Music Composition in Higher Education: Composition Processes in Culturally Diverse Contexts


Composition in higher education is often taught from the lens of the primary field of study, that is through the lens of one music culture, one genre, and often one style. New approaches to teaching and learning composition are needed to reflect the current state of the music world outside of higher education. With globalization and music digitization, music cultures are colliding, interacting, and creating a need for composers to work competently and effectively in culturally diverse contexts outside their primary field of study. Although the extant literature shows commonalities in the composition processes, the act of composition, either independently or collaboratively, is genre, style, and culture specific (Green, 2001; Lilliestam, 1996). Whether a solo venture or collaborative work, sociocultural forces are at work and contribute to the uniqueness of artistic products (Wiggins, 2007). This brings opportunities to incorporate the ways composition processes are used throughout our culturally diverse musics of the world. In this paper I will draw from the salient research and models identifying the composition process and discuss and compare the ways it is used by three composers: jazz composer Sammy Nestico, classical composer John Adams, and the English rock band Led Zeppelin. I will then present a lesson design in the form of tasks in culturally diverse contexts that promote the development of students’ own voice, enable students to experience how composition processes are used in other types of music, develop musical and social skills and abilities, and frame composition in a nurturing way that fosters personal agency and meaningful experiences (Wiggins, 2006). 

Keywords: composition processes, cultural diversity, music creativity

 Presented online at the 63rd National College Music Society Conference (2020).

Teaching Classical Musicians Improvisation in Higher Education: A Pedagogical Model


With this paper I present a structural pedagogical model for teaching classically trained musicians improvisation in higher education. The model is designed in a way that gives students opportunities to learn music comprehensively, that is, by using a holistic approach that attempts to integrate all aspects of music rather than breaking it down into specializations (College Music Society, 2014). Using a developmental approach (Kratus, 1995) with organized play with limitations (Nachmanovitch, 2010), students improvise over familiar accompaniments based on Baroque harmonic formulas and ground bass patterns. The model consists of four parts: teacher/ facilitator, improviser (students), harmonic formula, and student accompaniment. Opportunities to explore, discover, create, and learn come from direct instruction, facilitated interactions, and the experience of joint music making. This model requires students to perform in two roles, as improvisers and accompanists. A hypothetical class that would use this model is designed using a student-centered, constructivist approach where scaffolding is provided; as students become more confident and proficient with a specific concept, scaffolding is removed and the teacher’s role changes to a facilitator. Implications for music teaching and learning in higher education will also be discussed. 

Keywords: music improvisation, free play, music creativity 

Presented at the 2019 California All-State Music Education Conference in Fresno, California February 2019.

Using a Developmental Model for Teaching Non-Jazz Pianists Lead Sheet Reading


A lead sheet is a form of music notation that contains the essential information of a composition enabling a complete performance; it consists of melody, chord symbols, and, if necessary, lyrics (Terefenko, 2017). In a world where comprehensive musicianship, versatility, and diversity are valued, the ability to perform using a lead sheet is important both artistically and professionally. Lead sheet reading is an integral part of jazz education but should not be limited to only jazz musicians. Ironically, shorthand notations such as figured bass and tablature were used in Western art music up until the Classical period. Lead sheets can be made and used in any genre and style and are an effective tool showing the nuts and bolts of a composition. The only notated pitches are the melody which fosters a sense of agency enabling pianists to express themselves and create their own accompaniments within a formal design. The level of difficulty of the accompaniment can be determined by the performer’s abilities rather than by the level of the notated score. I propose a course in higher education designed to teach non-jazz pianists to competently read and perform using lead sheets. Inspired by Kratus’ (1995) developmental approach to learning improvisation, this course uses a similar approach to developing lead sheet reading skills and intuition. The model is sequential and is made up of six levels which build upon each other: (1) exploration, (2) process-oriented, (3) product-oriented, (4) fluid, (5) stylistic, and (6) personal. 

Keywords: lead sheet reading, music creativity 

Presented at the 62nd National College Music Society Conference in Louisville, Kentucky October 2019.

Joint Music Making and Prosocial Behavior in Infants and Young Children: A Review of Literature