Composition provides an outlet for students that can be both fun but intimidating. In this section we discuss several tools to help alleviate the intimidation that some students may feel. The tools addressed in this section will include GarageBand and music notation software. For incorporation of music theory tools and assessments in your composition class, please also check our our music theory assessment page and our AP music theory page.
GarageBand is a powerful tool that can be utilized in the classroom for creating original compositions and teaching form and techniques as part of your composition class. This tool is unfortunately only available on Apple products, so you must have an iMac, MacBook, or iPad in order to use this tool.
Students can very easily create original compositions using the tracks that are already included in GarageBand. Students that are a little more advanced can record themselves singing or playing to create short loops that can be used to create an original composition as well. Check out the YouTube video below as an example. Obviously your students don't need to create something this complex, but this is a great example of what this software is capable of creating.
For teaching and assessing form and compositional techniques using GarageBand consider several possibilities. One method would be teaching the concept and then having students create compositions that display the form and/or technique that was taught. Through creation students are demonstrating an in depth understanding of the content. Another possibility is showing understanding through identification. In this scenario, you as the teacher would teach the content and then create compositions that are demonstrating what was instructed. Students would then identify what forms and/or techniques were utilized. The final possibility discussed, and arguably the best, would involve a combination of the two methods outlined above. Have students create compositions that demonstrate an understanding of form and compositional techniques. Then have the students play their compositions for their peers. Students will critically analyze the composition and identify the form and compositional techniques utilized.
Music Notation software
There are many possibilities in the realm of music notation software ranging from very expense to entirely free. You will need to determine the purpose for which the software will be used and where the students will use the software.
Finale for example is an incredible and power music notation software tool. Students can use Finale to create compositions that are extremely detailed and for virtually any instrumentation. Finale will allow students to work with any number of staves and most importantly, instantly hear the composition that they are creating. They can then print out a professional looking copy of their composition and export it as a sound file for listening to later. The major disadvantage to this product is the cost. The retail cost of Finale is $600 and it is $350 for academic uses (schools/students). The cost of the product may be the most deterring factor in the use of Finale. If the school owns Finale it would be possible to use this software for completing assignments and projects in the school computer lab, but it would be unreasonable for home use in an entire class.
Another powerful tool similar to Finale is Sibelius. Just like Finale, Sibelius will let your students create professional looking compositions for their projects. Students will be able to gain the instant feedback of hearing their composition playback to the instantly. Again, likely the most constricting element of this software is the cost. The retail cost of Sibelius 7 is $599.95 and an academic pricing of $295. If your school is able to purchase this software it could be used for project completion in computer labs, but just like Finale is not feasible for use at home because of cost.
So what can you do if you want students to complete projects and assignments at home? Although not nearly as powerful as Finale or Sibelius, the best answer is exploring possible free music notation software. Finale has created what is essentially a "Finale Lite" in their Finale Notepad software. Finale Notepad will allow students to compose using up to eight staves and will playback compositions. Students can compose by entering pitches manually or through a MIDI device and can then hear their composition played back immediately. Since this is a free software, this is much more feasible for home use, however it considerably more restrictive in possibilities than the much more expensive Finale.