A Powerful Perspective on Your Piano Playing-Composition Unlocks the Door

A Powerful Perspective on Your Piano Playing-Composition Unlocks the Door


Recently, one of my young students, an 8-year-old beginner proudly played a piece for me that she had composed. “How is this even possible?” You might ask. She simply decided to experiment with the notes she had learned from her piano books. She then took it upon herself to draw her own music staff paper and put the notes she played on the correct lines and spaces imitating what she saw in her music. Her little piece had tremendous musicality because she wrote what she knew how to play. It sounded tuneful, rhythmically solid and it was simply charming. At my encouragement, she continued to compose using the music staff paper her mother bought for her on Amazon. Lo and behold, the next week she composed four more songs. Each one different and delightful.

Lest you think she is a prodigy, she sometimes spends more time playing outside than practicing or even if she practices a lot, she doesn’t compose. Nevertheless, the seeds are there. Periodically, I’ll be treated to a new piece she wrote, but certainly not every week. However, something else has happened in her musical life, she KNOWS far more about music than if she just practiced her lesson pieces.

What does my student’s creativity have to do with you?

Really four things: 1. if you’ve ever tinkered around on the piano and uncovered a group of notes that sounded catchy or kept humming a tune that you couldn’t get out of your head, you need to pay attention to that music. It’s yours. 2. The very act of putting the notes on the staff (music paper or computer software) forces you to clarify and crystallize your musical ideas. This is similar to what happens when you write a report, essay, poem, or short story. 3. Many questions come up in the process of writing that lead you to start searching for everything you can find to inspire and guide you make your piece better. You will learn more about music by composing than you could ever imagine. 4. If you are a piano student with a true love for music, you have nearly everything you need to express your musical ideas by composing something that pleases you. Did you know that 95% music performed in this country is played and/or composed by “Amateurs” i.e., those who do not get paid for their musical services? In reality, there’s not necessarily any difference between the quality of the music they compose and that of the professionals.

My 45-year career of teaching piano and performing as a jazz pianist also included 16 years of composing classical music for orchestra, chorus, and a wide variety of chamber ensembles. Without a doubt, I gained a great deal of knowledge from my two Master of Music degrees at New England Conservatory and Doctoral Studies at Boston University. What I learned through composing, studies and reading manifests itself almost every day that I teach piano students.

Maybe you feel you have some musical ideas you’d like to express on paper or in a recording? Or maybe you just need some added inspiration to make your ideas come alive? Here’s an example of one way to get started: use a piece you really love (classical, popular, jazz, show tune, etc.) and we’ll examine it. Based on this, you will be able to experiment with your own tune modeled after that.

You’ll learn many things that enable you to not only compose more music but will help you become a better pianist. These include:

§ Musical Form and Structure

§ Chord progressions, keys and harmonic patterns

  • Articulation, phrasing, dynamics, expression marks and tempo

  • Shape and direction of the melodic line

  • construction of motives as well as voice leading in the secondary parts

  • Timbre, character, and mood

Maybe you feel you have some musical ideas you’d like to express. Or maybe you just need some added inspiration to make your ideas come alive? If so, now is the time to enroll in our summer Composition Elective.


Same old, same old?

Going forward make time for core enrichment.

Selecting just the right notes for a composition