Welcome to the NextNotes Lab Toolkit! Here you’ll find resources to help you create a community of composers/creators, performers, and listeners that are all excited about creating brand new, original music. Whether you make music with your voice, your computer, your instrument, or found objects, and whether you improvise, compose carefully notated musical scores, or something in between, this Toolkit has ideas that can help you make more music, with more people, for more ears. It doesn’t matter what type of music you’re creating or in what style— if you are creating music of any kind, then you’re a composer.
Welcome to the NextNotes Lab Toolkit! Here you’ll find resources to help you create a community of composers, performers, and listeners that are all excited about creating brand new, original music. Whether you make music with your voice, your computer, your instrument, or found objects, and whether you improvise, compose carefully notated musical scores, or something in between, this Toolkit has ideas that can help you make more music, with more people, for more ears. It doesn’t matter what type of music you’re creating or in what genre— if you are creating music of any kind, then you’re a composer.
What is NextNotes Lab?
NextNotes Lab is a group of teenage musicians who get together to share original music of all kinds with each other. They listen to each others’ music, perform each others’ music, share knowledge, tips and tricks, and support each other in creating new music. Some NextNotes Labs will organize rehearsals and performances of their pieces so the public can hear the original music being made. A NextNotes Lab may receive artistic and organizational guidance from an experienced composer in their community (a NextNotes Lab Mentor). Every NextNotes Lab should be a community where musicians have fun encouraging and helping each other create new music.
Should I use this toolkit?
These resources are designed for any high school students creating original music that are looking to share it with more people. The NextNotes Lab Toolkit can help you organize a group of your peers into a “NextNotes Lab” by providing suggestions about how to share your music with other music creators, how to give feedback to others, how to make music together (and independently), how to share your music with the rest of the world, and more.
Does it matter what kind of music I make?
This Toolkit can help you make whatever kind of music you want! There are no rules or guidelines when it comes to making the music that you find expressive and enjoyable!
Think it might be cool to start a NextNotes Lab? Email ACF Programs! Don’t know where to start? Email ACF Programs! Don’t know who to invite to your NextNotes Lab? Email ACF Programs! We can help answer whatever questions you have!
Making Music in a Community
Why make music in a community?
The best reason to share your music with a community is because your music expresses you, your individual experience, and your relationship to those around you. Equally important is listening to other people’s voices and understanding their perspectives. Sharing music is a valuable way to communicate with others, receive new ideas, and contribute your ideas to the communities you’re a part of.
Your music needs to be heard! it is always nice to have others to perform your creations. You may, like many, love the sound of a cello, but not have a cello or know how to write music for it. By building a community of music makers, you can learn from each other about instruments and perform each others’ pieces!
In a NextNotes Lab, you will have a roomful of attentive ears. Your peers will listen and share with you their impressions. Or, if your focus is on ‘electronic dance music,’ they will be prepared to get in the groove and move.
Learning and Fun!
Perhaps the most valuable benefit of starting a NextNotes Lab is what you’ll learn from your peers. If your Lab has a flute player, they can tell you all about how the instrument works, what kinds of sounds it makes, and how to create for it. They can even play your music while it’s in progress to see if you like the way it sounds! You might learn from your peers how to use notation software to print off clear looking scores or how to use software to change the pitch of a sound file. What special skills and knowledge can you share with the group to help them!?
What to do at Meetings
Your NextNotes Lab should do whatever feels musically inspiring and engaging. Here are a few ideas to try out. When you discover what works well for your group, do that!
- Share original music. Have members bring their original music to share, including works-in-progress! This could be in the form of an audio recording or a score to view and discuss. If the creator is looking for feedback, take a look at the Giving & Getting Feedback section.
- Workshop a piece. It will be worth hearing it live, even if it’s under rehearsed or being sight read. If it’s created for instruments that members have with them, play through it. Even if the wrong instruments are around, see what substitutions can be made to get a sense of what it sounds like. Take a look at the Rehearsing Music section. This can be a great way to give & get feedback.
- Rehearse original music for an upcoming concert.
- Improvise together. This could be in an established tradition, such as the blues, or it could be completely free. Try recording the improvisations and listening back to foster discussion. See how the group’s improvisations change over the course of a few weeks.
- Listen to some of your favorite music and discuss what you like about it. Ask what others hear when they listen to it. Discuss how it relates to the creative interests of your NextNotes Lab colleagues. Try using the listening as a basis for improvisation.
There are many other things a group could do together, including eating some snacks, and watching a movie with great music! The activities of the Lab should reflect the interests of the group and fuel the creation of new music!
When to Meet
A NextNotes Lab might meet with a frequency between a few times a week to about once a month. Any more time between meetings than that and you might forget the progress that you made last meeting. Meetings might last between one and three hours. It depends on how much music there is to talk about/rehearse/listen to! A good place to start would be meetings once a week for two hours.
Where to Meet
There are many places in your community where you could have NextNotes Lab meetings. When choosing a location, some important things to consider are:
- Can we make lots of sound?
- Are there music stands? Could we bring them there?
- Are there instruments? Can everyone bring their instrument?
Some places that might work well are:
- Does your school have a space that would work well? Does your school support after school activities? Can they provide space?
- Is there a community music school nearby that can provide space?
- Is there a community center or place of worship nearby that can provide space?
- Is there a music or arts organization such as a museum or ensemble that has space and would be interested in supporting new music?
Finding Like-Minded Musicians
Making music with others is a wonderful way to build friendships and engage with your community. NextNotes Lab is a great opportunity to surround yourself with musicians who are also excited about creating new music. If you already know some people who will be excited to join this NextNotes Lab, invite them to join! If you haven’t found your like-minded peers yet, they’re out there! You may have to seek them out using some deliberate strategies:
- Is there a music ensemble at school filled with musicians that may want to join? Ask your music teacher if you can announce NextNotes Lab to the group and see if anyone is interested.
- Does anyone you know play in a rock band? Invite them and their band to join.
- Is there a community music school nearby filled with students? Ask if you may put up some posters to inform those students. Be sure to include a way to contact you.
- Do you know someone who makes electronic music? Invite them to join.
- Think of some musicians in your community. Ask them if they know any like-minded students who would want to join this Lab!
When approaching others to be involved, be sure to ask them what they want to get out of being part of the Lab and discuss as a group how to achieve the goals everyone brings. Each group should determine together what their goals and activities will be, and each Lab might end up looking very different!
NextNotes Lab Leadership
It is important that every member of the NextNotes Lab feels their opinion is heard and valued. There are many ways you might organize the group to make sure everyone has a voice and meetings are efficient and run smoothly. One strategy that is often used in organizations like this is a board of elected officers that perform different duties of the organization’s functions.
- President: A President will consider the opinions and desires of the entire group to determine what to focus on in individual meetings. They will also plan and structure the time the group spends together.
- Vice President: The vice president often assists the President with planning and execution of activities. One example of a good way to assist to be the person who schedules and coordinates the meeting times and locations.
- Secretary: A secretary usually keeps a record of what happens at meetings, for example, who presented, what was rehearsed, what was heard. This will be useful in determining what works well for your group! This will also be useful in making sure the group’s time is being shared equally among participants.
- Treasurer: If there are dues being collected and/or money being spent, the Treasurer is responsible to keep track of it all.
- Historian: The historian is responsible for documentation of events and chronicling the activities of the Lab. They will likely organize and execute the audio and video documentation of concerts, take pictures during meetings, and keep all the Lab’s media organized. They also can post these sounds and images to social media (with peers’ permission) to let the world know what the Lab is creating.
For important decisions, such as where to perform a concert, the president will hold a group-wide vote to make sure that everyone has a say and all opinions have equal influence.
Early in the group’s existence, the NextNotes Lab should determine and declare a set of goals, let’s call it a “Mission Statement.” This will focus the group’s time and energy by helping decide if a proposed idea or activity will achieve the declared mission. Some goals that might be included in a mission statement are:
- Providing constructive feedback to members by sharing works-in-progress.
- Supporting peers by sharing skills with the group (for example: performing on an instrument, recording a rehearsal or concert, or sharing knowledge about some technology).
- Producing concerts of works by NextNotes Lab composers/creators.
- Learning about varieties of music by researching and sharing composers and pieces with the group.
- What else would you add to the list?
These goals should be discussed and chosen carefully as a group. Once established they should be dispersed to all the members and/or kept in a place easy for everyone to access (website or shared Google Drive folder). When planning a meeting or activity, consider the goals on your list. Are you accomplishing these goals? If so, great! If not, how can the activities be modified to achieve these goals?
Finding a Mentor
Having a NextNotes Lab Mentor can be a really excellent way to get feedback on the Lab’s activities and progress. These mentors might be composers or musicians from the area you live in. Your mentor might do a number of things to support the group, including:
- Offering compositional/creativity advice
- Helping the Lab rehearse a work
- Creating connections within the community to other composers, creators, performers, or venues
- Providing suggestions on how to structure the group or the group’s meetings
Each mentor will have different kinds of expertise to offer and different levels of availability to be involved. It’s important that both the mentor and the NextNotes Lab participants find the collaboration rewarding.
If you know a potential mentor in your community, you can ask them if they’d like to be involved. Before doing this, the NextNotes Lab should meet and discuss exactly what you’d be asking the mentor to do. You should determine:
- Why are you asking them in particular?
- What specifically are you hoping they’ll bring to the group?
- What do you want to learn from them?
- How much time do you hope they’ll contribute?
Determining these answers in advance and presenting them clearly will help both the mentor and the Lab know what to expect from each other in this collaboration. It will make the time spent together more enjoyable and productive!
An email to a potential NextNotes Lab mentor might look something like this:
My name is _______, I am a ______ grader at ______. I’m starting a local chapter of NextNotes Lab, a club for young composers to collaborate, converse, and learn about making new music. The NextNotes Lab program, outlined in <link>this toolkit</link>, is in partnership with the American Composers Forum. My peers and I are hoping that you’ll be interested in serving as our composer mentor! ___________ Insert your reasons for asking this particular person here. What about them and/or their music is interesting to you?__________ Please learn more about what this mentorship entails on <link>this page</link>. If you have any questions, feel free to respond to me or ask Laura at the American Composers Forum. Thank you for your time and consideration.
If you need help finding a mentor, contact ACF Programs. This organization has many composer members all over the United States and we might be able to connect you with a composer that can help!
Communication & Making Decisions as a Group
As with any group of people, effective communication is extremely important. Making sure that everyone is receiving and understanding important information and feels that their voice is being heard is essential to creating an effective and supportive community. Here are some tips to follow:
- Make sure important information and documents are in a place where everyone can access them easily such as a shared Google Drive folder or something similar.
- Gather and share contact information for everyone in the group.
- When sending messages about group decisions or scheduling, make sure everyone is on the thread so everyone is involved.
- Messages requesting information from Lab members should be sent in advance with enough time for individuals to consider the request and respond. A two day minimum is a good rule of thumb.
- When different opinions surface in discussion, listen carefully to everyone. If an agreement can’t be made, a formal vote may be used resolve the disagreement.
- If a formal vote takes place and you find yourself in the minority, respect the decision of the group.
- If the Lab has designated leaders, they should make sure the Lab members feel comfortable coming to them personally with any concerns that they may not want to share publicly.
- Find channels of communication and organization that work well for the Lab members. Consider tools like Slack, Doodle, When2Meet, Discord, and Google Drive.
In all NextNotes Lab communication, members should feel heard and respected. Communicating efficiently and effectively will make more time for music and build a stronger community.
Rehearsing Original Music
Rehearsing a piece of music that has never been performed before can pose different challenges than rehearsing a pre-existing piece of music. Here are some tips to structuring the rehearsal process to make it productive, fun, and welcoming to all participants.
When others are performing your music…
- Be respectful and patient: Just like composers/creators, performers are human beings with strengths, weaknesses, feelings, and insecurities. They should always be treated with respect and gratitude for the skills and knowledge they bring.
- Be curious: Performers bring their own knowledge, experience, and creativity to the rehearsal process. Be open-minded to feedback and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
- Be prepared to demonstrate: If a rhythm, gesture, or phrasing is tricky or confusing to a player, you may be asked to demonstrate how you would like it performed. If you are asked to demonstrate a rhythm, make sure you can play/perform the rhythms you write! If you are asked to demonstrate the way something is phrased, make sure you can sing the contour/dynamics of a line as you imagine them in your head. If you are asked to demonstrate a non-conventional sound or gesture, find a way to express that sound with your voice or show how it is technically produced on the instrument. You can prepare for these questions by studying and practicing your own music and anticipating the challenges that might arise in rehearsals.
- Be quiet: Sometimes the most effective way for a composer to participate in a rehearsal is to step back and let the players rehearse. If something isn’t going right, don’t immediately step in to try to fix it. Let the performers work it out themselves. Instead, take notes during rehearsal and save this feedback for an appropriate time. If you have A LOT of feedback, try to consolidate your notes into a few (2-4) key points that can be applied more generally throughout the piece, with some specific examples.
- Be positive: Always start any feedback with something positive or encouraging. Something like, “Thanks so much for your hard work! I would love if…” or, “the rhythmic energy is awesome, can we rehearse the rhythms of this section for accuracy?”
- Be thankful: Always say thank you to performers at the beginning and end of rehearsals. This little phrase can go a long way in making a positive experience for everyone!
When performing music made by others…
- Be respectful: Giving your music to peers to rehearse and perform can feel extremely vulnerable. When rehearsing a new work composed by a colleague, the goal is always to bring their musical vision to life, regardless how unfamiliar it might be. Always approach the composer/creator with respect and curiosity about their work, never with negativity or judgement.
- Be adventurous: Consider new music as a chance to broaden your idea of what you and your instrument can express and what sounds you are capable of making. Enjoy that exploration!
- Be open minded: Imagine every piece of music you are interpreting is the best piece of music in the world. Consider the possibility that something you don’t immediately love to listen to or play is something you will grow to love.
- Be honest: If what a composer is asking you to do is too hard or too uncomfortable, or takes an overburdening amount of independent practice time outside of rehearsal, just say so!
- Be creative: If something seems impossible or uncomfortable, consider other more idiomatic ways of producing a similar sound or effect to demonstrate to the composer.
- Be informative: Instead of saying, “this is impossible to play,” say, “let me show you what my fingers/breath/bow/body/etc. looks like when I try to play this passage.” Difficult or non-idiomatic passages on your instrument are an opportunity for you to demonstrate features of your instrument that will help your composer friend learn what works or what doesn’t, and discover other ways to more idiomatically achieve that sound, effect, or musical idea.
When rehearsing improvised or non-traditionally notated music…
- Break down the sections of the the music: Are there formal chunks that can be rehearsed in isolation of one another? Breaking down the piece into smaller portions can help focus rehearsal.
- Break down the layers of the music: Establish who is playing what and when. Is everyone in the ensemble playing all the time? Are there times when the musical texture is thinner or thicker? You can rehearse different layers by having one player start and others gradually join in, or vice versa (starting with a thick musical texture and thinning it out).
- Pick one moment to perfect or focus on that is applicable to other musical moments
- Rehearse subsets: solo’s, duo’s, trios, etc.
- Listen. In improvisations or open-form music, consider 10% playing to 90% listening a good ratio! You are just as engaged in making a piece of music when listening as you are when playing.
- When improvising, consider choosing material that has a trajectory (i.e. soft to loud, noisy to pitched, etc).
- The ending of a piece is not something you create, but something you discover.
When performing your own music…
- Practice: A composer performing their own music often needs to practice like any other performer. Try practicing your music like you weren’t the one who wrote it.
- Record yourself playing and listen back for self-critique and observation.
- Ask for feedback: Invite an audience of friends to observe a run-through of your work.
- If your music is improvised, create a sketch, timeline, or formal diagram to help you keep track of the materials you are interested in exploring.
Giving and Getting Feedback
Sharing Work with Peers
When sharing work with peers, the first thing to consider is: Am I sharing this work because I’m hoping to receive critical and constructive feedback? – or – Am I sharing this work because I’m proud of it and want to showcase it for my peers? Both activities are important and welcome at NextNotes Lab meetings! Being clear about what you’re asking for can guide the conversation in the direction you want.
Asking for Feedback
While it can be useful to ask for feedback at any point in your process, it will be most useful for you (and more interesting for others) when you have clear ideas to share. Having material that your peers can experience in real time and then consider carefully and be specific about is best. This could mean a live performance, a recording, or playback of MIDI instruments. Without some sort of experienced realization of your work-in-progress, it might feel like you’re asking others to try to read your mind, which they can’t do.
If you have a score to share, come with a plan: what harmonies, rhythms, or sounds can you perform for the group in isolation before they look over the whole piece so they get a sense of the important aspects of the work. Try to keep your explanations short and clear so your peers have time to absorb the music on their own.
If you know what you are looking for feedback on, be sure to state it. If you are feeling unsure about the form, harmony, rhythm, melody, etc., ask for feedback on those specific aspects. This will guide your peers’ listening and help you improve what you’re hoping to improve. It’s also ok to clarify what you don’t want feedback on.
Hearing others say critical things about your music always has the potential to be discomforting. When you’re in the position to give feedback here are some guidelines to make the whole process more comfortable and productive for everyone:
- Build a trusting community. When hearing critical feedback, it’s important to know it comes from a place of respect and care. Creating these attributes in a community can take time, but are essential to building a strong community where individuals feel comfortable sharing their work. In all aspects of NextNotes Lab, acting with kindness and sincerity will build trust in your community.
- Listen carefully to the person. When presenting work, one should be specific about what aspects of the piece they’re looking for feedback on. Listen carefully to these statements and let them guide the way you listen to or look at a new piece. Before you offer critical comments, consider, “Does this critique speak to one of the aspects they requested feedback on?” If not, maybe it’s not a useful criticism to say. If you’re not sure about sharing a particular idea you have, ask the creator. For example, “Are you looking for feedback on the harmonies in the coda?” If they are, your idea is useful to share!
- Listen carefully to their work. When listening to another’s work or looking at a score, really focus your energy on that activity. Don’t bring your own assumptions or tastes to their music. Take the music as it is, process it, and do your best to understand it through the lens of the person creating it. If the music being shared is from a genre different than the music you write or outside of your comfort zone, focus on listening and understanding the perspective and musical goals of the person sharing.
- Talk about strengths. Even if someone didn’t ask for feedback on something, if you think it is particularly strong, let them know! Everyone enjoys hearing praise and it can be a good way to reinforce the strengths of your colleagues. Hearing both critical and positive feedback can help build trust and will leave the composer/creator feeling excited about what they’ve accomplished and the ways they can improve it.
- Be specific. Just saying that you did or didn’t like something isn’t as useful as being specific about why you feel that way. Specificity can help the composer reassess their choices and try out alternatives.
- Ask if the recipient would like advice. Advice is different from feedback. Feedback includes sharing your opinions about what parts of a work are strong or weak and why. Advice is another step that might include offering possible alternatives or solutions to problems that you see. Sometimes creators will want help in this process, others will only want to hear the feedback and then discover the solutions on their own.
- Speak from your own perspective. If you find yourself offering possible solutions or alternatives, avoid phrases like “you should…” Instead speak from your own perspective with phrases like, “I might…” Ultimately, it is up to the creator what changes will be made.
Remember that giving and getting feedback is not only a way to strengthen work, it can also be a way to share with others, build community, practice listening and communication skills, and enjoy music. When sharing work with the group at a NextNotes Lab meeting, try to achieve all these goals!
Are you ready to create some music, but aren’t sure where to start? Are you in the middle of a piece and feeling the struggle of writer’s block? Have you finished your latest and greatest and want to know what’s next? Here is a collection of tips and tricks for each stage of your music-writing journey.
So you want to create a piece…
…but you aren’t sure where to start. For many creative music makers, getting started can be the hardest part! Here are some suggestions for getting your creative juices flowing.
- Improvise. Improvisation is a wonderful way to explore musical ideas. Anyone can improvise regardless of whether or not they feel comfortable on an instrument. No seriously, YOU can improvise. If you have a musical idea in mind, start off with that, if not, you can use your instrument/voice/found object to generate material for a piece just by spontaneously making sound. Who knows what you might discover and like?! Improvising might involve… using your voice, your instrument, or any found object to sing or play a tune, riff, rhythm, sound, or musical idea that kicks off your urge to compose.
- A musical idea might be: a melody, a sound you heard (“musical” or “non-musical”), a chord, a rhythm, a striking visual image, a character or feeling, a story, or anything else that makes you feel inspired.
- If you are new to improvising, start to sing or play a musical idea and repeat your initial idea until something new or an urge to expand your original idea comes to mind. Repetition is always a useful way to listen to and engage with your own material.
- Trouble focusing? Set a timer. Make yourself try improvising for two minutes. Then three, four, five, six…
- Having trouble remembering things you played or sang? Record your improvisations on a phone or computer if you have access to one. Or, make a shorthand visualization of what you did (whether a drawing or some words to help remind you).
- Another option is to do a guided improvisation. The American composer and electronic music pioneer Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016) wrote many of these guided improvisations and compiled them in her Sonic Meditations (1974).
- Improvising can even mean just imagining the music you want to create. Yes, you can improvise in your head which means you can improvise anywhere.
- Put “pen to paper.” Sometimes the best way to start a piece is just to start spilling out ideas and recording them. Externalize your ideas then find out what comes next — no need to wait for your internal thoughts to be fully formed to compose. Pen to paper might mean…
- actual pen (well, pencil!) and blank paper or manuscript paper
- music notation software
- recording audio
- Journal. Words can be a useful way to generate musical ideas.
- Free write adjectives that describe how you want your piece to sound. Then imagine sounds / melodies / chords / rhythms that fit these descriptors.
- Write lyrics that can be set to music in some way, perhaps as a sung melody, or maybe a spoken text that is accompanied by music in the background. What does that lyric sound like? What does that background music sound like?
- Write a story or describe a moment or state of mind. What would the soundtrack be to that story, scene, or emotion?
- Listen to music that excites you.
- Listen to imitate: As the classic saying goes, “good composers borrow, great composers steal.” Try on the compositional shoes of an artist you love. Even if you try to sound exactly like them in your own music, you probably won’t. Modeling your music after others is not only a way to expand your toolbox, but also a way to develop a consistent workflow even if you aren’t sure of your own ideas yet.
- Listen to do it differently: maybe you love a piece of music but wish that one moment were done differently. Maybe you like one moment of a piece but dislike it overall. Well, do it better!
- Listen to discover. There are lots of ways to explore new music.
- Listen for listening’s sake! Listening to music is fun, exciting, relaxing, inspiring. Listening is valuable in and of itself, and it’s also a great way to get back in touch with that initial itch to create your own music.
- Experience non-musical arts and activities.
- Read a book, go for a walk, watch a movie or a play, go down a wikipedia wormhole, learn something new!
- If you’re bored, you’re not looking hard enough or in the right places for inspiration!
- In a word: let the non-musical world be creative nutrients for your musical practice.
- Build a writing/creating habit. A steady workflow can help get you in the mental space to compose music, even if you are having trouble coming up with ideas.
- Budget time every day as sanctioned “composing time”. Even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes, if you commit to spending those minutes every day thinking about music, perhaps by doing any of the activities mentioned above, you will develop the focus and persistence to generate and follow through with ideas. This may not happen right away — be patient! Creating music is like an exercise — it becomes easier with practice!
- Every morning, write down something music-related — whether it’s a lyric, a beat, a tune, an image, etc. That half-awake/half-asleep morning state is often a time when we are less inhibited and less self-critical.
- Create a performance or reading opportunity. What instrument do you play? Who are the members of your NextNotes Lab that play instruments? Writing for yourself or your friends to ensure you will have an opportunity to hear your composition performed is a great way to get inspired and motivated. Make plans to record, workshop, or perform the work-to-be. Make a deadline. Stick to it!
So you’re writing a piece…
…and you are feeling stuck or are looking for some additional resources. Here are some ways to ditch writer’s block and keep up your creative momentum.
- Learn more about orchestration / instrumentation / technology questions with these great online resources:
- Vienna Symphony Library: Instrumentology “The idea behind our Vienna Academy was to provide composers and arrangers not only with the most comprehensive store of virtual orchestral instruments but also with detailed information on what these instruments can do.”
- Indiana Jacobs School of Music Instrument Studies for Eyes and Ears: Basic overview of standard instrumental techniques & ranges with performer demonstrations.
- Sibelius Academy: Harp Notation This web site was made by Gunnhildur Einarsdóttir as a part of her Doctoral degree from the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland. A truly amazing resource — video and notation demonstrations and explanations of all things harp! Thank you Gunnhildur!
- Heather Roche: Clarinettist London-based clarinettist Heather Roche keeps a fantastic blog of all things notation / extended technique-related for clarinets. Browse this site to discover and learn more about writing for the clarinet. Thank you Heather!
- Lake Street Dive: How to Write a Song Masterclass
Genre-defying soul / folk-rock band Lake Street Dive gives a fantastic master class on songwriting, and how to make the most out of the wonkiest ideas for lyrics and tunes.
- YouTube tutorials: have a question about Ableton Live, a particular type of trombone mute, the altissimo range on the saxophone, or what a guiro sounds like? Go see what knowledge is in store for you on YouTube!
- Investigate the resources page of this toolkit.
- Take a nap, or a break
- Sometimes, time away from an idea can help it germinate. Composer Dale Trumbore talks about this in her article “Watching TV at Copland House”
- Seek musical advice from a friend
- Sharing your music can be helpful both because of the feedback you may receive, and because articulating your musical ideas to a friend and sharing what you have so far may help to clarify what you want to do next.
- Listen through your work with a timer
- Listen through what you’ve written so far in your head. Do this several times.
- Sometimes, setting a timer or stopwatch can help with concentration.
- After a few times listening to what you’ve written so far, try to imagine what comes next.
- Maybe instead of something new happening in the music, it is the case that something that has already happened needs to go on for longer.
Staying motivated and focused can be challenging, but composing doesn’t always have to mean sitting in front of a piece of paper or sitting with an instrument. When you’re feeling stuck, instead of asking, “What should happen in the next minute of this piece?,” try asking, “What should I do right now that will make me feel excited to and inspired to keep working on this piece for the next three hours?”
So you’ve finished your piece…
…congratulations! Finishing a piece of original music is a huge accomplishment. If your music has notation or instructions that musicians need to follow, these guidelines can help you create legible, clean parts, which are the most effective way to ensure a smooth and stress-free rehearsal process. This kind of document could be a fully notated score, a jazz lead sheet, a set of instructions, or something else.
Score preparation checklist: a clean score, along with clear dynamic, phrasing, and articulation marks, gives the performers instructions to play your music expressively and with purpose. Some of this checklist might apply to your piece and some might not! Consider making a checklist of your own as you begin proofreading your score and parts.
- Are there dynamics and expressive markings in your score?
- What dynamics to the instrument(s) start at?
- Dynamics and expression markings go below the staff (except for vocal music) while technical playing instructions (such as pizzicato) go above the staff
- Is there a tempo and/or metronome marking at the top of your score?
- Are there phrase and slur markings in the woodwinds & brass to show where to breath and rearticulate? What about the strings to show where to change bow direction?
- Are there other articulations? Staccato? Tenuto? Accents?
- If the score has transposable instruments such as clarinet or horn, is the score ‘in C’ or ‘transposed’? Is this indicated at the top of your score?
- Are the different parts legible? Check if they are:
- too jammed together on some pages, causing collisions of notes or text or misleading spacings of rhythms.
- too big or too small. Sometimes, staff sizes that are too big can look clunky and distracting, just as staff sizes that are too small can be difficult to read.
- Generally, 7.0mm staff size is acceptable for parts, while anywhere between 4.5mm-6mm is acceptable for the full score.
- Is your spelling of accidentals (sharps, flats) clear & intuitive?
- If there are mutes, is it clear when the mute is on (con sord) and when it is off (senza sord)?
- If there are techniques, such as pizzicato in the strings, is it clear when it begins (pizz.)? When it ends (ord.)?
- If your score has improvisation, how is it explained? Consider…
- Are there repeated figures ? Is it clear that they are repeated? How many times? Repeated figures can be notated…
- In a box
- With arrows
- With repeat signs
- Do a google image search of “aleatoric notation” to get some ideas!
- Is there a chord progression that is being improvised over? If so, is it clear where the chord changes are?
- Are there certain adjectives that describe the way you want the improvisation to sound?
- Are there graphics / images that describe the way you want the improvisation to sound?
- Is there a rhythmic / registral / timbral framework within which you want the improvisation to exist? Is this described clearly?
- How long does the improvisation last?
- If your score is a lead sheet / jazz chart, is it clear where chord changes are?
- If your score is a lead sheet / jazz chart, is it clear where the melody is, if there is a melody? What about a bass line, if there is a bass line?
Parts preparation checklist: even more than a clean score, clear, legible parts is one of the best ways to make rehearsals efficient, productive, and enjoyable. Here are some questions to consider while proofreading your parts.
- Is the staff size legible? There is some distance between a player and their music stand (usually there’s an instrument in the way!). Make sure you can read your music clearly if you hold it out far in front of you. The standard part staff size, according to the Major Orchestra Librarians Association Music Preparation Guide (MOLA), is 7mm.
- Are staves too spread out or too squished? Look at examples of parts from publishing companies for a sense of how much can fit on a page (examples can be found in these MOLA guidelines)
- Have you considered page turns? Make sure there are moments of rest in the music when the player(s) can turn their pages. Or, if page turns are impossible to coordinate, come to rehearsal with a plan to avoid interruptions in the music. Players can use multiple stands, or fold their pages accordion-style, or have fold-outs to compensate for moments when the page can’t be turned. Many performers now also read off of tablet computers and use foot pedals to turn pages, in which case formatting parts for page turns is less of a concern. Always talk to a player about their preference.
- Are there cues in the parts if there are long moments of rest? If a player rests for 10 or more measures, cues can save rehearsal time and help let the player know when to come back in.
- Is any non-standard technique or notation explained? Explanations can be in the form of performance notes at the front of the score & part OR directly above the non-standard technique or notation when it first appears in the score.
Presenting Your Music
Sharing your work with the world is an essential part of any creative process. The main steps in producing a concert or show are:
- Choosing a venue
- Choosing the music (programming)
- Rehearsing the music
- Promoting the event
- Day of Concert Activities
Many of these will be overlapping and happening simultaneously in the months leading up to the concert, see the suggested timeline below. Here’s a breakdown of the different steps:
Choosing a venue
Deciding where the music will be performed can have a significant impact on the rest of the concert production process. Finding many options and choosing carefully is important. Some questions to consider are:
- If needed, is there a piano?
- If needed, is there the appropriate technology for the concert?
- Is it easy to access by public transportation? Car? Foot?
- Is it a location people are familiar with or will it be difficult for them to find?
- Does it have an audience that frequents concerts there and may attend yours?
- Does the venue help with promotional activities by adding your event their calendar, promotional materials, social media pages, etc.?
- Is there a rental cost and is it affordable?
- Is it too small or too large for the audience you’re planning to draw?
- Is it possible to also have rehearsals or a dress rehearsal there? Is there an added cost?
As you can see, choosing the venue has implications for many other aspects of the process. Having a piano or not could impact programming, having rehearsal space could impact the rehearsal schedule, if the venue helps with promotion, that could impact your promotional strategies. Choosing a venue early can help you visualize and execute all the other parts of concert production.
Programming the concert or show involves considering all the choices that will determine how the audience will experience the art. The first step is to decide which pieces will be on the event. When making this decision it is important to calculate how long the concert will be: Most concerts are somewhere between 45 and 110 minutes. This includes all of the music performed, about 3-4 minutes between each piece to reset the stage (if needed), and the intermission (usually 10 to 15 minutes). An example of a typical concert might be:
Piece 1 8 min.
Set change 4 min.
Piece 2 5 min.
Set change 4 min.
Piece 3 12 min.
Intermission 15 min.
Piece 4 9 min.
Set change 4 min.
Piece 5 7 min.
Set change 4 min.
Piece 6 9 min.
Each half is 33 minutes long plus a 15 minute intermission makes a total length of 81 minutes.
If your NextNotes Lab is considering many works for the concert or show (too many to fit in one concert), you may have to determine a system for choosing which to include. A democratic vote that includes the whole group may be the most fair and efficient method. Consider how each member of the NextNotes Lab is involved in the concert. For example, if not everyone has a piece being performed, can they participating in the performance of a piece? How can their music or musicality be represented during the concert? It is a good idea to make sure everyone is participating in the concert experience in a way that feels valuable to each member.
Once you’ve chosen which pieces to include, you have to determine what order they’ll be in. Ideally you’ll find an order that has a welcoming opening to the concert, an exciting finish, and flows smoothly throughout. For example, alternating slower pieces with more upbeat pieces or alternating pieces in contrasting styles is one way to keep listener’s ears fresh and focused on each new piece. Another important consideration is trying to make the set changes as minimal as possible between pieces. For example, if three of six pieces on a program use a piano, those three pieces could all be on one half of the program.
Programming might also include making an paper program for audiences members to look at. Composers/creators might include program notes that describe something about their work or help prepare the listener for the experience of hearing it. Alternatively, or in addition to a program, composers might speak to the audience from the stage before their work is performed. If you choose to do this, be sure to calculate that time in the concert length.
Obviously rehearsing is an important part of any performance. The ensemble should be rehearsing for many weeks leading up to the concert. One of the most challenging parts of rehearsing is scheduling! Early on, you should schedule enough rehearsals to be able to perform the works with skill and confidence. If possible, it might be easiest to schedule a rehearsal at the same time or times every week. With everyone’s busy schedules, this might not be possible, in which case, it’s best to have everyone in a room together with their calendars to agree upon a number of rehearsal times leading up to the concert. When scheduling these rehearsals, it may be useful to decide which pieces will be rehearsed at which rehearsals–that way you can know who has to be at which rehearsals and that may make the whole process easier. A performer doesn’t necessarily have to be in the room if they’re not going to be rehearsing!
Throughout the whole process, make sure you have enough rehearsal time for each piece to perform to the level you want! Remember that, you will need to coordinate schedules with all of the performers and with the rehearsal location!
Finding rehearsal space will be similar to finding meeting spaces. Some important things to consider are:
- If needed, is there a piano?
- Can we make lots of sound?
- Are there music stands? Could we bring them there?
- Are there instruments? Can everyone bring their instrument?
Some places that might work well are:
- Does your school have a space that would work well? Does your school support after school activities and can provide space?
- Is there a community center or community music school nearby that can provide space?
- Is there a place of worship nearby that can provide space?
- Is there an arts organization such as a museum or ensemble that has space and would be interested in supporting new music?
Sharing your work with the world feels more satisfying if more of the world hears it! Having many people at the show makes the performers and composers feel more fulfilled and rewarded after expending all the energy that goes into producing a concert or show.
The best promotion is always personal invitations to guests, in person if possible. Making it clear to a specific guest that you personally want them to be there will help build community around your work and enrich the audience’s listening experience. If extending the invitation in person isn’t possible, an email, social media message, phone call, or text messages is a perfectly good alternative! The American Composers Forum can also help promote your event! Email ACF Programs to get us involved.
Of course we want many people to attend, more than just the people we know and think to invite. Making a social media event and promoting the concert on multiple social media platforms is a very important and free way to bring in audience. Alongside the event details, interesting and engaging content is important for building interest no matter what the platform. Some ideas to consider:
- Audio/video excerpts of the music that will be heard at the concert (the quality of the video doesn’t have to be perfect, but the excerpt you choose should be exciting and well executed!)
- Pictures of the group rehearsing or the scores being performed
- Interviews (audio/video or transcribed) with the composers or performers about the new works
- What else do you think your audience will engage with?
When promoting the event, try to embody the spirit of the group and the concert. If the concert is a group of NextNotes Lab participants having fun performing each others work, feel free to present it that way through messages or social media posts about the event. If it’s a serious meditation on high modernism in music, go with that! It’s important to be authentic in all aspects of art making, as it will make for a more cohesive concert or show experience for the listener and a more authentic relationship between artists and audiences.
You should also be in contact with other people and organizations that would like to see the concert succeed. Perhaps your school or music teachers have a newsletter or online calendar that the concert could be added to. Does the venue send out updates on upcoming events include the concert on? If other organizations (music schools, museums, schools) have helped you with other aspects of NextNotes Lab, you should ask if they’d also be willing to help spread the word about your event. It’s good to have the event information online and some content ready to go so that you can point interested people right to it!
Day of Concert/Show Checklist
There are many things that will need to be considered leading up to and on the day of the concert or show, here’s a list to help get you started. As the entire project gets planned and unfolds, you’ll want to be editing and adding to this list so that you’re ready when the day comes!
- How long will it take to set up the space before the concert begins? Will there be a dress rehearsal or sound check before the concert?
- If the performance space is hard to find, are there signs helping guests find their way?
- Are there enough chairs? Are they arranged properly?
- Are the programs printed, folded, etc.?
- If there are refreshments for guests, is there a table, table cloth, etc. for them?
- If receiving money, is there cash for making change? Is there are way to accept other forms of transaction?
- If the lighting is adjustable, is it set as desired? Who is going to manage the lights during the concert?
- Is the ensemble going to dress in a particular way?
- If composers (or anyone) is going to speak from the stage, have they planned what to say?
- When and how are the players and composers going to bow?
- How long will it take to clean up the space after the concert ends?
Speaking from the stage
Speaking from the stage before your premiere can be a good way share with the audience how you would like them to listen to your work. Is there a story that the piece portrays? Is there a particular motive that returns often? Is an instrument going to use an extended technique they should listen for? This kind of information can orient the listener, maximizing their listening enjoyment! Be sure to practice what you’ll say, perhaps getting feedback from your peers. Rehearsing this part of the concert or show is just as important as rehearsing the music.
A record of your concert or show, either through audio or video documentation, can be a valuable resource both for personal reflection/study and sharing your work more broadly. You might use audio/video recording to…
- enjoy listening to!
- share your music with others.
- listen with fresh ears for what did or didn’t work in your piece, either to note for your next piece or to make revisions.
- use in applications to music programs or competitions.
Documentation might not just include audio or video recording. It might also mean…
- saving copies of the concert program.
- taking photos.
- keeping a record of audience numbers or ticket sales, if applicable.
- saving receipts of any costs to produce the concert, if applicable.
These more mundane forms of record-keeping might come in handy for planning and promoting your next concert. But it’s safe to say that the most important type of documentation from a concert is an audio recording.
How do I make an audio recording? There are many ways to record audio, some higher quality than others. Here are three options:
- The simplest but also lowest quality way to record is with the voice memo app of a smartphone. Cell phones don’t come with the best built-in microphones, but there are a few simple ways to maximize audio quality on a phone:
- Know where the microphone is on the phone, and make sure wherever you position your phone that the microphone is not being blocked.
- If possible, position your phone a close but comfortable listening distance from the sound source with the microphone facing it.
- Place your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb. You don’t want text pings interfering with your recording!
- If available, changes the audio quality settings to “Lossless” (for example, on an iOS, this can be founder under Settings→ Voice Memo → Audio Quality → Lossless)
- A hand-held audio device, such as a Zoom, is definitely a step up in recording quality from a cell phone.
- Like recording with a cell phone, pay careful attention to the placement of the microphone and its relation to the sound source.
- If possible, mount your handheld recorder on a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, rest the recorder on a soft surface, such as a scarf or towel, on top of a music stand or table. This is to minimize or dampen noisy vibrations that might reach it, such as footsteps.
- An external microphone and audio interface into a DAW (digital audio workstation) can be the highest quality way to record.
- See resources for links and information on DAWs. Your computer may have some sort of built-in DAW (for example, GarageBand) that can receive audio from an external microphone via an audio interface.
- This can be the most ideal recording setup because an external microphone will likely be higher quality than a cell phone microphone or handheld audio device, and allows for the possibility of multiple microphones. Recording directly into a DAW also facilitates any editing or mixing you might do later on.
If you have access to a video camera, that’s great! Video is always an engaging form of documentation. As with audio recording, be mindful of the positioning of the camera and its internal microphone. And don’t forget to press “record”!
With all of these devices, it’s always a good idea to double check the power source and storage space before the concert. Is the battery charged?? Is there plenty of memory?? Whose job is it to double check those details?
Any one of these aspects of concert or show production might entail a fee, whether it’s renting a venue or printing programs. Donated space, time, and resources are always ideal but here are some ideas for managing production costs.
First, make a budget. What are the costs that might arise? Consider…
- Venue rental
- Rehearsal space rental
- Printing costs (scores, parts, programs, promotional materials)
- Refreshments? Everyone loves cookies!
Make sure that any money you plan on spending will be covered by some kind of income.
Second, make a list of possible sources of income. How might you raise money to cover the cost of your event? Consider…
- Ticket sales (tickets might cost between $5 and $20 — whatever you and your NextNotes Lab team members decide is best)
- Fundraising events, such as bake sales (cookies!!)
- Crowdfunding campaigns, such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe
Again, donated time, resources, and space are wonderful and always to be strongly considered. Look to the community spaces around you and the people you know. Talk to your teachers, mentors, and parents or guardians. What resources do you have access to? How might they be useful to produce your concert! Lastly, remember, the most important part of producing a concert is always sharing your music with the world!
Tools and Resources
- Sibelius (Sibelius First is free, other versions are pricey, but there’s a one-month free trial period)
- Finale Notepad (free)
- Noteflight (online & free)
- MuseScore (free)
- Free notation software is a great place to start if you aren’t sure what to get!
Digital Audio Workstations (D.A.W.’s)
Sound design programming environments
Notation, Orchestration and Instrumentation
- Vienna Symphonic Library: Instrumentology: “The idea behind our Vienna Academy was to provide composers and arrangers not only with the most comprehensive store of virtual orchestral instruments but also with detailed information on what these instruments can do.”
- University of Indiana: Instrument Studies for Eyes and Ears: Basic overview of standard instrumental techniques & ranges with performer demos
- Sibelius Academy: Harp Notation: This web site was made by Gunnhildur Einarsdóttir as a part of her DocMus degree from the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland. A truly amazing resource! Thank you Gunnhildur!
- Heather Roche: Clarinettist: London-based clarinettist Heather Roche keeps a fantastic blog of all things notation / extended technique-related for clarinets. Browse this site to discover and learn more about writing for the clarinet. Thank you Heather!
- Major Orchestra Librarians Association Music Preparation Guide: the standard for parts & score preparation for professional ensembles
- Why Lead Sheets?: A quick overview of lead sheet essentials and when to use them from Berklee School of Music
- Teoria: music theory tutorials & harmonic analysis
- Gmajor Music Theory: music theory tutorials
- Open Music Theory: online interactive music theory textbook
- BBC “bite-sized guides” to music theory concepts. Fun, short lessons online with examples and end-of-lesson quizzes.
- Just Intonation Explained: Prof. Kyle Gann’s (Bard College) very clear breakdown of just intonation, temperament, and how to play with intervals. Also a great listening list of just-intonation repertoire. Also, check out Kyle Gann’s An Introduction to Historical Tuning.
Public Domain Scores
- IMSLP: International Score Music Library Project
Online Instruction / Tutorials
- Lynda: online classes ranging from music production to digital audio foundations to audio recording techniques and more! Check out the ‘topics’ or just search ‘music’. (1 month free trial, subscription available through many schools)
- Spear Sinusoidal Partial Analysis (free)
- Audiosculpt: Sound Analysis & processing
- Sonic Visualizer: Studying musical recordings (free)
New Music News
- NewMusicBox USA: interviews, regional news, blogs, articles
- VAN Magazine: “VAN Magazine’s wide-ranging articles cover contemporary, classical, and early music. They often feature sound, images, and video. VAN speaks to an international audience with a special focus on classical music in the U.S.”
- Score Follower: a great way to listen / explore contemporary music!
- Meet the Composer: A Peabody-award winning podcast on contemporary music
Opportunities & training for young composers
- The Walden School: summer camp for creative musicians, ages 9-18 (Dublin, NH)
- Interlochen Summer Arts Camp: summer composition study for high-schoolers (Interlochen, MI)
- Berklee Songwriting Workshop: five-day workshop for songwriters ages, 15-18 (Boston, MA)
- Boston University Tanglewood Institute: summer camp for musicians ages, 9-18 (Lenox, MA)
- Idyllwild Arts Camp: summer arts camp with a variety of programs from music to theater to creative writing, ages 9-18 (Idyllwild, CA)
- Luna lab: composition program for female and non-binary identifying young composers (New York, NY, but can be based anywhere to participate)
- Young Women’s Composer Camp: two week composition camp for female and non-binary identifying composers, ages 14-19 (music tech track available) (Philadelphia, PA)
- ASCAP Morton Gould Awards: annual awards for student composers
- BMI Student Composer Awards: annual awards for student composers
- The Walden School Resources: list of competitions, awards & calls for scores for young composers
- Slam Academy: Electronic Music Training (Minneapolis, MN, Denver, CO)
- This list is by no means comprehensive!
Info for Teachers
Welcome Music Educators!
Thank you for your interest in NextNotes Lab, and for supporting the creative development of your students! This page is a resource for you to facilitate the development of a NextNotes Lab, and what it might look like.
What is NextNotes Lab?
NextNotes Lab is a group of teenage musicians who get together to share original music of all kinds with each other. They listen to each others’ works, perform each others’ works, share knowledge, tips and tricks, and support each other in creating new music. Some NextNotes Labs will organize rehearsals and performances of their compositions so the public can hear the original music being made. A NextNotes Lab may receive artistic and organizational guidance from an experienced composer/creator in their community (a NextNotes Lab Mentor). Every NextNotes Lab should be a community where musicians have fun encouraging and helping each other create new music. For more information on NextNotes Lab, see the welcome page of the NextNotes Lab toolkit.
How can I, as a music educator, help facilitate a NextNotes Lab in my school?
Each group of students wanting to start a Lab will be different and will need different guidance and encouragement. You, as their teacher, will know them best and will likely know how best help support them. Some ways that most NextNotes can be supported are:
- Provide space for meetings, rehearsals, and/or concerts
- Direct students to musical resources (recordings, score libraries, etc.)
- Help students find a composer mentor in their community
- Connect students with others in the community who are willing and able to support them
What might my involvement in a NextNotes Lab look like?
There are no specific expectations or requirements for how teachers might be involved in a NextNotes Lab. Many Labs will have a mentor working with them that will be able to offer artistic and organizational guidance as the group develops (read more about the mentor role here). Your added mentorship in the capacity you feel comfortable can only help support the group’s success. When working with a Lab, one important thing to keep in mind is that the NextNotes Lab is designed to be a student organized and student led group, so be sure your offerings support that goal!
Email ACF Programs!
Interested in facilitating or encouraging a NextNotes Lab in your school? Email ACF Programs at the American Composers Forum, a national organization that supports music creators for any questions you may have.
Info for Mentors
Welcome NextNotes Lab mentors!
Congratulations! Someone has approached you with the idea of being a NextNotes Lab mentor…what does that mean? In this page, you’ll find information about the NextNotes Lab mentor role, information on liability, code of conduct and compensation, and pedagogical resources.
What is NextNotes lab?
NextNotes Lab is a group of teenage musicians who get together to share original music of all kinds with each other. They listen to each others’ works, perform each others’ works, share knowledge, tips and tricks, and support each other in creating new music. Some NextNotes Labs will organize rehearsals and performances of their compositions so the public can hear the original music being made. A NextNotes Lab may receive artistic and organizational guidance from a professional composer in their community. Every NextNotes Lab should be a community where musicians have fun encouraging and helping each other create new music. For more information on NextNotes lab, see the welcome page of the NextNotes Lab toolkit.
What might my involvement as NextNotes Lab mentor look like?
As a NextNotes Lab mentor, you will facilitate some of the group’s meetings, offering advice and support on writing, rehearsing, and discussing music, organizing concerts, organizational functions, and anything else related to being a composer that might arise. You will suggest artists and resources for the students to research, and you might direct them towards concerts in the community they should attend. You might lead improvisation activities or share an inspiring recording or score with the students, leading a discussion about the work. Overall, you will act as a role model to aspiring creative musicians. When working with a Lab, one important thing to keep in mind is that the NextNotes Lab is designed to be a student organized and student led group, so be sure your offerings support that goal! Read more about your involvement in the Code of Conduct & Liability page.
How often would I meet with my NextNote Lab mentees?
Anywhere from once a week to four times a year, depending on the needs and circumstances of your NextNotes Lab mentees, and your own availability and willingness. It’s important that your presence is frequent enough to be a strong positive influence on the students’ progress, but also gives them the space to lead and organize the Lab themselves.
How can I facilitate NextNote Lab meetings / rehearsals / concerts / events?
For a sense of what a NextNotes lab meeting might look like, visit the Lab Organization page of the NextNotes Toolkit. While keeping in mind that the NextNotes Lab is student organized and student led group, as a mentor, you can take part in a NextNotes Lab by…
- Offering compositional advice in the form of group lessons
- Facilitating group feedback sessions
- Leading a guided improvisation
- Helping the Lab rehearse a work
- Creating connections within the community to other composers, performers, or venues
- Providing suggestions on how to structure the group or the group’s meetings
- Sharing your own experiences as a composer and musician
- Attending events put on by NextNotes Lab members
What are some pedagogical resources for a NextNotes Lab mentor?
- Check out the “giving feedback” page of the NextNotes Lab Toolkit for a sense of the type of dialogue and community aspired for in a NextNotes Lab.
- Check out the “creating music” page of the NextNotes Lab Toolkit for ideas about how to teach / encourage the development of a compositional practice.
- Check out the “how to produce a concert” page of the NextNotes Lab Toolkit for an outline of steps NextNotes Labs might take when organizing their own concert or event.
- Check out the “tools and resources” page of the NextNotes Lab Toolkit for additional resources for NextNote Lab mentees.
- Here are some ideas for group activities:
- Perform a Sonic Meditation by Pauline Oliveros, or any other text / open score work
- Lead a group composition activity of an open score piece that the NextNotes Lab can perform together.
- Lead a discussion on a piece of music, whether by a student or by an artist you or the students admire
- Invite NextNotes Lab mentees to share music with the group (i.e. Recording Club instead of Book Club)
- Here are some online pedagogical resources:
- Check out these articles on musical mentorship from NewMusicBox, a publication of NewMusicUSA:
- “The Role of the Mentor” by Teddy Abrams
- “Mentor, Me” (four part series on female mentorship) by Katherine Balch
- “The Teaching Curve” by David Smooke
- “Teaching the Composers” (part of a four-part series on academia) by Rob Deemer
A favorite improvisation to do is a vocal version of Pauline Oliveros’ Interdependence (1997). This work was originally composed for orchestra, but is often performed with voices. In order to execute this activity, first find and study the score. Bring it with you to the meeting and follow the steps below. This piece is most successful when first broken down into parts, so the guided activity involves breaking down the piece into sections before putting it together in entirety.
- Before showing students the score, practice making the short sounds with them. Having them make the sounds in unison, as a group can help focus the sounds and encourage the shy students to use their voices.
- Next explain the activity of the “senders” and “receivers.” Split the room in half and have each practice, in turn, being only a sender or receiver. Once that seems to be working, allow them to choose freely when to be a sender and receiver. At this point the group will be performing only Variation I.
- Introduce the sustained sounds that are used in Variation II. Practice using the short sounds and sustained sounds together, freely choosing when to be a sender and receiver (essentially, rehearse Variation II).
- Introduce the glissandi and similarly rehearse Variation III.
- Now give the score to the students and read over it together. See if the students have any observations to make about how the group has prepared for the performance. Decide about how long this performance should be (and roughly therefore how long each section should be) and perform the work.
- Have a discussion about what the students heard. How did it feel to perform the work? How were they listening? How does a score like this function? What else?
- Perform it again!
This activity can take anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour to accomplish, depending on the depth of inquiry from the students and the duration of the performances.