Author(s): Alex Ruthmann
Source:
Music Educators Journal,
Vol. 93, No. 4 (Mar., 2007), pp. 38-43
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The
Composers'
Workshop:
An
Approach
to
Composing
in
the
Classroom
By
Alex Ruthmann
As
a middle school
general
music
teacher,
I've
often wrestled
with
how
to
engage
my
students
in
meaningful
composing experiences.
Many
of the
approaches
I'd read about seemed disconnected
from
the real-world
musicality
I
saw
daily
in
the music
my
students created at home and
what
they
did
in
my
classes. This disconnect
prompted
me to look for
ways
of
bridging
the
gap'
between the
students'
musi-
cal
world
outside
music class and their in-class
composing experiences.
At
my
school,
all
performing
arts classes
are scheduled
during
the same hour of the
day.
As a
result,
the choral
and instrumental rooms are filled with
students
in
band,
orchestra,
and choir.
When
I
was
asked to teach
a
general
music class for students
who were not
already
involved
in
performance-based
music
classes,
I
designed
a
composition-based
class,
Composers'
Workshop,
that could be
taught
in
our
library computer
lab because no other rooms were
available.
Many
current
approaches
to
composing
with
technology require
teachers to
spend
considerable
time
showing
students
how to use the software and hardware.
Technologies
described
in
many
resources
are
often
costly
or
require complex procedures
to
adapt
for the classroom.
In
addition,
the
majority
of
approaches
to
teaching
music
with
technology
center
around
notating
musical ideas and are often rooted
in
European
classi-
cal notions
of
composing
(for
example, creating
ABA
pieces,
or
restricting composing
tasks to
predetermined
rhythmic
values).
These
approaches require
students to
have
a
fairly
sophisticated
knowledge
of standard music notation2
and a
fluency working
with
rhythms
and
pitches
before
being
able to
explore
and
express
their
musical ideas
through
broader
musical dimensions
like
form, texture,
mood,
and
style.
Common
approaches
to
organizing composing
experi-
ences
with
synthesizers
and
software
often focus
on
simplified
classical forms
without
regard
to whether
these forms
are authen-
tic to the
genre
or to
technologies
chosen as a
medium for
creation.
The
middle
school students
enrolled
in
these
classes came
without much interest
in
performing,
working
with
notation,
or
studying
the
classical
music canon.
Many
saw themselves
as
"failed"
musi-
cians,
placed
in
a
general
music class because
they
had not succeeded
in
or desired to
continue
with tra-
ditional
performance-based
music classes.
Though
they
no
longer
had
the
desire to
perform
in
tradi-
tional school
ensembles,
they
were excited about
having
the
opportunity
to create
music that
might
be
personally
meaningful
to them.
By observing
students around
school,
I
knew that
they
were immersed
in
a rich and
complex
musical "sound world"-a world
they
understood
and
knew
intimately.
Music radiated
from them
constantly
as
they
scurried
through
the
halls.
They sang,
danced,
stole
moments to
listen to music on
their
iPods
between
classes,
and were
always discussing
the latest
artist,
song,
or
music video.
In
response,
I
found
myself
trying
to find
ways
to
engage
them
in
composing experiences
that drew
on their
music and
musical
ideas as curriculum.
Clearly,
these students
were musical
beings.
As their
teacher,
I
knew
I
had to find
ways
to foster
their
musicality
and
develop
their
personal
musicianship.
I
therefore
posed
several
challenges
for
myself:
0
How
could
I
teach so that
composing
for
personal
expression
could be
a
transformative
experience
for students?
0
How
could
I
let the voices and needs of the
students
guide
lessons for the
compo-
sition
process?
The
way
writing
teachers
approach
composition
can
illuminate how
we teach
composing.
38
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0
How could
I
draw on the
deep,
complex
musical
understandings
that these students
brought
to class to
help
them
develop
as
musicians and
composers?
N
What tools could
I
use
to
quickly
engage
them
in
organizing
sound
in
musical and
meaning-
ful
ways?
Writing
and
Composing
Parallels
As
I
worked with
classroom
teachers,
observed
my
students,
and reflected on
my
own
use of
technology
when
composing,
I
realized that there
were
parallels
between the
process
of
composing
music at a
computer
and the
process
of
writing. Organizing
sounds or words is
often
a
solo
process
involving only
an
individual and the
medium for
composing.
In
many
music
technology
classrooms,
teachers structure the
environment so each student works
individually
at
a
computer
and
keyboard
composing
music alone.
Musical
thinking (thinking
in
sound)
and
linguistic
thinking (thinking using language
phrases
and
ideas)
are
personal
creative
processes, yet
both occur within social
and cultural contexts.
Noting
these
parallels,
I
began
to think about connections between
the
whole-language
approach
to
writing
used
by language
arts
teachers
in
my
school and
approaches
I
might
take
in
my
music classroom.
In
the
whole-language approach
to
writing,
students work
individually
as
they
learn to
write,
yet
are
supported through
collaborative
scaffolding-support
from their
peers
and the teacher. At the
earliest
stages,
students
tell their stories and
attempt
to write
them down
using pictures, drawings,
and invented
notation. Students write about
topics
that
are
personally
meaningful
to
them,
learning
from their
own
writing
and from the
writing
of
their
peers,
their
teacher,
and their fami-
lies.
They
also
study
literature of
pub-
lished
authors. Classes that take this
approach
to
teaching
writing
are often
referred to as
"writers'
workshops."
Lucy
Calkins
and
Nancie Atwell are
two influential
teachers and
researchers whose
ideas
underpin
the
structures and
approaches
used
in
Alex Ruthmann is an
assistant
professor of
music education
at
Indiana State
University
in
Terre
Haute and a
former
music
teacher at Cranbrook
Kingswood
Middle School in
Bloomfield
Hills,
Michigan.
He
can be reached at
sruthmann@indstate.edu.
In
the
composers' workshop,
composing
is
defined
broadly
as
"organizing
sound
musically
for
personal
expression:"
E
m
m
z
4
o
o
e
WWW.
MEN
C. 0
R
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39
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many
writers'
workshops
in
schools
today.3
In
writers'
workshops,
students
spend
most of their time
writing
and
reading.
The teacher facilitates their
growth
as writers
through
minilessons,
share
sessions,
and
conferring
sessions
tailored to meet the needs that
emerge
as the writers
progress
in
their work.
Students'
original
ideas and
writings
often become an
important compo-
nent
of the curriculum.
However,
stu-
dents
in
these
settings
do not
spend
their entire class time
"freewriting."
There
are
also
opportunities
for stu-
dents to share
writing
in
progress
and
get
feedback
and
support
from teacher
and
peers.
Revision and extension
of
students'
writing
occur
throughout
the
process.
Lessons are not
organized
by
uniform,
prescriptive assignments,
but rather are tailored to the students'
interests and needs.
In
this
way,
the
direction of the curriculum
and suc-
cessive
projects
are informed
by
the
students' needs as
developing
writers.
The
Composers' Workshop
Inspired
by
writers'
workshop
approaches,
I
developed
a set of
guide-
lines for a
"composers' workshop"4
in
my
classroom. The central activities
in
this
workshop
are
composing, impro-
vising,
and
performing
with
synthe-
sizers,
student
voices,
and
loop-based
music
software.
Analytical listening
experiences, genre
studies,
and inter-
disciplinary
units
support
these
expe-
riences. The broad curricular
goal
of
the
composers'
workshop
is
to
engage
students
collaboratively
in:
0
Organizing
and
expressing
musi-
cal ideas and
feelings through
sound-
with
real-world,
authentic reasons
for
and means of
composing
*
Listening
to and
analyzing
musi-
cal works
appropriate
to students'
interests and
experiences,
drawn
from
a broad
spectrum
of sources
*
Studying processes
of
experi-
enced music
creators
through
listen-
ing
to,
performing,
and
analyzing
their
music,
as well as
being
informed
by
accounts of the
composition
process
written
by
these creators.
I
chose
loop-based
music software
programs
like
Super Duper
Music
Looper
and
Sony
Acid Music Studio
because
their
design
enables students
to start
organizing
sounds that are
rec-
ognizable
and
meaningful right
from
the
beginning.
Students
select sounds
from a
library
of orchestrated
musical
ideas called
loops
and,
to use a
paint-
ing metaphor,
"brush" them
in
layers
on the
screen,
organizing
their
com-
positions
both
visually
and
aurally.
With
this kind of
software,
students
are not
limited
by
lack of instrumental
technique
or
prior experience
with
music notation.
While students
do not
initially
work
directly
with
rhythms
and
pitch,
working
with
loops
enables students
to
begin composing
through working
with several
broad musical dimen-
sions,
including
texture, form, mood,
and affect. As our semester
progresses,
students
begin
to add their own
origi-
nal melodies and musical ideas
to
their
loop-based
compositions
through
work with
synthesizers
and
voices.
Initial student
compositions
with
loop-based
software
often emulate
musical
styles
and
genres popular
with the
students. As a
result,
many
of
the first
listening experiences
for these
students are drawn from
genres
and
artists that
they
know
well and can
imitate
in
their
compositions.
We
draw musical models
from a wide
range
of
styles
and cultures.
Genres
are chosen based on the
composition-
al
problems
students
encounter when
creating
their
pieces.
In
many
classes,
initial
composing challenges
have
included
investigating
how to create
interesting
introductions,
generate
variety,
and
creatively
end
students'
pieces.
As
they
listen to musical exem-
plars,
I
try
to have students
listen for
the musical
decisions and understand
the
processes
that
artists,
sound
engi-
neers,
and
producers
make
when
crafting
their
pieces.
These
listening
experiences
often
open
the
door
to
further
dialogue
on and
study
of
the
multiplicity
of musical
roles5
that
are a
part
of
creating today's popular
music.
Having
students read accounts
of
the
steps
that
audio
engineers, producers,
songwriters,
film-score
composers,
and
studio musicians
go
through
when
creating
music
has
proven
to
be
informative
and has
helped
students
learn the skills
for more
accurately
expressing
the musical ideas
they
have
in their heads.
Some
sources
of accounts of these
kinds
of
processes
can be
found in
periodicals
like
Electronic
Musician
and
Remix.
For detailed
and informa-
tive
accounts of some of the
processes
film
scorers
and sound
designers
use
when
creating
music for
film
and
videogames,
see
Jon
Savage's
Sound
2Picture and Sound2Game
resources
(www.sound2picture.net
and www
.sound2game.net).
In
our
composers'
workshop,
the
process
of
composing
is
defined
broadly
as
"organizing
sound
musical-
ly
for
personal expression."
Although
initial
composing
experiences
are with
musical
loops,
students
then
explore
and add
original
melodies and
musical
ideas via their voices
and
synthesizers
as
they
progress.
Parameters
for com-
posing
experiences
are drawn
from
the musical
structures of
genres
and
styles
that interest
the students.
The
music
that students create
is
directly
influenced
by
the structural
character-
istics
of the musical
exemplars
we
analyze together
and
individually
in
class.
Workshop
Structure
Writers'
workshops
are often
organ-
ized
by
a set
of
pedagogical
structures
designed
to formulate
a curriculum
that
responds
to student
needs and
helps
students
develop
their
skills as
writers. Several structures
that
have
been
useful
in
our
composers'
work-
shop
center around
minilessons and
conferring, sharing
and
celebrating
student
work
in
class
and
through
online
galleries,
and
structuring
com-
posing experiences
around
genre
stud-
ies.
Here is a more
in-depth
look at the
nature of
the initial
experiences.
Initial
Experiences.
On
the
first
day
of
Composers'
Workshop,
stu-
dents
and teacher
work with
loop-
based
software
together
as a class
to
create
one collaborative
composition.
Projecting my computer
screen
on
the
wall,
I
model
how to find and select
sounds
in
the software
and lead
the
class
in
making
decisions about
how
to
structure
our music.
I
pose ques-
tions
such as:
"What kind of
piece
do
you
want
to create? What
sounds
do
you
want to start
with? How can
we
make this more
interesting?"
This
experience
enables
students to
learn
to
use the software
in
an authentic
40
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way,
through
creating
a
piece
of
music. This is
in
contrast to
teaching
students
to
use the software
feature
by
feature. I've found that
students
quickly
learn
how to use the
software,
enabling
them to start
creating
music
immediately
when
working
on
their
own.
After our first
composing experi-
ence,
students
are free to
explore
the
loop
software,
leading
toward
experi-
mentation with musical
ideas.
Many
students choose
to work
together
in
pairs
or in
groups
of
three.
Plenty
of
time
is
provided
for
students
to
explore
the
sounds included with the
software
program6
so
they
can
become
familiar with various sonic
choices.
At
this
level of
experience
with
the
process,
I've observed
students
creat-
ing
many
short
compositions
as
they
explore
the
software. This
exploration
time
offers
me a useful
window into
the
musical
thinking
and
understand-
ing
of
my
students. As
students
begin
to
compose,
I
walk
around
the
room
looking
for
visual and
aural clues
about
how
they
are
choosing
to
organ-
ize
sound.
Are
they
thinking
in sound
or
creating
music
visually?
What do
they
understand
about
structuring
music?
Do
they
understand balance?
What
connections to
prior
musical
experience
are shown
through
their
initial
compositional
efforts?
Looking
in
on the
students
while
they
work creates an
opportunity
to
dialogue
with them.
I
often
ask stu-
dents
about
their
composing
and their
musical
intentions to
better under-
stand
how
they
create
and
what
mean-
ings
they're
constructing
and
express-
ing
through
their
compositions.
Insights
drawn
from
these
initial
dia-
logues
help
me
identify
strategies
I
can
use to
guide
their
future
compos-
ing
and
also
help
me
identify listening
experiences
that
might
support
their
work
or
techniques they
might
use to
achieve their
musical
ideas.
Minilessons. Instead
of
teaching
through
traditional whole-class lessons
that
may
or
may
not be
related
to the
students'
immediate
needs as
develop-
ing
composers,
I
teach
through
short
five-
to ten-minute
minilessons
at the
beginning
or
end of
class sessions.
These minilessons center
around issues
relevant to the entire
class-for
exam-
ple,
how to
save their
work,
how
to
solve a
common
compositional prob-
lem,
or how
students
can
set
parame-
ters for
composing projects.
Throughout
the
course,
I
offer
minilessons
for
smaller
groups
or
individual students to meet their
per-
sonal,
immediate needs as
composers.
Many
of these lessons are related to
musical
problems
students
are
having
with
their
compositions
or are
designed
to
teach more about
advanced
features of the
software,
such as how to
record
a
vocal
track,
add a
fade-in
or
fade-out,
or
copy
their
musical material. These
technology
skills
are
taught directly
to a few stu-
dents,
who
then become the
experts
in
that
skill,
responsible
for
teaching
other students
in
the class who need
the skill.
Musical
minilessons
often
help
stu-
dents
extend
and more
accurately
realize
their
compositional
ideas.
Initial minilessons
generally
focus on
the
following:
0
Creating interesting
introduc-
tions
N
Exploring repetition
contrast
to
create
variety
N
Working
with balance
(fading)
and
panning (left-to-right placement
of sound
in
a stereo
field)
E
Developing endings
0
Refining
transitions
between
sec-
tions.
Many
musical
minilessons
involve
listening
to and
analyzing
musical
exemplars
that
help
illustrate
these
concepts
in
the context
of
a
piece
of
music.
Since
students
have different
needs
at different
times,
access
to an
online
music service7 has
been
useful
in
our classroom. As
students
encounter various
compositional
problems,
I
try
to find
recordings
of
musical
exemplars
on
the
online
music
service
for cases
where
analysis
of
that
piece
may help
the students
achieve their
musical
goals.
I
share
these
exemplars
to
provide
individual-
ly
tailored
listening
lessons that
help
them
develop critical-listening
skills
by
learning
with
the
recordings.
Teaching through
minilessons
tar-
geted
to individuals or small
groups
of
students has
helped
to
maintain
the
musical flow of students'
composi-
tional work. As a
result,
I can
provide
more
individual feedback and
support
to students as
they
compose.
The
stu-
dents themselves also offer their own
minilessons to
peers
when
they
have
problems.
The students often
seek out
their
peers
for
help
before
asking
me.
Conferring
Sessions.
As
students
are
working,
I
circulate
throughout
the
room,
periodically conferring
with
them as
they
compose. During
these
sessions,
I
try
to
talk with students
about their musical intent and the
processes they
use
to
create their
music. These conferences
help
focus
students on
developing strategies
for
furthering
their work and better
real-
izing
their
compositional
ideas.
I
take
care not
to
impose my
ideas or
imply
that
they
need to revise their
composi-
tions,
but instead
to
provide sugges-
tions that
may help
them better
express
their
musical intent.
One of
my
first
questions
is usual-
ly,
"Is there
anything
that
you
would
like
me to listen for
or know about
before I
listen?"
This
provides
an
opportunity
for students
to
seek
my
help
with
particular aspects
of their
composing process.
After
listening
to
their
compositions,
I
share
my impres-
sions of what
I
hear and offer
my per-
spective
on how to solve
their musical
problems.
If
students
choose
not to
accept my
ideas,
that's
fine;
after
all,
it's
their
composition
and
personal
expression.
Conferences about
compositions
also
occur
among
students. As
they
become more
experienced composers,
they
often seek
out
peers
for
help
or to
share
and
discuss their work. As
work
progresses,
some
students
become
known for
particular
strengths
in
the
composing process,
such
as
creating
endings, balancing
sounds,
or
adding
key
changes.
These students are
then
Lessons are tailored to the
students' interests
and
needs,
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sought
by peers
who confer
with them
on how
to
improve
their
pieces.
Use of
conferring
by
both teacher and
stu-
dents fosters
a culture of
collaboration
and
helps
students
develop
skills
in
peer
scaffolding.
Allowing
students to move
freely
from
computer
to
computer
has
been
an
important
aspect
in
enabling
stu-
dents to
confer
with one another.
The
classroom
is
organized
so that
com-
puters
are
placed
around the
perime-
ter
of the
room
rather
than in
rows.
This
arrangement
permits
students
to
see and
hear
the efforts of other
stu-
dents as
they
work at their
computers
and to
move
easily
from one
part
of
the room
to
the other.
Through
the
use of
multiple headphone
splitters,
students
often
choose to work
collab-
oratively
in
pairs,
and
occasionally
in
groups
of three
or four.
Headphone
splitters
allow
multiple
students
and
the teacher
to
confer
at the same
time,
learning
from
and
teaching
one
anoth-
er
throughout
conferring
sessions.
Sharing
the
Music.
Periodically,
in
place
of
a
minilesson,
we
gather
as a
class
to share
compositions.
Share
ses-
sions often
serve
as a
platform
for fur-
thering
understanding
of a
particular
compositional
technique
or
approach
to
creating.
Students
lead these
pre-
sentations,
and
they
share their
pieces
and describe
how the works
were cre-
ated.
These
sessions are
learning
opportunities
for both teacher
and
students. As
listeners,
students
come
to better
understand
peers'
composi-
tional intentions
and
musical
deci-
sions.
From
these
share
sessions,
the
teacher
can
identify strengths
and
weaknesses
in the class's musical
understanding.
Some of these
insights
are then
used to
design
future
compo-
sitional
experiences
centered
on devel-
oping
more
sophisticated approaches
to
composing,
as
well as
encouraging
more
musical
compositions.
Online
Galleries. As
compositions
are
completed, opportunities
are
pro-
vided for
sharing
and
publishing
stu-
dent work
online
through
media
gal-
leries. Students
submit to
the teacher
recordings
of
compositions
they
would
like
published
on the
class
Web
site.
I
help
students
publish
any
origi-
nal
pieces
they
would like
published.
The online
gallery
is not
a
place
for
only
the
best
compositions;
rather,
it's
an educational
space
for students
to
learn from
each other's
pieces.
Once
a
work
is
online,
students can
listen to
and comment
on
these
compositions
at home
outside of class
time.
Sometimes
students
post
pieces
in
progress,
but for the
most
part,
works
are
posted
when deemed
"finished"
by
the
composer.
The
online
gallery
can
also
be set
up
so students
can
hear works
written
by
participants
in
other
classes.
Students
are
encouraged
to
listen
to
pieces
published
online for
ideas
to
further their
own
work,
to
make
com-
ments,
and
to share
these
works
with
their
friends and
family.
The real-
world
publishing
of students'
music
on the
Internet seems to contribute
to
their motivation.
Celebration
Sessions.
At the
end
of
major
projects
and at the
end
of the
term,
we
have
a
large
celebration
ses-
sion where
the
students'
best
compo-
sitions
(in
their
opinion)
are
pub-
lished
in a
special
online
gallery
and
on a
compact
disc
provided
to
each
student.
These sessions are
purely
cel-
ebratory-not
a
place
to
discuss
process, product,
or
technique.
These
final
sessions
offer
opportunities
to
enjoy
one
another's
pieces
and
to
rein-
force students'
self-concept
as
creative
musicians.
Genre
Studies.
Not all
parameters
for
composing
emerge
from
the
stu-
dents' work.
At the
beginning
of the
course,
I like to
see what
kinds of
music students
create
initially
so that
I
can
get
to
know
them
and
under-
stand
their
prior
musical
experiences.
After
a few weeks
of
free
composing
and
exploration
of the
tools,
we start
a
major
project-often
interdisciplinary
in nature or focused
on a
particular
genre
well suited to
composing
with
the
technology
we
have.8
Some
of our
genre
studies have
centered
on the
genres
of
techno,
film
music,
sound
design,
and
popular
songs.
During
these
studies,
recordings
of
musical
exemplars
drawn
from these
genres
are shared with
and
studied
by
the
class. Students
work
in
groups
to
become
experts
in
specific
genres.
They
analyze
a musical
exemplar
drawn
from
a
particular
genre
for
its
structural
and
expressive
qualities,
as
well
as
investigate
the
piece's
histori-
cal
and
cultural context.
Students'
analyses
of these
musical
exemplars
are then
shared with
the
entire
class,
providing
guidance
on
how
they
can
create
their own
pieces
within this
genre.
The structures
of
minilessons,
con-
ferring,
share
sessions,
online
gal-
leries,
and
genre
studies
help
students
in
my
classes
better
express
their
musical
ideas
in
supportive
and col-
laborative
ways.
Through
individual-
ized
minilessons and
conferring
ses-
sions,
I
address the
compositional
needs
of the students as
ideas
emerge,
and
I
try
to
do so
in
ways
that
are rel-
evant
to them
personally.
Over
a
semester
of
composing
experiences,
students
create
a number
of
composi-
tions
in
an environment
where
they
can
further
their musical
understand-
ing
through composing
personally
meaningful
music.
Future
composi-
tion
projects
go beyond
free
compos-
ing
with
loop
software
to
interdiscipli-
nary
projects
and the
integration
of
synthesizers
and students'
voices.
Eventually,
students
move
on to nota-
tion-based
software
if
they
have the
need.
Along
with
turning
in audio
files of
the
compositions,
students
are asked
to
reflect
on the
processes
they
used
when
composing.
I
ask
them
to share
a short
statement of the
creative
intent
and the
story
behind the
composition,
the
challenges they
faced,
a short
statement
about how
they
used
the
technology
to
compose,
and,
finally,
a
Engaging
students
in
creating
their own
music
can be
a
transformative
experience.
42
MUSIC
EDUCATORS
JOURNAL
-
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2007
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self-evaluation
of their
composition,
sharing
what
they
liked
best and what
they'd
like
help
on
improving,
if
any-
thing.
A
student is
successful
if
he or
she
has achieved
the
goals
of the
assignment
as well
as his
or her
com-
positional
intent.
Observations of stu-
dents while
they compose,
coupled
with the final
recording
of
their
com-
positions
and
self-evaluations,
provide
additional
opportunities
to assess each
student's
development
as
a
composer.
Getting
Started
One
of
the main
tenets of a writers'
workshop
is that the
teacher
actively
writes
with
students,
sharing
the
challenges
they
have
when
writing
in
their
everyday
life.
I
take the
same
approach
in
my
classroom
by
compos-
ing alongside
my
students.
If
you
have
not
composed
before,
take the
plunge.
Start
improvising
at
a
piano,
or
experiment
with
a
sequencing
or
loop-based
music
program.
As
you
compose,
record
yourself
and
keep
a
journal
of
your process
of
composing
and the
questions
and
challenges you
have. Be sure
to
make note of
where
and how
you
find
solutions to
your
compositional
problems,
and detail
the musical
decisions
you
make.
In
addition to
personal
journaling,
there are a
growing
number of
resources
available that detail
the
processes
students
use to
create
origi-
nal
music. Research
studies
completed
by
classroom
teachers9
studying
their
own
students
while
composing,
as
well as books
and
articles
written
by
professional
composers
who
talk
about their
process
of
composing,10
can
help
inform
work with
your
stu-
dents
in
ways
that are both
meaning-
ful
and
educational.
Read
books
on
writers'
workshop
approaches
to
teaching
writing.
Books
written
by
Donald
Graves,
Nancie
Atwell,
Ralph
Fletcher,
and
Lucy
Calkins are
chock-full of
ideas
that
can
easily
be
transferred
to the
music
classroom.
When
reading
these
books,
I
have found
it
useful to
substitute
the
words
"composing"
for
"writing"
and
"listening"
for
"reading."
These
sub-
stitutions
transform
these texts
from
books on
teaching
writing
to
books on
facilitating
student
composing.
When
your
students
start to com-
pose,
take
time to
observe
their
process.
How are
they creating?
What
processes
are
they using?
Ask
students
about
the intentions
behind
their
compositions.
Engage
them in
pre-
senting
their
compositions
to the
rest
of the class
and make
them
responsi-
ble for
discussing
their
process
and
musical decisions.
During
their
pre-
sentations,
I
try
to take
on the role
of
student,
learning
from them
how
to
create
minilessons to
better meet
their
needs as
composers.
Engaging
stu-
dents in
creating
their
own music
can
be a
transformative
experience,
not
only
for
the
students,
but also
for
the
teacher.
Notes
1.
Carlos Xavier
Rodriguez,
ed.,
Bridging
the
Gap: Popular
Music and Music
Education
(Reston,
VA:
MENC,
2004).
2.
For
interesting reading
about how
approaches
to
composition
that center
on
music notation
can limit students to
com-
posing only
what
they
have
the
ability
to
notate,
see Rena
Upitis,
This Too Is Music
(Portsmouth,
NH:
Heinemann,
1990);
Jackie
Wiggins,
Teaching for
Musical
Understanding
(New
York:
McGraw-Hill,
2001);
and
Lyle
Davidson and
Patricia
Welsh's
chapter
"From
Collections
to
Structure: The
Developmental
Paths
of
Tonal
Thinking"
in
John
A.
Sloboda,
ed.,
Generative Processes
in Music
(Oxford,
UK:
Clarendon
Press, 1988),
260-85.
3. For a
more detailed
description
of
writing-workshop approaches
at the
mid-
dle
school
level,
see Nancie
Atwell,
In
the
Middle:
New
Understandings
about
Writ-
ing, Reading,
and
Learning,
2nd ed.
(Portsmouth,
NH:
Heinemann,
1998).
For
more
information about
writing-workshop
structures
in
general,
I
recommend
Lucy
Calkin's The
Art
of
Teaching
Writing
(Portsmouth,
NH:
Heinemann, 1994).
4. Other
music
educators
have
advocat-
ed
creating
composers'
workshops
or
have
been
heavily
influenced
by writing-work-
shop
approaches
to
teaching.
Rena
Upitis
draws
on
process-writing approaches
in
composing
with
early
elementary
students
in
her book
This Too Is
Music.
In
his
1989
article
"Towards an
Expanded
View
of
Music
Literacy"
in
Contributions
to
Music
Education 16
(pp.
34-49),
Ray
Levi
makes
suggestions
for
using
similar
approaches
with second-
and
third-grade
students
in
an
elementary general
music
setting.
5.
In
the
third
edition of his 2003
book
A
Philosophy
of
Music
Education,
(Upper
Saddle
River,
NJ:
Prentice
Hall),
Bennett
Reimer
suggests
that
music
curricula
should
be
centered
around
a
multiplicity
of musical
roles,
for
example, composer,
performer,
theorist,
historian, conductor,
and
improviser.
6.
Many
loop-based
software
programs
come
packaged
with
700-1,000
loops
in
various
styles using
a
wide
array
of
instru-
ments.
Examples
of these
programs
include
Super
Dooper
Music
Looper,
Acid
Music
Studio,
and
Garage
Band.
7.
Online
music services
like
Real
Rhapsody
or
Apple
iTunes Music
Store
provide
access
to
hundreds of
thousands
of
recordings
at the click
of a
mouse.
Rhapsody
requires
a
monthly subscription
fee for unlimited
listening
to whole
works,
whereas
iTunes
provides
free access
to
thirty-second excerpts.
Both services
allow
purchase
of individual
pieces
for
a
small
fee.
An
ever-widening
selection
of
musical
styles
is available
for use
in the
music
classroom.
8. "The
Rite
of
Spring"
and
the
Cranbrook
Art Museum are
two
interdisci-
plinary projects
we have
recently complet-
ed.
You can
view them on
our class
Web
site
at
www.cranbrookcomposers.com.
9. Lisa
C.
DeLorenzo,
"A Field
Study
of
Sixth-Grade
Students'
Creative
Music
Problem-Solving
Processes,"
Journal
of
Research
in
Music Education
37,
no.
3
(1989):
188-200;
Konstantina
Dogani,
"Teachers'
Understanding
of
Composing
in the
Primary
Classroom,"
Music
Education
Research
6,
no.
3
(2004):
263-79;
Robert
Faulkner,
"Group
Composing:
Pupil Perception
from
a
Social
Psychological
Study,"
Music
Education
Research
5,
no. 2
(2003):
101-24;
Joi
Freed-Garrod,
"Assessment
in
the Arts:
Elementary-Aged
Students
as
Qualitative
Assessors of Their
Own
and
Peers'
Musical
Compositions,"
Bulletin
of
the Council
for
Research
in Music
Education
no.
139
(1999):
50-63;
Jackie
Wiggins,
"Children's
Strategies
for
Solving
Compositional
Problems
with
Peers,"
Journal of
Research in
Music Education
42,
no.
3
(1999):
232-52.
10.
William
Duckworth,
Talking
Music
(Cambridge,
MA: Da
Capo
Press, 1999);
Igor
Stravinsky,
Poetics
of
Music
(Cambridge,
MA:
Harvard
University
Press,
1974);
Aaron
Copland,
What
to
Listen
for
in
Music
(New
York:
Signet
Classics,
2002).
U
WWW. M
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... In 'The Composers Workshop', Alex Ruthmann (2007) engaged general music 1 students in collaborative songwriting activities inspired by writers workshop approaches commonly found in academic classrooms. His students learned to express musical ideas through sound first -not using notationdrawing inspiration from a variety of sources (Ruthmann 2007). ...
... In 'The Composers Workshop', Alex Ruthmann (2007) engaged general music 1 students in collaborative songwriting activities inspired by writers workshop approaches commonly found in academic classrooms. His students learned to express musical ideas through sound first -not using notationdrawing inspiration from a variety of sources (Ruthmann 2007). While the collaboration occurred in real time in a physical learning space, Ruthmann used online spaces to publish and share original student work with others. ...
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Digital audio workstations and online file-sharing technology may be combined to create opportunities for collaborations among many groups, including performing ensembles, music technology classes, professional songwriters and preservice music teachers. This article presents a model for a digitally mediated online collaboration that focuses on popular music songwriting activities in school and higher education settings. Using an example from a high school music production class that collaborated with an undergraduate music education course through Google Docs and a file-sharing platform, the author outlines steps towards facilitating partnerships that focus on creating music in an online community. Such collaborations may help remove barriers between our classrooms and our communities as music teachers leverage technology to develop relationships with creators and performers of popular music everywhere.
... Green (2002) believed that including popular music in a school's curriculum is highly beneficial, and evaluated in her research that musicianship, discipline and self-esteem could be gained through popular music education. Ruthmann (2007) suggested that students nowadays are immersed in a 'sound world', due to the diversity of music in their daily lives. However, there is a gap between 'inside' and 'outside' experiences of music. ...
... Therefore, students can fully engage in applying the tools of mobile composing in a specific style. The practice of e-learning can help bridge the gap between the decline in learning motivation (Leung & McPherson, 2011), in which students believe themselves to have low competency in music and consider music to be of low value, and the rising importance of popular music (Ruthmann, 2007) that immerses students in a 'sound world', through the diversity of music in daily life. Therefore, a well-designed e-learning music curriculum with the support of mobile tablets can enhance students' motivation to learn music in weekly music lessons, and thus reduce the gap between 'inside' and 'outside' music experiences in the classroom setting. ...
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This pilot study focuses on the use of mobile tablets to allow secondary students to compose in class with the application GarageBand. The empirical research has two aims: to demonstrate the possibility of using mobile tablets as a composing device, and to examine professional practices for using mobile technologies in music learning. A 12-week e-learning curriculum was specially designed for students to learn to use mobile tablets to compose popular music. A total of 159 secondary school students participated in the study and responded to a set of pre- and post-activity questionnaires, modelled on items developed for a motivational study by McPherson and O’Neill (2010). The paired sample t-test compared the mean score changes in the dimensions of intrinsic value, attainment value, utility value, perceived cost and expectancy in motivation. Furthermore, one-way analysis of variance compared the mean scores for scale questions on learning motivation between groups based on number of years spent learning to play an instrument as revealed by the student survey. The findings of SPSS analysis reveal that both non-instrument learners and instrument learners showed significant increases in motivation when using mobile tablets as an instrument to compose popular music in class. Different modes of learning, limitations and suggestions are also discussed in mobile composing.
... There are countless resources to help students understand by Matthew Clauhs students. 1 He described how teachers facilitate writers' workshops through "minilessons, share lessons, and conferring sessions tailored to meet the needs that emerge as the writers progress in their work" (italics in original). 2 Writers' workshops are not prescriptive; they are designed to meet the goals of individual learners through relevant assignments and projects. ...
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Recognizing that music teachers may struggle to implement songwriting activities in a classroom, and that iconic notation provides an opportunity to increase access to school music for all students, the purpose of this article is to share one model of songwriting activities in a music technology class using chord diagrams, beat grids, and keyboard charts. The article outlines specific steps to the creation of drum grooves, simple chord progressions, bass lines, and melodies, using forms of notation that are appropriate for popular music instruments and styles.
... Elements of PBL can be seen in Reggio Emilia approaches to primary music education (Falter, 2018), and both scholarly and practitioner journals are filled with project-based frameworks (e.g. Heckel, 2016;Hoffman & Carter, 2013a, 2013bRuthmann, 2007;Tobias et al, 2015;Townsend, 2010). ...
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Available for download: https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/7000/
... In recent years, music technology and popular music education have been linked in terms of research and practise, at both the tertiary and secondary school levels. Ruthmann (2007) proposed that students were immersed in a 'sound world', with a diversity of music in daily life. However, there is a gap between the music inside and outside school experience. ...
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This study examined 44 students’ engagement in the composition of popular and classical music in a computer-mediated environment. The study took place over the course of one school year at a government-funded secondary school in Hong Kong that had 30 iMac music workstations. Participants were 22 Form 3 students (aged 14–15) and 22 Form 4 students (aged 15–16) who composed in different genres consisting of popular music styles and classical music styles (i.e. baroque, classical and romantic period music), respectively, on the computer as part of the school’s music curriculum. At the end of the study, participants completed a retrospective assessment to examine the correlation between engagement in music learning and computer-mediated composition. The results indicated three areas that should be considered in music curriculum development: 1) sustainable engagement in learning both classical and popular music; and 2) the idea of ‘de-composing’ and ‘re-composing’ pedagogy in both classical and popular music styles. The findings suggest that ‘de-composing’ and ‘re-composing’ pedagogy in computer-mediated composition may engage students in ways that promote deeper learning by combining ‘old’ and ‘new’ musical styles through an engagement cycle that enhances an understanding of both classical and popular music.
... More importantly, digital instruments -hardware that integrates with software -allow for a great deal of creativity on the part of the user (Kladder 2016). Digital means of music making and production seem to streamline the creative process, so that the musician is less concerned with the mechanics of making a characteristic initial sound as is common with beginning instrumentalists, than they are with assembling the already characteristic sounds in a personally meaningful way (Tobias 2015;Ruthmann 2007). It seems that the stakeholders of LKR and the music education profession might benefit from examining the present music listening practices of students to see where digital means of music making and production might play a much more comprehensive role in the future delivery of curriculum. ...
... While there is literature that discusses giving composition feedback from a teacher's point of view, there is little to be found discussing how music students might perceive and apply (or ignore) the feedback given to them about their compositions. van Ernst (1993), Randles and Sullivan (2013), and Ruthmann (2007) all discuss the importance of teachers engaging in dialogue and giving individual feedback to students to help them improve their compositions. Atlas, Taggart, and Goodell (2004) discuss feedback more generally and also note that it is important to be aware that sensitive students may find feedback or criticism to be a negative experience, one that affects their motivation and performance. ...
... For most remix processes, loops are an essential starting point as they enable a fast and effective way to start re-contextualizing thinking and learning. Educators vouch that young students are often intimately immersed in their own rich musical and sound cultures (Ruthman, 2007). In remixing, students can choose musical loop elements associated with their own musical world, and they can begin composing without prior traditional musical experience. ...
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Testing creativity in tertiary learning activities is a young field of research, and current assessment methods are difficult to apply within the diverse context of media production education, where disciplines range from journalism through to video game production. However, the concept of remix is common across this wide range of media, and offers practitioners ‘endless hybridizations in language, genre, content, technique and the like’ (Knobel & Lankshear, 2008, p. 22). The conceptual commonality of remix indicates that the study conclusions will have useful implications across a range of media production disciplines. This study aims to consider new methods for testing creativity in media production learning activities and to provide better assessments for learning design. This study focused upon a learner cohort of music technology students that were undertaking a work-integrated learning programme with a record label. To make the students more work-ready and inspire greater creativity, they remixed tracks recorded by professional music artists as part of a unit assessment. Subsequent self-report surveys (N = 29) found that the process of creating a ‘remix’ enhanced their creativity and provided suggested improvements to the design of the learning experience. Importantly, we found no relationship between the survey responses and objective assessments, indicating that the self-reported improvements in creativity were not simply a measure of how well the students performed the formally assessed tasks. Although more research is needed to establish effective measures of creativity, these findings demonstrate that self-report survey tools can be a powerful tool for measuring creativity and supporting improved iterative learning design.
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In Australia, access to music education is inequitable due to the challenges of distance, different state education systems and a lack of resources in schools. As a means to address this social justice issue, we explore here the viability and effects of a digitally based music outreach programme undertaken in collaboration with Hands on Learning (HOL), an alternative education provider. The programme was delivered over 6 weeks using GarageBand to children in a small rural town who were experiencing difficulties in upper primary and lower secondary school years. A qualitative approach was taken, holding focus groups, observing sessions and accessing HOL daily notes. The programme had a significant impact on the teachers and children involved, showing promise for a larger scale project in the future.
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The purpose of this study was to examine the factors influencing teachers’ inclusion of music composition activities in the school orchestra curriculum. Specific research questions included: 1) What are the pre-service composing experiences of school orchestra teachers? 2) What are teachers’ beliefs regarding the benefits and challenges of including composing in the school orchestra curriculum? 3) What percentage of orchestra teachers include composing experiences in their curricula and what are the characteristics of those experiences? 4) What are the factors influencing orchestra teachers’ inclusion of composing in the curriculum? Most respondents (63%) reported having no composing experiences prior to college. Participants born in 1975 and later had significantly more pre-service composing experiences than participants born before 1963. Fifty-two percent of respondents rarely or never included composing in their classes. Significant differences in participants’ perceptions of composing were found based on age, teaching experience, pre-service composing experiences, and frequency of including composing activities in the curriculum. Pressures related to music performance appeared to strongly influence those who did not include composing in their classes.
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This article reports some of the findings of a qualitative study of musical learning processes. The data were drawn from analysis of videotapes and audiotapes that shadowed the classroom experiences of two target students in a fifth-grade general music class over a period of 5 months. A portion of the curriculum in the study class involved small-group composition projects. Findings reported here characterize the group composition process in terms of the nature of the strategies the children used as they worked together with peers to solve those compositional problems. Children who were successful in completing class assignments used strategies that seemed to follow a pattern of moving from whole (initial planning) to part (development of motivic ideas) and back to whole (reassembling and practicing). The children's decisions seemed to stem from a holistic viewpoint, reflecting a preconceived vision of the final product from the outset. In contrast, there were very few instances of random exploration.
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In this qualitative research study, the author examined the creative problem-solving processes of sixth-grade students in the general music class. Eight creative problem-solving activities were videotaped at four school sites. Starting with the assumption that problem solving involves a series of choices, the author analyzed the student's chain of music decisions from problem perception through problem solution. Findings demonstrated that highly involved problem solvers explored and organized sound for its musical expressiveness, while uninvolved problem solvers rarely based their decision making on musical concerns. In addition, the problem structure and the student's perception of the problems relevance seemed to influence the problem-solving process. The author concluded that structured exploratory experiences with related discussion, as well as problems that encourage students to determine their own forms in music, may facilitate higher levels of musical thinking.
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This article sought to discover the nature of teachers' pedagogy in the primary school classroom by looking at their understanding of the teaching of composing, their approach to lesson design and organisation, and the way these are reflected in their practice. Specific examples of six case studies involving specialist music teachers from different primary schools in the south west of England will present the case for their teaching of composing. Data were collected through interviews with the teachers, head teachers and children; videotaped observations of classroom composition lessons; and teachers' engagement in reflective conversations based on a viewing of their own lesson and the lesson of another teacher in the study. The paper argues that teachers are not free agents but that their choices, where practice is concerned, are constrained by their circumstances and their perceptions of those circumstances. In order to affect the quality of children's learning positively, teachers need to draw their teaching from a range of their previous experiences as creative individuals, musicians and teachers and engage with the students in the activity of creative music making.
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The following paper examines pupil perceptions of the processes, effectiveness and value of group composing in the classroom. These themes emerged in a wider study of musical behaviour and meaning from a social psychological perspective of composing in the classroom. Though essentially qualitative phenomenological research, the original study employed a range of methodologies. The present article concentrates on the salience of group composing as it emerged from analysis of pupils’ responses at three stages of the study; a self-administered survey, self-assessment of longitudinal video portfolios, but chiefly through reflective semi-structured interviews. The uniqueness of the local setting—a small rural school, with pupils aged 6–16, in northeast Iceland—emphasises the essentially idiographic nature of the study. Analysis reveals that pupils see group composing as enjoyable, effective and meaningful. Pupils are also able to clearly articulate processes which find resonance in constructivist and systems theories of creativity and which challenge discreet reductionist categories of musical behaviour. The study’s findings have implications for the ongoing debate about the value and effectiveness of group composing, for reductionist thinking about musical behaviour, and not least, for the development of social psychological research in music education.
  • Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974);
2. For interesting reading about how approaches to composition that center on music notation can limit students to composing only what they have the ability to notate, see Rena Upitis, This Too Is Music
  • Carlos Xavier Rodriguez
Carlos Xavier Rodriguez, ed., Bridging the Gap: Popular Music and Music Education (Reston, VA: MENC, 2004). 2. For interesting reading about how approaches to composition that center on music notation can limit students to composing only what they have the ability to notate, see Rena Upitis, This Too Is Music (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1990);
For more information about writing-workshop structures in general, I recommend Lucy Calkin's The Art of Teaching Writing
  • Jackie Wiggins
  • Lyle Davidson
  • Patricia Welsh's Chapter
Jackie Wiggins, Teaching for Musical Understanding (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001); and Lyle Davidson and Patricia Welsh's chapter "From Collections to Structure: The Developmental Paths of Tonal Thinking" in John A. Sloboda, ed., Generative Processes in Music (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1988), 260-85. 3. For a more detailed description of writing-workshop approaches at the middle school level, see Nancie Atwell, In the Middle: New Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning, 2nd ed. (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998). For more information about writing-workshop structures in general, I recommend Lucy Calkin's The Art of Teaching Writing (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994).