Nigel Morgan n.morgan at netmatters.co.uk
Mon Mar 23 00:26:16 PDT 2009

I wonder if we are getting away from David Stephenson's original request: to
find out more about the training of composition teachers. It is, of course,
fascinating to read Jeanne Bamberger's description of her own approach to
these issues, particularly as her work with Seymour Pappert had such an
influence on my own research-based teaching 20 years ago.

In the UK we don't tend towards any divide between theory and composition.
The interest in free composition (rather than stylistic imitation and
pastiche) as an agent in music education developed in the 1960s with
Paynter's Schools Council project - and is well documented in the pages of
the British Journal of Music Education (Although we have to look at the
practice of Gustav Holst in the early 20C as the composer / teacher who laid
the foundations for all this at Morley College). It has resulted in
composition becoming a major strand of our school exams in music (the GCSE
and A level). It's impact on the university sector began to bite in the
early 1990s when it was felt that composing, as a required part of a
musician's training, could and should continue, at least into the first year
of undergraduate study. This is pretty much the position now. Composing is
viewed as a means of identifying just how well students have absorbed
general musical skills and knowledge. Remember though that in the UK we
don't have tenured positions (indeed any positions that I know of) in music
theory per se. There's an expectation that the education of a musician is
led through practice where many subjects and disciplines come together in
project-based teaching, and fed into by teaching professionals with
different research interests and specialisms.

I don't think we should forget that many composers of the past were very
interested in the pedagogy (the science of teaching) of their craft, and we
only have to look to the Well Tempered Klavier as an output of such interest
- I believe Bach considered this as much a manual for composers as
performers. In our time Messiaen has probably been the consummate teacher
and research scientist of the act of composition. When it comes down to it
what these composers are doing is explaining their own knowledge and using
such creative work as a way of coming to an understanding about what they

I think composition pedagogy is about acquiring an understanding of the
composing act itself, about which sadly we probably don't know enough.
Whilst theory is valuable it needs to be placed in the context of the act of
composing itself, not as a discrete issue. We can certainly help students
become aware of what may be required for effective composition (in any
style), and the best teachers in the UK certainly do this in a very 'active'
way. This certainly involves performance, collaborative work (see the Leeds
University LUMEN project and practice at York University), journeys across
and links to the other arts, understanding instruments, handling technology,
selected analysis, but not necessarily engaging in rhythmic exercises,
harmony or melody writing. I think we are looking increasingly in music
education towards the model of visual arts education, towards the personal
portfolio where drawing (or what is now called visual research) will
undoubtedly still feature. The musical equivalent to this still lies in
sensible discrete exercises to develop musical techniques, but cleverly
subsumed into an engaging curriculum. These aspects remain essential for
those students who want to specialize and aspire to become professional
composers. But I think we do have to engage with the imagination first . . .


Nigel Morgan
Visiting research Fellow
Plymouth University

On 22/3/09 17:49, "Jeanne S Bamberger" <jbamb at MIT.EDU> wrote:

> I have found this discussion really interesting and enlightening.  I only want
> to add that I have also approached these issues, particularly for beginning
> students, through composition-like exercises but starting with small melodic
> motives as the working material.  The task is initially just to reconstruct a
> given folk melody using its small but reasonable structurally meaningful
> motivic elements.  Next, students are given unfamiliar but still stylistically
> familiar motives with which to compose their own melodies "that make sense and
> that you like."  And then they can begin to compose at the note level,
> first by
> editing the given motives (especially some non-tonal ones) and then composing
> their own melodies from scratch.  To do all this, I had to make a computer
> music environment so that the motives were the "units of work"--i.e., the
> elements that students could organize sequentially.  The software is called
> "Impromptu" and you can download it for free at www.tuneblocks.com. And
> the web
> site includes a mini version of the text, "Developing Musical
> Intuitions."  Most importantly, students have to keep a running log of
> their decision-making
> as they compose, the eventual goal is to come up with ideas, characteristics,
> of what makes a "sensible melody."  In fact, they do create (or
> re-create) many
> of the features that are taught in theory classes (if melodic structure is
> taught at all).  Meanwhile, the class is listening to "real" music--a whole
> range from Bach and Mozart to the Beatles and Billy Holiday--and finding in it
> elaborated versions of similar structural designs as they have made in their
> own compositions.
> Sorry to go on for so long.  But I would be interested in hearing what others
> might make of this apporach.  Thank you.
> Jeanne Bamberger
> Professor of Music and Urban Education
> MIT, emerita.
> jbamb at mit.edu
> Quoting Ildar Khannanov <solfeggio7 at yahoo.com>:
>> I have experienced a kind of pedagogy which was focused  on and
>> spearheaded for composition. At the Moscow Conservatory,
>> professor Konstantin Batashov taught composition lessons with strong
>> analytical component. He called it "composer's analysis," We went
>> through the scores from left to right following a single question:
>> "How did he/she do it?" Since I was a theory student at the same time
>> and took all the required courses in theory program, I had an
>> opportunity to compare. Indeed, composer's analysis was different
>> from theorist's analyses. It did not operate with "governing
>> principles," was quite pragmatic, but very insightful.
>> For a century, Moscow Conservatory had a single department, so calles
>> TKF, Theory-and-Composition Faculty. In the 1990, apparently, the two
>> components did not get along and were separated. Now, they have a set
>> of theory teachers for Department of Theory and Musicology and
>> another set of theory teachers for the Departement of Composition.
>> This has been a tragic event. However, it probably opened a new
>> perspective for educating composers.
>> Best,
>> Ildar Khannanov
>> Peabody Conservatory
>> Johns Hopkins University
>> solfeggio7 at yahoo.com
>> --- On Fri, 3/20/09, Mark Hijleh <Mark.Hijleh at houghton.edu> wrote:
>> From: Mark Hijleh <Mark.Hijleh at houghton.edu>
>> Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] COMPOSITION PEDAGOGY
>> To: "SMT Talk" <smt-talk at societymusictheory.org>
>> Date: Friday, March 20, 2009, 2:16 PM
>> On Stephen's point about integrating composition with theory, I say
>> "hear, hear!" Actually, rhythmic motivic/development technique ought
>> to come first, followed by adding linear pitch (i.e., melody). I'll
>> also add that doing such work in a wide variety of stylistic
>> traditions (gleaned or derived from different cultures) is, I think,
>> essential in the 21st century.
>> If, David, you are asking about the training of composition majors
>> specifically, I actually start the same way as described above,
>> giving them compositional etude-type projects that force them to
>> focus on only one or two elements (rhythm, linear pitch, vertical
>> pitch, timbre, texture, etc.) at one time and to make music out of
>> those. I picked those ideas up from Ellis Kohs' old book "Musical
>> Composition" (now re-issued by Scarecrow Press), but then extended
>> them a bit.
>> Several folks have inquired into the "field" of composition pedagogy
>> recently. A number of doctoral students from different schools are
>> doing or have recently done studies. (Though I don't recall
>> names/schools).
>> Certainly there was no "composition pedagogy" curriculum widely in
>> effect when I finished school some 20 years ago. Seems like most
>> teachers (including me) pick and choose what they found most helpful
>> from THEIR own teachers and resources, and put together some sort of
>> system.
>> Best,
>> Mark Hijleh
>> Professor, Greatbatch School of Music
>> Houghton College (NY)
>> ________________________________
>> From: smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org
>> [smt-talk-bounces at societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Chair of Music
>> [jablonsky at optimum.net]
>> Sent: Friday, March 20, 2009 10:40 AM
>> To: SMT Talk
>> Subject: [Smt-talk] COMPOSITION PEDAGOGY
>> David,
>> Your inquiry raises an interesting question: Why is composition
>> taught separately from theory? An investigation of the major theory
>> textbooks reveals that most of them do not discuss the fundamentals
>> of the composition process at all. The only writing they encourage is
>> the addition of bass lines or inner voices to already composed
>> melodies, but there is virtually no discussion of how to write a
>> melody. If you look in the index, the word "melody" rarely appears or
>> there is a reference to a very brief discussion in the text.
>> Melody is where the world of composition begins--the creation of a
>> musical line that is coherent and has proper musical syntax.
>> Students in theory classes should be introduced to the process of
>> composition by instructing them how to write folk melodies in the
>> first semester of their studies. In the second semester they can
>> learn how to do soprano-bass counterpoint and compose more
>> complicated melodies they can arrange for piano or small instrumental
>> ensembles. In the third semester they can learn to write more
>> sophisticated short binary or ternary form pieces. After that they
>> are ready to move on to a composition class where they can explore a
>> variety of styles and structures. This curricular scheme is based on
>> the premise that music theory instruction should include composition
>> and analysis, not just analysis and filling in Bach chorales or
>> completing perfunctory exercises. I believe that everyone of my
>> students is a potential composer and should be allowed to explore
>> that possibility as early in the theory sequence as possible. With
>> that in mind I included a chapter entitled
>> "How to Write a Melody"
>> in my Tonal Facts & Tonal Theories.
>> I have had great success with this program. By the end of the first
>> semester my best students have written four-phrase folk tunes that
>> people want to hum. By the end of the second semester they can write
>> their own sequence-based tune over chord progressions from American
>> Standards (Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, etc.). And, by the end of the
>> third semester they can write a binary or ternary piece for solo
>> instrument and piano that makes sense from beginning to end and
>> employs modulation.
>> The most important thing any beginning composer has to learn is how
>> to hear--how to listen to what makes sense in the work of others and
>> then use this skill to assess their own compositions. It is the job
>> of the composition (theory) teacher to determine where a student's
>> work goes off the track and to offer a set of options for fixing the
>> problem. This is not always easy for theory teachers who are not
>> composers. One of the big problems today is that many (most?) of our
>> students do not have much experience listening to good music from a
>> variety styles and genres. If all they know is House, Hip-hop or
>> video game music you will have a difficult time getting them to
>> understand Mozart, Richard Rogers, or even the Beatles. That is why I
>> get them listening to "model" pieces that they can imitate after they
>> get it in their ears. Over three semesters they listen to tunes sung
>> by Burl Ives and Pete Seeger and end up with Mel Torme and Frank
>> Sinatra.
>> Finally, what I try to leave with my students is an understanding
>> that the most important part of the compositional process is the
>> editing, hoping that eventually they will be able to supply their own
>> solutions to the problems they find in their pieces and they won't
>> need me.
>> Prof. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
>> Music Department Chair
>> The City College of New York
>> 160 Convent Avenue S-72
>> New York NY 10031
>> (212) 650-7663
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