Text: Composition curriculum working group of the Society of Finnish Composers
Background to the composition curriculum recommendation
Composition pedagogy is an emerging and developing discipline in the constantly changing arts sector. In the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education in the Arts, composition is considered a natural part of a child’s musical growth. So far, however, composition teaching has been uneven in content due to the varying professional competence of composition teachers but also due to the lack of a curriculum for composition teaching. Moreover, composition teaching is only available at a handful of music institutes in Finland at the moment.
The purpose of the composition curriculum working group of the Society of Finnish Composers is to achieve a level playing field for composition teaching in terms of both regional coverage and substantive competence while encouraging music institutes to establish good practices in composition teaching in constructive collaboration with composers. We wish to contribute to the development and growth of concert music and to help foster diversity in Finnish music.
Goals of the animations and the skills table
The curriculum devised by the composition curriculum working group of the Society of Finnish Composers is intended to harmonise the teaching of composition nationwide. Its goals are to encourage children, adolescents and adults alike to create music under the tuition of a professional composer and to offer students equal opportunities in improving and maturing their expressive musical potential through composition. Goal-oriented composition studies foster a broader relationship with the arts, encourage artistic expression, expand musical comprehension and contribute to building an individual identity.
How to use the composition curriculum
The composition curriculum is a foundation for exploring the role of a composer in depth. Composition teaching involves a wide variety of methods and content. Animations illustrate the structure, content and learning paradigm of composition lessons. The skills table for basic and advanced composition studies provides a detailed roadmap. A student-oriented approach is mandated, and at each level the matters that best support the student’s progress and interests should be selected for focus. Because of this, we did not distinguish between basic and advanced studies in defining the curriculum terminology. The various areas of interest and phenomena are covered in diverse and comprehensive ways in the course of a student’s composition studies.
Target group of the composition curriculum
The composition curriculum devised by the curriculum working group of the Society of Finnish Composers is intended to support composition teaching at music institutes. Although designed from the perspective of classical music, it can be applied to other genres too. The skills table can be useful for students too, in setting goals and in planning the content of their studies.
We consider it extremely important for composition teachers to have personal, professional experience of working as a composer and a personal, motivated vision about writing classical music. The qualification requirements for composition teachers must be comparable to those for instrument teachers.
The composition curriculum does not address the actual teaching process. For this purpose, we have worked with Mutes ry to create the Opus1 website.
Main subject studies and secondary subject studies in composition
The goal is to coach and encourage students to execute their own musical ideas in a positive and safe environment. The teaching is to be geared towards supporting students’ creativity and personal views. Students are to be encouraged to generate unfiltered ideas, after which the musical content of these ideas will be evaluated and they will be further developed. Lessons are to focus on writing a homogeneous musical texture and on the basics of voice-leading, harmony and counterpoint.
The studies are to include the basics of harmonisation, orchestration, counterpoint, harmony, analysis and electroacoustic music and of the musical phenomena typical for various historical periods. Students are to be introduced to the various instrument groups through composing, arranging and orchestrating. A thorough introduction to music technology is also to be included.
Supporting studies for composition
Composing is both a practical and a theoretical discipline, and supporting studies form an important part of the curriculum. Supporting studies include subjects such as structural awareness of music, instrument studies, ensemble playing and music technology.
The focus in student interaction skills is to be on constructive communication and mutual respect.
The following is a description of these supporting studies with a view to the needs of composition teaching.
Listening and structural awareness of music
Students should have a robust basic capability for understanding music. ‘Structural awareness of music’ is a blanket term that covers the skills for reading and writing music, the ability to understand musical structures, and knowledge of the tradition. The goal is for students to grow up to be active listeners of music and to be familiar with the notational conventions used in various styles of music. One possible approach in this is to use repertoire from the students’ instrument studies or music written by the students themselves as material in teaching structural awareness of music.
Instrument skills and practice
Sufficient instrument skills (e.g. basic level 2 or comparable) are essential for the development of musical thinking as required for composing. Students are to familiarise themselves with the basic technique, practising methodology and expressive potential of their instruments, rehearse pieces in different styles and learn to discern musical structures and stylistic features in them. Students are to be encouraged to explore instruments in various instrument groups through practical experience.
Students are to be encouraged to join chamber music ensembles, orchestras and/or choirs. Studies in orchestra conducting or choir conducting are also recommended.
Ensemble playing introduces students to instrument balance, tonal colour, intonation and rhythmic precision. Students discover how ensemble playing is different when having a conductor and when not having a conductor.
Performance and expression
Students are to be encouraged to play a wide variety of music, including music written by themselves, and should have opportunities to hear their compositions performed, if possible by professional musicians. Collaboration with musicians and conductor during the composition process and the rehearsal process is invaluable for composers.
Students are to be encouraged to improvise and to use improvisation as a tool for composing. Improvisation should also involve practising interaction, by listening to and reacting to music played by others. Students are to be coached in improvisation either without written music or for instance by using chord symbols. Improvisation can help students express feelings, create moods and explore tonal colour. Students are to be encouraged to develop various melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, textural and colour ideas and to devise variations on them. The tuition may include individual work and work in groups.
The purpose of these studies is to give students a broad and general understanding of the various aspects of music technology from a composer’s perspective. The studies are to include an introduction to the most commonly used software, hardware, concepts and terminology. The lessons may cover notation software, sound synthesis, audio sequencer software, recording, mixing, editing and sound systems. Knowing how to upload music onto online platforms and social media channels while respecting copyright is also useful.
Basic studies proficiency demonstration and assessment
Students are to be given encouraging, constructive and inspiring feedback on their compositions, arrangements and instrumentations at each lesson in order to support their musical development. Students will gradually learn to self-assess their decisions. Students should also, if possible, receive peer feedback from other composition students.
The proficiency demonstration is to include a few compositions of different types, demonstrating not only the students’ artistic vision but also their technical competence. Also, at least one of the works written by the student must have been performed, with the student participating in the rehearsal process.
The assessment is to concern the portfolio as a whole, what the student’s technical abilities are, how they express their musical ideas, their knowledge of instruments and the feasibility of the notation used. The assessment must not address aesthetic values but instead is to focus on students’ strengths in composition technique and on their progress in their studies.
The goal in advanced studies is for students to develop sketching techniques of their own, to improve on the craft, individual musical language and aesthetic preferences already acquired, and to reinforce the students’ musical identity. These studies also provide the foundation for studying composition at the university level. The core content of these studies is to consist of a wide-ranging development of students’ structural awareness of music, cultural knowledge and creative thinking while reinforcing the skills and knowledge acquired in basic studies. Students with composition as their main subject should complete a basic-level proficiency examination in their instrument during their advanced studies. It is also recommended for students to continue familiarising themselves with instruments in various instrument groups.
Students are to be encouraged to study subjects in structural awareness of music as widely as possible to support their composition studies: music theory, analysis, harmony, voice-leading & counterpoint, music technology and music history.
During advanced studies, students are to prepare a final project under their teacher’s supervision. This may take the form of a composition portfolio, for instance. Such a portfolio may be presented as a composition concert in collaboration with chamber ensembles, orchestras and choirs or as a cross-discipline project. A portfolio must contain a number of compositions of different types, at least one of them being of a type not included in the basic studies. These works must display the students’ individual expressive idiom while demonstrating their technical abilities.
Advanced studies should include composition workshops if possible. They are a welcome addition to the studies and provide important learning experiences. Rehearsing one’s own music and performing it with other musicians is an essential part of developing as a composer.
Advanced studies aim towards a composition concert showcasing the student’s interests. Such a concert may involve music only, or it may be a multi-discipline effort, with close interaction between music on the one hand and games, animation, dance, drama, visual arts, acrobatics or literature on the other. Students must estimate the time used for writing the works to be performed at the concert, aim to keep within the timetable set and to prepare the score and performance materials independently.
Students aiming to apply for composition studies at the university level are to be provided with coaching and student counselling in respect of their likely future studies and employment. This may include visits by professional composers and musicians or from festivals and various performing ensembles, or excursions.
Advanced studies proficiency demonstration and assessment
Students are to be given encouraging, constructive and inspiring feedback on their compositions, arrangements and instrumentations at each lesson in order to support their musical development. Students must also be able to self-assess their decisions. Students should also, if possible, receive peer feedback from other composition students.
The assessment of the final project is to consider the goals set by the students themselves for the project. The demonstration itself may take the form of a concert performance, a recording or a score.
The assessment is to concern the portfolio as a whole, what the student’s technical abilities are, how they express their musical ideas, their command of compositional forms, the variety of composition types, their knowledge of instruments and the feasibility of the notation used. The assessment must not address aesthetic values but instead is to focus on students’ strengths in composition technique and on their progress in their studies. The assessment must also address the students’ actions during the composition and rehearsal process.
Composition curriculum working group of the Society of Finnish Composers: