This descriptive study was an investigation into how students learn to compose. It tackled one of the most rewarding, yet least understood areas of music education. Many questions were posed: How does a child decide upon a melody? What process does she go through before she is satisfied with her composition? How does experience in composing change a child? Twenty-eight students in fifth and sixth grades progressed through a semester of increasingly difficult compositional projects. Each composed piece was notated by the students, recorded on audiotape, and performed for the class; the final pieces were performed in a concert for the public. Two strands of potential growth were followed: that of the composer, and those of the music itself.
Four students were chosen to be the focus of the study. Excerpts of their compositional work, as well as their thoughts and feelings on the compositional process, are included in the study. Their notebooks revealed answers to the questions posed above, as well as to many others.
The literature review examines current and past thought on composition with children, creativity, improvisation, notation, composition using computers, problem-finding, assessment, curriculum, and the Orff and Kodály views on composition. Special attention is given to the process-product theories of John Kratus, in which he warns not to give the final product such importance that the process of “getting there” is underemphasized or ignored altogether. Advice and warnings from other master composers and teachers are also included.
The result of the study showed that including composition in the curriculum has many positive outcomes. Most important may be in the area of self-confidence. The students’ attitudes towards themselves and towards music generally changed for the better. Interest level was very high, as well as the degree of personal responsibility for assignments. Many students expressed a desire to do more composing in the future. An exciting, cooperative, supportive atmosphere developed in the music room. Other more easily observable changes included improved notation skills and loss of performance anxiety.
It is my hope that this study will be helpful to music teachers who have not previously incorporated composition into the curriculum, and will prompt them to try it. It provides a sequence of projects and a large list of source books, as well as insight into the struggles of both the children and the teacher.