Monday, October 24, 2016

Let’s Create a Composition Revolution in Massachusetts

Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop

Teaching composition is no easy task as the majority of pedagogical resources available lack the understanding of the typical classroom anatomy. Many teachers feel uncomfortable teaching this subject as we were not taught such concepts in our college pedagogy courses and may have never really delved into composition in our own role of music maker.  This really puts us out of our comfort zone, and yet the benefits of a successful composition curriculum can become a catalyst for increased meaningful music making for our students.  

A music teacher in New York by the name of Matt McLean set out to debunk the common misconceptions we sometimes envision in classroom music composition.  Matt created the non-profit organization and curriculum called the Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop (YCIW).  He notes that “as a music educator I've seen my students develop their strongest connection to music when they are given the opportunity to create something. I developed the YCIW curriculum to provide a way for every student, regardless of experience, to gain mastery over how music works (melody, harmony, rhythm, form etc.) while engaged in the process of creating and realizing their own musical ideas.”  

Why is YCIW Innovative?
Matt states that “most music composition curricula ask students to first spend time doing tedious, often disconnected tasks before ever having a chance to be creative. We want kids to be able to "play with concepts" in an experiential way while simultaneously using them in a purposeful way -their own composition.”

Matt explains that  “instead of having to first learn how to read music notation, students make creative choices about how they'd like their melody to sound and in doing so build their music reading skills. This kind of experiential learning is embedded in every step of the YCIW curriculum.”  

Another unique aspect of this program is having student compositions performed by professional musicians.  Matt draws a connection in that “we motivate students by having them feel that their efforts are part of the real world. Hearing musicians interpret their music not only makes for a powerful experience but also provides the ultimate feedback on which each student can reflect.”

This past spring was the first live simulcast performance featuring twenty student compositions from five schools across the United States. The compositions were performed by the Grammy-nominated Metropolis Ensemble and included seven student works from Pentucket’s Music Technology course.  The successful student impact was an eye opener as a teacher and I was thankful for how well thought-out the curriculum was and for how successful the students felt.  

How it Works
  1. Teacher signs up through  The fee is $5.00 per student.  There are no other fees.
  2. The teacher is given login credentials to his/her own “YCIW Classroom” online learning management system along with student login credentials.  This includes a full gradebook and Noteflight accounts for all of the students.
  3. Students login and complete the self-paced curriculum.  Throughout the process, the teacher and a Composer-Mentor from YCIW will leave assignment/composition feedback for the students.
  4. Student compositions can then be performed for others from peers and some might be selected for professional performance over a live internet broadcast through YCIW.

To learn more about the curriculum and listen to student compositions performance by professional ensembles, visit

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