Effective Methods for Teaching Composition to Guitarists

By: Anne Sheehan

In this article, RGT classical guitar tutor Anne Sheehan describes how she encourages her students to take the first step towards composing music.

In my classical guitar lessons, I try to get pupils thinking about how the composer might have worked on a piece and, as a consequence, I often find that young pupils are very keen to have a go at composing themselves.

I encourage my guitar students to work at home to get their ideas down on paper as best they can and I always give them a lot of respect for whatever they come back with, as this gives them the confidence to take it further and also to show I appreciate how difficult and time-consuming writing music down can be.


Performing Original Pieces

Lessons are so packed with things to do that I rarely have time to work purely on composition in the lesson.

So, every half term or so I arrange for pupils to call round for half an hour just to work on their compositions.

This is usually very exciting for them, and the end product is a computer-printed version of their piece, which they then play in their lessons for the next few weeks and sometimes even perform at concerts.

The concert performing has also had the spin-off of inspiring other pupils to try composing.


GCSE Preparation

As pupils progress towards GCSE they are better equipped for the composition requirements when they have already tried writing music as younger pupils.

I still continue to help pupils with their GCSE compositions, but this tends to be a more ‘at arm’s length’ attitude: suggesting how certain pieces they have played might give them ideas for composing, suggested listening, looking at scores etc.


Composer of the Month Competition

In order to provide an incentive for composing I have set up a ‘Composer of the Month’ award, in the form of a certificate for the best composition submitted to me by any of my pupils during each calendar month.

This award is presented either in the lesson, at a school assembly, or at a concert evening; whichever is most convenient at the time, and details are printed in my monthly newsletter along with other awards that I run.

The award can be won by a pupil only once each year – to save some future Beethoven from running off with all the certificates!


I hope this gives you some food for thought. If you have any questions or comments about teaching composition to guitarists, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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