Composing Piano Music for Students

Student or amateur level music is especially popular on piano since thousands of kids (and other beginners) take piano lessons every day. As you might imagine, student level music is marked by simplicity. If you're a beginning composer, you may find that writing simpler music allows you to “get your feet wet” without the strain and headaches involved in writing and arranging professional level scores.

This concept doesn't just apply to piano music, but can be applied to any instrument. So before you try your hand at composing pro-level music, explore simpler formats first. In time, you can work your way up to more sophisticated material.

When writing beginner level piano music keep in mind the following rules:

  • For absolute beginners, always write in the key of C major.

  • For absolute beginners, only use 4/4 time.

  • For absolute beginners, use whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes together with corresponding rests. For more advanced beginners, you may use dotted half notes, eighth notes, and eighth rests. Generally avoid sixteenth notes and eighth note triplets. Thirty-second notes, quarter note triplets, sextuplets, and especially, polyrhythms are to be avoided.

FIGURE 12-13: Etude for thumbs on middle C position

FIGURE 12-14: Etude for C and C octaves position

  • For more advanced—but still beginner level—pianists, avoid keys with four or more sharps and flats. For example, keys like C# minor or A major should not be used.

  • For absolute beginners, do not use excessive intervallic leaps. Instead, focus on adjacent notes (i.e., no changes in hand position).

  • In all beginner music, do not use excessive expression markings.

  • Do not write music to be played at allegro or presto tempos.

  • For absolute beginners, do not write music that is longer than eight measures.

  • When using fixed hand positions, the best positions to use are: “thumbs on middle C position” or “C and C octaves position.” “Thumbs on middle C position” means that the thumbs of both hands are positioned on middle C. In the right hand, the only notes available to you then become: C, D, E, F, and G. In the left hand, the only notes available to you become C, B, A, G, and F. “C and C octaves position” is used for slightly more advanced beginners. In the left hand, finger number five (pinky) is positioned on C3 (one octave below middle C). In the right hand, finger one (thumb) is positioned on C4: middle C. When in this position, the only notes available to you in the left hand are C, D, E, F and G. In the right hand, the same set of notes is available to you but they are located one octave higher. See Figures 12-13 and 12-14 for examples of “thumbs on middle C position” and “C and C octaves position.”

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