Teaching students about composers
Found in: Composition & Improvisation
Hi fellow teachers,
Just wondering whether any teachers set projects for their students to study composers, modern day and old?
I remember when I learnt traditionally that I needed to know a little about the composer of the pieces I played. I often refer to composers/players in my classes, like “after a while you will just know where the keys are, without really thinking about it too much, like Stevie Wonder”. Then I have to explain who Stevie Wonder is!
If you do teach this, at what Foundation Level do you introduce it and do your students enjoy the projects, or is it too much like school homework?
My idea was to keep it very brief. Get them to pick a composer at random and find out:
1. When they were born and what country they live in
2. What style of music they compose
3. What is one of their famous pieces
4. What is your favorite piece
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I haven’t ever assigned it as a project, but I do think students find it interesting to know a little background about composers. Sometimes I share tidbits, like how many children Bach had when they learn Minuet in G, or a story behind one of Neil’s songs.
Maybe that would be a good project on a week when, for whatever reason, a class doesn’t have much new material to process – “Find 3 interesting facts about [composer of a current project song] and share with the class next week.”
I’ve recently asked my students and parents to look up info on the composers and to listen to the recording of a professional pianist’s playing (or symphony, for Ode to Joy) of that song whenever they learn a classical piece.
Some students feel it fascinating to hear songs they play being played by virtuoso pianists online!
I find it also valuable to immerse the students in as much piano/ music- related knowledge as we can, and I even have a map to point out which countries the composers were from.
Of course, they won’t remember everything, but since Beethoven come up more than once (Fur Elise & Ode to Joy), repetition is always good!
There was once when I said to a young student that “this piece was composed by Beethoven,” and she asked me “the dog?” Because she’s seen the movie “Beethoven” the dog, but didn’t understand that the dog was named after the composer!
I don’t ever want any of my students to grow up misunderstanding that again!
Thanks Laurie and Emily,
I love the thought of passing on stories behind songs, Laurie. I always ask my students what they were thinking about or where their inspiration came from when they compose. They only story I know about with Neil’s songs is Fluff Pie – is there information on the other songs somewhere?
These were my sentiments Emily, to give students more knowledge and expose them to as much music as possible, just not what is currently playing on radio/MTV. The opposite goes for older students, they tend to just listen to the genre of music they like and aren’t listening to new music.