Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Music Composition Teaching Methods

Music composition teaching methods are not standardized and depend on the instructor.

The study of music composition is a venerable tradition that goes back to Ancient Greece. Through diligent study, the elements of music instruct students through sound pedagogical approaches. Whether the goal is to teach popular or classical music, there is a rich tradition and resources available to assist composers that seek to enrich student composers' lives through composition. While each teacher is different, there are components to a sound teaching method that should be included in every course of study.


Counterpoint is a method of teaching composition first codified by Johann Fux in his treatise "Gradus Ad Parnassum" in 1725. This text served as the first written and authoritative guide to teaching composers to write music. To this day, composers around the world still use his text to learn how to write multiple independent lines that create harmonic progressions. This 16th-century book is essential for any composer that wishes to teach students.

Music Theory

Music theory pedagogy is different for composers and musicians. Musicians need to understand theory in a very authoritative way that will allow them to look at works previously composed and understand the mechanics of the music for performance reasons. Composers must study music theory in a more practical way that drills exercises in the same way as a musician practices technique. It isn't enough for a composer to know the major and minor scales, he must immediately know them. It isn't enough for a composer to understand chord progressions, he must understand how they work so that he can create new ones. The method of teaching theory to composers is to provide them with daily exercises in an integrated and controlled manner so that they slowly and firmly develop their understanding of music.

Form and Analysis

If a composer could read a score and learn about music by studying the masters of composition, there would be no need for classes. Unfortunately, only the very talented are able to study a score and take the necessary information from it. For this reason, mentors must instruct their students in the study of form and analysis. The methods involved in teaching form should include how music develops between sections, how modulations occur, the registral range of the instruments, and a systematic study of the individual parts of a music composition. Teachers must be able to take a composition, break it down into the smallest possible parts, and show how those parts build to a larger composition.


Composition technique involves the teaching of advanced theoretical concepts and tools that construct a composition. The techniques and tools include serialism, minimalism, motivic development, phrase structure, registral space and even complex methods of writing rhythms. This subject area is vast and it will rely on the instructor’s knowledge of technique and the student’s experience. Technique is anything that applies to a composition to improve and enhance a musical work.