Does Composition belong in a Music Appreciation Course?


In a previous post, I mentioned I was creating a Music Appreciation course for my district.  In that post, I talked about having to unpack the standards to figure out what I needed to include in the course.

In our state, there are four arching themes for the standards:





This is a new state core as it goes into effect this Fall.

The idea of the creators seems to be one in which there is more individual accountability than there had been in the past.

There also seems to be more connectivity within these four groups.  What I mean is…a lot of the standards under these headings or themes are repetitive. For me, this is not a bad thing. It means that I can cover more of the standards with a single lesson concept or idea.

The one idea I am struggling with is: Composition and to a lesser extent Improvisation.

Now…don’t get me wrong.  As a musician that got a degree in music, these things are inherent of all musicians.

That’s not the problem.

The problem lies in: 

One, Does Composition belong in a Music Appreciation course? 

Two, How do you teach composition when the course taken completely online?

Three, How do you know the students who are this class understand enough about music to be able to write (or even improvise) something when the course is online? 

Okay, so let’s address these issues.

First, let’s look at #1.  Does Composition belong in a Music Appreciation course? I’m sure a lot of people have a lot of ideas about this.  I’m sure you do too.

At first, I wasn’t convinced. However, the more I pondered the idea and more resources I found, the more I realized I thought it did.

I mean…what other way would a student understand and appreciate an art form more, if not for the creation of it?

It doesn’t mean the students have to write an entire symphony.  It means, let them explore the possibilities.

This train of thought led me to answering the next two questions.

You let students explore.

You don’t expect perfection or even a complete understanding of the process.

You give them as many resources as makes sense and you let them follow the path.

So…what did I do? Well…it’s still a bit of a work in progress but here is the idea:

In the first Module of the class, I will give students websites, articles and some videos to explore the various music notational devices that are used and/or taught.

I want them to figure out what they are, what they are used for, why someone would use that particular form and then allow them to explore using the different forms.

They will also listen and watch a variety of genres of music during this module. Many of the examples will be within the context of their exploration and many will be used as a way of proving what they learned.

The students will evaluate what notational form is used, what they were thinking when they heard the piece, what they felt, and what images came to mind.

Exploration is never enough for me so the students will reflect at the end of module (this also helps with the respond and connect portions of the core) about which form they like best and why, which was easier to use and why (these don’t necessarily go hand in hand) as well as which pieces they enjoyed the most and why.

Now, this is only the first module and it is definitely a work in progress as I have many of the resources chosen but not all, and I feel that I will tweak it before it goes to publishing.  However, I like what I have created thus far.  It is definitely, in my mind, better than giving students numerous handouts about music notation and testing them in the traditional way.