If you read my Music Theory Rant, you know how passionate I am about the downfalls of the Music Theory curriculum. I'm equally passionate about how beneficial the study of composition can be to a music student!
I took 4 semesters of music theory and 5 semesters of ear training non-consecutively, which means I was in theory classes on and off for a total of 4 years! That entire time I was waiting for the right teacher to come along and really teach me about music. I was waiting to really understand the music I was studying.
I didn't even know what that meant until I took my first composition class. We discussed things like contour, dynamics, and orchestration. My favorite and best theory teachers did discuss these things but more as a fun-to-know than part of the curriculum. Only after I finished my first composition class did I truly understand all the benefits of it.
- Our resident music therapist, Tori Caruso will tell you that composing is scientifically proven to be emotionally cathartic. My personal experience is in complete agreement with that.
- My ears got really good. Turns out listening to digital notation editors all day will fine tune your ears for intonation, dynamics, tempo, articulation, etc. Because you're the one who is creating the music, when it's not exactly as you intended it, it's very obvious.
- My improvising improved. It's pretty hard to write a whole piece just with notation. A lot of my music came from me playing around on my instruments (and even singing) to get different themes and motives.
- I got much better at analyzing music. Once you've lived music from the other end, it's a lot easier to figure out why another composer made her decisions. Need to convey a different character? Almost any student awake at 3am will say, "Uh, just change the register!" It makes the shtick in Schubert's Erlkönig less impressive, huh?
- I learned more about my own biases in music. Do I really think a long, melodic line is best for this baroque piece, or is that just my style? Composing also makes me more receptive to my teacher's suggestions during lessons. Using composition is a much healthier creative outlet than my clarinet lessons.
I loved my class so much I went on to take a Film Scoring class. THAT was a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to have my film score recorded by the school orchestra, and I've used it multiple times since then. My point is, even though I wasn't a composition major, and I've never had a composition recital, I still consider myself a composer and composing has significantly enhanced all other areas of my music education.