Wednesday 20 January 2021 – 4pm

Code: 8208


Based on real-life experience this online session will give teachers strategies for meeting the challenge of working on composition with students who present minimal musical skills.  This will include working with students who cannot read western staff notation, giving guidance on how they can attain a decent grade, especially using sequencing packages (e.g. Garageband).  Consideration will also be given to students whose interests lie firmly outside Western Classical music, giving pointers as to how genres can be adapted so that the completed composition meets the marking criteria at a good level.  The session will include hints and tips to enable students with limited musical skills to create and develop compositions that are convincing and coherent.  This session aims to be a lifeline for anyone faced with this not unusual but very considerable challenge!


  • Discover a range of composition strategies that work with all non-reading students
  • Take away proven methods and techniques to enable all students to compose successfully
  • Exploring examples of successful compositions composed without the use of Western staff notation
  • Gain expertise on how students can gain high marks in composition as non-notation students
  • Learn ways to help your students compose using sequencing packages, even if your own expertise and experience is rooted in Western staff notation


4.00pm: Welcome and Introduction

4.05pm: An overview of the benefits of using sequencing packages with non-readers, over other methods of composition notation (staff notation, hand-drawn graphic scores, written commentaries)

  • The barriers that staff notation may present to students who do not read it well
  • The problems of hand-drawn graphic scores
  • The problems with written commentaries
  • The advantages of composing using a sequencing package

4.15pm Ways of getting students to start composing using sequencing packages

  • Playing/recording melodies
  • Playing/recording chords and later inverting them
  • Developing syncopation and cross-rhythms
  • Developing more complex structures, including when students choose to compose in contemporary styles that tend to be more repetitive then developmental
  • The importance of quantising

4.40pm Approaches to using sequencing packages to raise marks for expressive control

  • Selecting/adapting instruments and other sounds
  • Developing textures using both layering and voices that alter how chords are played
  • The advantages – and dangers – of changing dynamics and tempo, and using effects such as panning
  • Exploring the possibilities offered by the software to create a composition that is in more than one key – and hints on how to make modulations/less subtle key changes sound convincing

5.00pm The final product: some example compositions, considering what is good and what could be improved – and how

  • An example of a composition by a student with no staff notation reading or keyboard skills – what is successful and how it might have been improved
  • An example of a composition by a student who scored more highly: how and why
  • Some tips on producing scores
  • Some tips on marking students’ work so that they get the marks you think they deserve

5.20pm: Q&A/sharing ideas


5.30pm: end

Dr Chris Maxim

Dr Chris Maxim began his career lecturing in higher education before moving into the secondary sector.  As an NQT (and Head of Music), he transformed the Music Department of a large inner-London secondary school, going on to create a thriving Performing Arts faculty and teaching KS3, GCSE and A-level.  Following many years in senior leadership, including as Acting Principal and Headteacher, he now works as a freelance musician (composer, conductor and organist) and education consultant, specialising in school leadership and music.  To find out more about him, please visit his website: