I know there are a number of states that have composition contests around this time of year.  Last year I was privileged to judge the Texas MTA contest with Melody Bober and David Karp. This year, I get to hear and evaluate the students in Indiana. So I thought it might be appropriate to share some articles about how to teach composition or help students improve their compositions.

Fort those entering contests, you might be interested to know what I noted about student compositions last year as I judged. It’s the same as I’ve mentioned before: students have the most difficulty with form and melody. Winning composition students seemed to understand at a minimum how too construct a good, interesting melody, how to present different but related material (usually in the form of a B section), and how to find harmony that moved well horizontally and was not completely predictable.


Here are some articles that talk about the problems with melody and tools to use in making a good melody:

Problems with Melody Here are some of the frequent problems with melody.

Here’s what you can do about some of those problems:

A Good Melody: Rhythm  

A Good Melody: Motives

A Good Melody: Contour


I have yet to write extensively about form, but I’ll just say that even though the form ABA has been used for hundreds of years now, students should never be afraid of using it for their own composition. It’s been around for that long because it works! I tell my students to use what works, become a master at this form, and then branch out.

Another thing that students don’t often realize about form is that melodic and harmonic material in the B section often comes directly from material in the A section. Experimenting with inversion, retrograde, retrograde inversion, different rhythms, etc. will help generate “new” material that feels and sounds related to the original material.


Here is the official index of Composition Corner posts. There are a number of Q and A posts about composition in this list as well.

Whatever your students are composing for, I wish them all the best and hope that these articles are a help to them and you. If you have specific questions about teaching composition, please feel free to email me. I’ll be happy to answer the question in an upcoming post.

Next week: Composition Contests Available for Kids!

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