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.


New Opportunities Can Bring New Challenges

What happens when life’s New Opportunities bring New Challenges? 

Two weeks today, I was sitting in a meeting getting ready to embark on a new opportunity…teaching Theatre classes in addition to my choir classes.  A subject in which, by default of being an opera singer, brings understanding but not necessarily the ability to teach it. Thankfully, I have a bit of background in that and I have a lot of new and old friends that will help me in this new endeavor.

That same day, I noticed an email by the district rep for our department…he was sending a request for some individuals to write an online version of the High School Music Appreciation Course.

Of course I responded! And…so did a number of individuals.

Later that week, I hadn’t heard anything and so I emailed again just to see where things were.

Fast forward to later that day…

I was selected!!

What did this mean? I had assumed that I might be working in a team.


It’s all me. 

We set up a meeting with the district rep for my department and the district rep for Curriculum so they could let me know what I was to expect.

We met last Friday.

Apparently, the course was for students that would be placed on temporary or permanent Home and Hospital Educational Services. The previous course was done in PACKETS! UGH! The curriculum department had been asking why they were still using packets as their only source of education for these students when we had such wonderful resources available to the district. They eventually got their wish.

I am to completely rework the course. Which is a very good thing when I saw what had been done before.  AGHAST, would be best word for my reaction to seeing the previous options.  BORING, is what my own children said when they saw it.

I can use any tech tool I have learned as part of the Ed Tech Endorsement I am in process of getting.  I can use any resource I deem viable.

I just have to make sure there is enough material, the material is engaging and if necessary, most of it can be done without a computer should a student find themselves prohibited from using one because of medical or other reasons.

The deadline for getting everything done is August 1st.  

So, as soon as I got home,  I got to work.  I looked up the state core only to find no course listed for Music Appreciation any longer.  Until this year, we have had a Music Connections course that was the supposed equivalence.  I had assumed they would keep a similar course.  However, the only options this year are: Choir, Instrumental and General Music.  The General Music is divided like the others into three parts.  This is where it changes though.  Where Choir and Instrumental are Level 1, 2, and 3, General Music is: 7th/8th grade, Theory/Composition Level 1, and Theory/Composition Advanced.

Where was I supposed to put a class called Music Appreciation in Theory/Composition at any level?

I was stumped.  However, the individuals I reported to didn’t have enough background to help.  It was up to me to figure out what to do.

This is why I came up with the title:

New Opportunities can bring New Challenges. 

My task was clear…figure out what standards to use and the level of flexibility within those standards in order to provide the opportunities in music to help these students achieve and have fun while doing it.

I decided my best start was going to be with the General Music-Theory/Composition Level 1, simply because the other possibilities just seemed to be out of the question.  The department reps agreed.

So I began unpacking the standards.  

Let’s just say, I got a good start and it’s a good thing I have until August 1st.

I also trolled the internet for suggestions and ideas.  I came across one but the author seems to have stopped blogging.  However, his suggestions and ideas for this class were spot on and in line with what I was thinking.  Although I have to write this course based on what I know generally about the students in our district, and therefore will definitely change some things, I really liked the basis of what he had to say.  Of course, I wish he had finished his thoughts on all of the class units, it definitely gave me a starting point.

What did I come up with?  

Well, the first thing I knew going in was that I didn’t want this class to be like any Music Appreciation class I had ever heard about or read about.  For me, this meant that I had to get rid of the idea that the students had to have knowledge poured into them starting from early music history and go through the ages.  UGH!  So distasteful.

I wanted to provide the students examples of different genres and allow them to do the comparisons themselves.  I wanted them to be making the suggestions and exploring the areas they would be most interested in while still exploring areas I would like them to try.

I put this thought in front of my own children and one of their friends to see what they thought.  I wasn’t sure if this would get a good reaction or not.

To my delight…they loved it.  Maybe it helped showing them what was before but regardless, it seems to be a good idea.

Now…I just need to get to work.

I plan on sharing some of the ideas I come up with and adding them to the blog posts as well as some of the Choral pages I have started so others can maybe use them.

This is definitely a New Opportunity and it is going to come with New Challenges.

But, I am looking forward to it and hopefully, things will be engaging, educationally enlightening and rewarding for myself and all of the students who take the class.