Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How to Compose "Music" in Your Homeschool

Songwriter David Nevue has written a nice piece of advice about how to compose music.  Interestingly enough, his advice is also perfectly suited to composing a successful homeschool!  Here is his article,  "Advice for Pianists: How to Compose Piano Music", shamelessly plagiarized, creatively rearranged, and with the author's permission (I would make item number one to first pray before attempting anything for the glory of God):
1.  Begin with the melody.  You don't have to see the end from the beginning.  Just start with one simple melodic phrase.  What is your goal in homeschooling?  That foundation will be the centerpiece for everything else in your composition.
2.  What is your song about?  What is its purpose?  Are you about God's glory, faith, a good witness, producing brainy kids?  Whatever your homeschool's message is, keep it in the forefront of your mind as you compose. Doing so will influence the direction your teaching takes.
3.  Is your composition just a mood piece?  Some compositions are. They kind of wander around, having no real destination. There's nothing wrong with writing mood pieces, but be warned, you can only carry a 'mood' for so long. No one else will be interested in your mood for very long, so don't let your feelings be the basis of your "music".  You need a goal.  I have to interject here that I think this is where we are stuck.  We are kind of making it up as we go, just like Alie did.  That's probably not the best way to go about it, at least not in homeschooling.
4. Follow the "muse". It's not uncommon to find that while you're developing a composition, you find yourself taken into an entirely new direction. The question to ask yourself is, does this 'new direction' belong with your original melody or homeschooling goal?  Consider whether you might really be working on two different songs and whether you need to split them apart so they can 'play' in their own separate worlds.  There is a season for everything.  Possibly the years you are teaching your children at home are not the time to be pursuing your own personal dreams.
5. Repeat with style. Once you have firmly established your melodic foundation, don't pound it into the ground. You might play your melody twice the same exact way with two different children, but the third child will likely require to you embellish it so that even though it's the same melody, its execution is different. That might mean a different curriculum, adding more (or less) play time, more hands-on learning, or a different schedule. However you do it, enhance the melody of your homeschool composition. Don't let it grow stale, or your beautiful melody will begin to grate on your listeners' ears.
6.  Build slowly, but build something with your song. Remember, you're sharing a message via your homeschooling, so arrange your song in such a way that it keeps moving in a particular direction.  If you develop a "scratch" in your recording, don't keep repeating the part that isn't working. Go on to the next passage. There must be forward motion.  Be sure to advance toward the happy ending.
7.  Mistakes count. Don't fret too much about making mistakes as you develop your song. Mistakes can lead to some very interesting changes in your music, while still keeping the same tune.  Your "mistake" might end up being the very twist you need in your song to add spice to your tune. When we first start homeschooling, we make a LOT of mistakes. It's just part of the process. Music composition and homeschooling are like pottery. You start out with a blob (an idea) and you mold it into something. The process isn't always pretty, but In the end, with persistence and God's grace and leading, you will end up with something beautiful. 
8.  Keep it simple.  For some reason, many beginning composers and homeschoolers try to make things complicated - as if bigger is better. Part of this, I think, is the need to gain the approval of others, and part of it is the mistaken assumption that the more complex a song is, the more significance it has in the overall scheme of life. No, no no. Simplicity is the key to beauty.  Just find a simple melody/goal, develop it, give it a twist, and finish it. You should be able to do it in less than four minutes if it is a song, and in under two hours a day if you are just beginning to homeschool a young child.
10. Let time have its way.  Realize that it will take years to complete your homeschool composition. Now and then, kids will "finish" a year or two early, but that hardly ever happens.  And what does it mean to finish school, anyway?  Aren't we all learning more after we have completed high school?  If it seems to be taking too long to finish your "piece", don't get frustrated. If you need to, set the composition aside for awhile and come back to it later. Sometimes you'll find it easier to continue after you take a couple months off school.  However, unlike composing a song, we only get one shot at raising our children, so take whatever time you need to get the desired end-product.
11. Finally, keep a record.  Have a journal of some sort right beside you so you can record your ideas while you're still composing. There's nothing more frustrating that having a great idea, getting interrupted, and then forgetting it. And we all know homeschooling comes with interruptions!  With a notepad or blog handy, you can take the two minutes (okay, two hours) you need to record a rough-draft of your melody and come back to it later if need be.
And last, my own piece of advice, know when to let go and be done.  Those old LP versions seemed like they were never going to come to an end, but kept repeating the same theme over and over again. My older kids are growing up and developing wings.  I don't want to keep them here too long,  with them wishing the song was finally over. This time must be spent teaching them how to make their own music.  Sooner than later I am going to have to launch my girls, and it will be time for them to be creating melodies for their own homeschool compositions.


  1. swordwieldingmaidenMarch 12, 2010 at 8:13 AM

    Wonderful post! AND beautiful playing!!! As a pianist, I can appreciate the talent she displays in the video!

    God bless!


  2. Thanks for this--what great information and counsel! Some good tips here for both the student composer and the mom who listens while washing dishes. Thanks for taking time to post it!

  3. ... of how much more is available in home schooling. Of course, maybe today's public schools do more than those fifty years ago (she giggled as she wrote this!) but as one who does write some personal music, this is a great lesson.


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