When Kids Compose Music

When Kids Compose MusicWhen kids compose music, they are growing comfortable with the keyboard and all the complex elements involved. Or, they are just banging on the keys. It really depends on their age.

Today a child of twelve or thirteen asked me how to compose, and asked to try it.

As background, this is a brilliant child who has played quite complex classical pieces.

Lately, though, he has become bored no matter what the music is. Still enthusiastic, he was looking for something exciting.

I realized that he hadn’t enough skill to compose on his own at a level that would inspire him, but I wasn’t going to disappoint him.

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I asked what kind of piece he might want to “write.” We determined that he wanted to write something scary, probably a by-product of the zombie films I see him watching with his brother and sister.

First, I explained that composers try to project a specific feeling in a piece, so it’s important to decide that first before you start writing.

As an example, I played something happy in the key of C. He shook his head. That wasn’t it. Too mild.

Then I played a D minor chord, low on the keyboard, sounding ominous. He lit up. “That’s it!”

I explained that all music is basically chords, about which he had already learned.

So, to compose, he needed to find chords that could follow one another, starting with the D minor chord.

I immediately suggested a programmatic scenario: a story that would fit the music.

I played the D minor chord in a kind of thumping, ominous rhythm.

“Yeah!” he said. “There’s a murderer and he’s stalking out in the yard, coming to the front door!” Please note, this particular scenario wouldn’t be useful for a younger child because of the negative content factor. But this is a teenager, and he’s fully capable of understanding dramatic pretense.

Teach Yourself Piano Book By MailThis was now a kid on fire. He was making zombie music of his own, and fitting it to a picture in his imagination that he could clearly see. What a pleasure to see a child totally inspired!

I allowed the child to think he was composing, when I was really composing it, and having him play it. But he was completely inspired by trying to get “his” composition right. It’s one thing to try to get Beethoven right, but entirely another to work on one’s own music.

Now, when I insisted that a certain part had to be played thus, he immediately sweated over it, trying again and again with feverish intensity. This was the essence of motivation.

Finally, when I had left the room for a moment, I returned to find him playing it for his father. He insisted that I recite the scenario while he played it for his father, which I did with appropriate dramatic fervor.

You have never seen a kid so proud to be at a piano in front of his father. In one afternoon, he had discovered what music was really for, to share with others, and here he had his own, unique contribution.

It is irrelevant that I composed the music and pretended that he did: he learned how a composer feels.

It is irrelevant that he did not play perfectly: he was proud to have his father enjoy his creation.

The lesson: go with the flow.

I guarantee you that next week this kid will have Spielbergian ambitions at the piano.

Copyright 2012 Walden Pond Press

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