Creating Music

Opening the door to creative musical expression

Posts Tagged ‘children’

Giving yourself permission to be creative

Posted by Pamela Szalay on December 29, 2012

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There are many talented musicians and students who have learned to play an instrument “by the book” and who are rarely, if ever, encouraged to improvise. If you are interested in being more creative with your music but are not sure how to begin, I have some ideas to get you started below.

First, let me remind you that the composers whose music you have read and performed over the years were able to compose it because they were willing to take risks, try out new combinations, and meddle with established norms. They gave themselves permission to be creative. You are no different! You can be musically adventurous. You can play around with new combinations. You can create.

Let’s start with something safe – the last note of a song you already know how to play. For example, if the last note of The Star Spangled Banner is Bb, or “do” in the key of Bb, what are some things you can do to change things up?

  1. Play a different note of the Bb chord –D or F.
  2. Repeat the note in a different octave – or several!
  3. Insert a rest before the last note.
  4. Hold the last note longer or make it staccato.
  5. Play the note more than once, in any rhythm combination that feels right. Try several variations!
  6. Experiment with different articulations.
  7. Combine 2 or more of the above variations.

For a keyboard or other harmonic instrument, if the last notes form a Bb major block chord you could start playing around with these basic variations.

  1. Break up the chord into an arpeggio.
  2. Play the chord using a different voicing: Take out the fifth, play the third in a different octave.
  3. Insert a rest before the chord.
  4. Play the chord twice in any rhythm you choose.
  5. Repeat the chord in a different octave.
  6. Experiment with different articulations.
  7. Try two or more of the above simultaneously.
  8. Try two or more of the above in various orders.

More advanced musicians may want to manipulate the final phrase of the song rather than just the last notes.

Of course, you won’t love everything you come up with, but if you give yourself enough room to play it can be a matter of minutes before you generate something that surprises you. The main thing is to try. Composing and improvising can be fun and liberating. Go ahead and try it today!

Coming up in my next article: Having the attitude of a composer

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Stepping into musical composition: the limited tone row

Posted by Pamela Szalay on December 8, 2012

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Looking for a way to introduce composition into music lessons? Creating a melody using a limited set of pitches is a great way to start. While the label “tone row” often suggests using 12 tones, this activity is focused on a smaller set of 4 to 7 tones which are arranged in a sequence and used to compose a melody, guided by just a few rules. This activity encourages creativity within constraints and works for beginners and more experienced musicians. As a matter of fact, it can even be used with students who do not yet read music.

For music-readers:

Materials:

manuscript paper, pencil, music notation flashcards (optional)

Activity:

1. Select four to seven flashcards and arrange them in a sequence (the teacher can do this ahead of time, or the student can select the cards randomly). Write the desired sequence on paper.

2. The student composes a melody using the sequence, using whatever rhythm, expression or style is desired.The composition should be committed to paper, but written in pencil for easy editing.

3. Each tone must be used in order, although a tone can be repeated before moving on to the next tone. When the end of the sequence is reached, the sequence beings again with the first note.

4. The sequence can be repeated multiple times, and can be treated differently each time.

5. The sequence should have a definite ending.

Depending on the outcome and the needs of the student, the melody could be further developed, harmonized, etc. Also, for additional mileage with this activity, start by using pitches that reinforce a recent note-reading or theory lesson

Alternate approach for non-music readers:Image

If the student is quite young and not yet reading music, use letter names instead of music notation. The focus should be selecting the sequence itself, rather than composing from a sequence. This will develop the ear while also introducing them to the compositional process. When the student is satisfied with the sequence, have the student write down the sequence on paper to preserve it.

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Getting Your Child to Practice: Sensible Tips for Parents

Posted by Pamela Szalay on September 11, 2012

Your child is taking music lessons, but it seems like she never practices. You think, “why am I paying for all of this?” Before you give up, here are some ideas for supporting your children toward a positive, productive musical adventure.

Call it play instead of practice. Asking, “Why don’t you play that new song for me?” is more inviting than “Why haven’t you practiced yet?” The word “practice” conjures up notions of routine work, while the word “play” suggests exploring, creating and experimenting.

Have a sensible routine. After school, many things compete for your child’s time and attention: sports, friends, and video games as well as family, homework and school events. If after-school hours are tight, maybe the best time to “play” music each day is in the morning before school or on weekends. Do what works for your family.

Remember that a little time is better than no time. Even if there are only five or ten minutes available, there can be time to play a few songs or scales. Keeping the instrument and music books set up in a convenient spot can make a quick rehearsal possible.

Consider your child’s maturity. While one child might be able to maximize 10 minutes of playing time, another might get very little done in a half-an-hour session. At every age and for every child, the level of focus varies. The best approach is to  encourage quality over quantity! Playing well for a few minutes trumps aimless, half-hearted effort for twenty minutes.

Use a reward system. Help children manage their time by providing special incentives. If a child resists learning new songs, for example, but loves to play familiar songs or have an audience, you can set up a reward system that encourages  him to persist. Set a timer for five to ten minutes where the child must work on new songs. Then the next five to ten minutes let him give a “concert” where he can play any and all of his favorite songs.

Hire the right teacher. If your child is having a very negative experience, it may just be that the teacher, although qualified, is not the right person to teach your child. Don’t hesitate to try a different teacher whose style of teaching more closely matches the way your child learns.

Music lessons available at www.imagineandplaymusic.com

Posted in Music Instruction, Parents, Philosophy of Education | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Making Room for Music

Posted by Pamela Szalay on July 24, 2010

One afternoon, I heard music coming from the living room. Who could be playing that funky tune?  I grabbed my video camera and snuck down the stairs. I was thrilled to find my son totally immersed in improvisation. What inspired him I don’t know, but maybe he just wandered into the living room, saw the Yamaha Motif digital piano, and decided to “go for a spin”.  I also don’t know how he came up with that cool riff, but clearly he was onto something that mesmerized him and he just played it over and over.

I think what is captured by this video is something that many people wish to experience for themselves: being lost in a creative, musical moment. What made this moment possible was allowing my son to have access to my digital piano. Easy access to a musical instrument is one part of opening the door to creative musical expression. Imagine if you wanted to learn to play the electronic keyboard, but every time inspiration struck you had to pull it out from under the bed, carry it over to a table top, plug it in, find a chair the right height  (or not)… in most cases, these steps get in the way of playing.

Another factor that inhibits musical creativity and learning is keeping an instrument in a location that is uninviting. I have met families who kept their piano in the garage, the basement, or even on a back patio. Not surprisingly, the pianos were always out of tune because of frequent changes in temperature and humidity. But it was also inconvenience, musty odors and lack of ambience that kept the kids from being drawn to play those pianos .

Parents who want to encourage a child to play don’t need to have a big house with a music room, but they do need to designate a special place for the instrument. The more visible, the better! Even a living room corner or child’s bedroom can work. My nieces could barely walk by the piano in their living room without stopping to play something. These practice sessions, consisting of just 30 seconds at times, probably added up to an extra hour by the end of the week.

Having a special place for music is equally important for adults. Most adults have such busy lives that they might only have a few minutes at a time sit down and play. Seeing that instrument propped in the corner, waiting for you to come and create something special, might be the lure you need to stay consistent.

So if you want to be begin creating some special moments with music, begin by designating a place for your instrument. You may also want to setup a place for keeping your learning materials such as music books, pencils, notebook, speakers for listening to songs, headphones, and perhaps a metronome. This is a place for you to build positive associations between learning and music.  One of my adult students, when planning her special area for music, included aromatherapy candles, special artwork, and décor that made her feel creative.

I welcome your comments and questions, and am especially interested in hearing about how you are making room for music in your life.

Appreciately,

Pam Szalay

Posted in Music Instruction, Parents, Philosophy of Education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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