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how music works through exploration, development, and repetition. According to Wilcox, musical problems involving syntax, structure, unity and variety are developed. As students explore original ideas, they decide which parts to change, and which parts not to change. They explore new sounds, develop specific ideas, and repeat and revise their work. Emmons (1998) examined the creative process of

seventh-grade students who composed music using computers and professional music software. As the students composed, Emmons observed three categories of behaviors: formation, preservation, and revision. The formation stage was comprised of the interdependent, non-sequential behaviors of harmonic exploration, melodic exploration, improvisation, thematic selection, and rehearsal. During the preservation stage, the melodic and harmonic material was recorded on paper, and/or on the computer. The revision stage included editing and/or correcting the work. Emmons concluded that the creative process that seventh-grade students use while composing is complex, non-linear, and non-sequential. Similarly, Seddon & O’Neil (2003) analyzed strategies

students used to create compositions using computers, but in relation to the effects of instrumental music training. They identified three strategy approaches: “crafting,” “expressing,” and “immersing” (p. 131). Among their findings was that the approaches are differentiated by varying amounts of exploring, rehearsing and developing, and constructing musical ideas. Davis (2005) researched processes used by a rock

band as they collaboratively composed original music. She found that band members’ process included setting up their instruments, tuning, adjusting for equalization, and listening critically for balance; followed by experimenting, during which short musical ideas were tested and modified. Fellow band members then engaged through providing harmonic support. Next, the original melody was altered in response to the harmonic support, and complementary ideas were generated. This often resulted in lengthy jam sessions. Davis identified two cyclical patterns that emerged: one consisting of listening, experimenting, featuring, and backing off; and the other in which participants would teach and learn from each other, then collaborate and develop their musical ideas.

Regarding composition process, Wiggins (2007)

writes the Composers generate musical ideas in relation to and in the context of (a) the nature and capabilities of the sound source, (b) the intended musical role of the section under construction (is it an introduction? transitional passage? accompaniment?), and (c) text, if present. It seems evident that composing begins with the generation of musical thought (informed by sound, role, and possibly text) that is then enacted (realized, performed) in some way. . . . As initial musical ideas are generated they are immediately contextualized, which includes repetition, development, revision, and refinement, as informed by the composer’s holistic conception of the work in process. (p. 458-459)


It is my hope that this review of research regarding music composition processes provides context for your understanding of the creating process of the newly revised National Core Music Standards. I also hope that it is helpful as you work to implement the creating process components of imagine, plan and make, evaluate and refine, and present. As always, please feel invited to email me at with questions, comments, or suggestions for future Research Resource articles.

References: Ashby, C. L. (1995). An analysis of compositional processes used by children. Masters Abstracts International, 34 (01), 0040. (UMI No. 1375862) Davis, S. G. (2005). That thing you do: Compositional processes of a rock band. International Journal of Education in the arts 6(16). Retrieved from Emmons, S. E. (1998). Analysis of musical creativity in middle school students through composition using computer- assisted instruction: A multiple case study. Dissertation Abstracts International, 59 (02), 0441A. (UMI No. 9825697) Fautley, M. (2005). A new model of the group composing process of lower secondary school students. Music Education Research, 7(1), 39-57.doi:10.1080/14613800500042109 Kratus, J. (1989). A time analysis of the compositional processes used by children ages 7-11. Journal of Research in Music Education, 37(1), 5-20. Levi, R. (1991). A field investigation of the composition processes used by second-grade children creating original language and music pieces. Dissertation Abstracts International, 52 (08), 2853A. (UMI No. 9202227) Marsh, K. (1995). Children’s singing games. Research Studies in Music Education, 4, 2-11. Perconti, E. S. (1996). Learning to compose and learning through composing: A study of the composing process in elementary general music. Dissertation Abstracts International, 57 (10), 4301A. (UMI No. 9710259) Seddon, F. A., & O’Neill, S. A. (2003). Creative thinking processes in adolescent computer-based composition: An analysis of strategies adopted and the influence of instrumental music training. Music Education Research, 5(2), 125-137. Swanwick, K., & Tillman, J. (1986). The sequence of musical development: A study of children’s composition. British Journal of Music Education, 3, 305-339. van Ernst, B. (1993). A study of the learning and teaching processes of non-naïve music students engaged in composition. Research studies in Music Education, 1, 22-39. Wiggins, J. H. (1994). Children’s strategies for solving compositional problems with peers. Journal of Research in Music Education, 42(3), 232-252. Wiggins, J. H. (2007). Compositional process in music. In L. Bresler (Ed.), International Handbook of Research in Arts Education, Part I (pp. 435-469). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. Wilcox, E. (1994). How do children compose? Teaching Music, 2(3), 38-39.

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