Music Composition

Beats and Budo

Beats and Budo

Several months ago, one of my fellow iaidoka (AKA, “The Tiny Samurai”) posed a question to Kim Taylor sensei of Sei Do Kai with regards to beats and budo. Taylor sensei shared some of his thoughts here, then made a reference to me (AKA, “The Tinier Samurai”) to try tackling the question.

When I first began my Iai journey in the mid 2000s, I recognized immediately the many shared themes between music and martial arts. Beats and budo, now this is something that I have been grappling with since Day One.

Musings on the First Week of of the Fall Term

Since everyone is adjusting to their fall schedule, my main priorities this week were to reconnect with returning students, to get to know new students and assess who did their homework (and who needs extra review). I gave all the kids some origami that I made over the summer. Their first homework assignment is to compose or improvise a short song about one or both of their origami. It will be a musical carnival of the animals, with songs about whales, seals, fish and various birds.

Getting Inspiration from Other Composers

One of the highlights of Monday's Calgary ARMTA Annual General Meeting was the lecture-recital by Canadian composer David McIntyre. I enjoyed hearing about what inspired him to write some of his works. For instance, he said that his work Better Days for solo piano was initially "Bitter Days" - written on a bad day. Another was nicknamed "Chuga" because of the rhythm. I need to get my hands on his Pro-Motion and E-Motion suites because I know my students and I will enjoy them immensely. I can picture a few of my young male students enjoying "Drive" (with its er, driving rhythms).

Several of his works are written for family and friends, such as his Anniversary Suite.

Something clicked in my brain after hearing that. Here I've been, stumped for the past two months on how to write a collection of reflections about my old babysitter who passed away earlier this year (she was like a grandmother to me). I was stumped on things like what colour her kitchen was and just what old toys and games I pulled out from the boxes in her attic. I couldn't get past those details so I kept pushing back the project.

When one can't find the words, why not use music?

I composed the first draft of the first of a set of three songs. It's about baking with Nanny, one of my favourite memories. I tried to create melodic lines to represent myself as a child talking with Nanny over what to bake. It's very sing-songy, like all children's songs. I just need to work out a few kinks.

I already have ideas for the other two songs (about adventures at the park and up in the attic) but I'll keep on improvising until the tune and rhythm bursts forth from within. That strategy seems to work.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


Saluting Canadian Composers

Canada Music WeekTM takes place later this month (Nov. 20 - 24). Incidentally, November 22 is St. Cecilia's Day (patron saint of music with a very colourful history). Canada Music WeekTM aims to:

  • bring to the attention of the public, through various means, the importance of Canadian music;
  • emphasize not only Canadian work, but also the significance of music generally;
  • introduce contemporary music to Canadian students and stimulate a keener appreciation and understanding of this music;
  • encourage music teachers to widen their knowledge and experience of Canadian works;
  • support composers and performers of Canadian music.

I've met several wonderful established Canadian composers, including Dean Blair, Roberta Stephen and Joyce Pinkney. Elinor Lawson, my university professor, studied with Violet Archer.

You can find out more about our talented composers by visiting the following links:

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Musing about Music Improvisation

Earlier this month, one of my junior intermediate students attended the Young Composers' Workshop. The clinician, Robert Rosen, was wonderful with the students. He took them on a "soundwalk" and asked them to describe several sounds using music, such as an alarm bell, a water fountain and a door slamming. They did remarkably well. There's a close relationship between composing and improvising. Mr. Rosen said that the first step to composing is improvisation, while one student described composing as "improvising with an eraser".

I eagerly employed some of the activities used at the workshop. I told my students two things: "do not be afraid to use more than one note at a time" and "do not be afraid to use different parts of the piano". This week, I have been treated to some witty improvisations about puppies playing, kittens fighting over a toy, someone rollerblading down a hill, a creepy walk through a haunted house, a lazy summer day, a child snoring and dramatic thunderstorms.

Here are some interesting articles about improvising:

Happy exploring! (c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

A Quick Note on Composing and Arranging

This week is Group Class Week, A.K.A. “Time to Catch Up on My Work” Week. My piano students will go on the annual field trip in lieu of their regular lesson. However, I’m still teaching my theory students and doing make-up piano lessons this week.  

Somehow, I wound up getting nominated for Calgary ARMTA’s Second Vice-President for 2006/07 at Monday’s meeting. It just sort of happened, leaving the incoming First Vice-President and I a little dazed. Ah well, we both knew we couldn’t stay in our current roles forever. Eventually, we’d have to move up.


The bane of my existence, bookkeeping, is nearly done. I’ve even started to put together the 2006/07 Studio Calendar (and scoping out piano pedagogical conferences and courses in far off places). A few meetings with prospective students and brides planning their weddings, along with a lunch with friends/colleagues complete my week.


Eventually, I’ll get to one item that’s been on my “To Do” List for a while – arranging Michael W. Smith’s song Above All into a piano duet for a student. Last year, I discovered that I enjoy composing and arranging. I currently use Finale Notepad (although sometimes, I’ll reach over for a trusty pencil and manuscript paper). Some of my students are showing a genuine interest in composing. I’ve found that the less instruction I give them at the beginning, the better. Some of their works are quite amazing.


I compiled this list of composing and music notation software links for my students, which I will share with you:


Happy composing!


© 2006, Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.