One of the issues it seems many students, especially fairly advanced ones eventually always bring up is that of composing. More precisely, it’s very often me helping them to compose, thereby teaching composition by default, and of course there are even times where I share the major part of the composition to begin with! This has happened with some very hi-profile people I’ve played with and taught, but never got the credit for the additional composition work I did, but we won’t be mentioning any names here!
Helping a student to compose is a great thing though, and the tools you are hopefully given he or she is something that can really last a lifetime. After all, we are truly digging deep into our most creative selves when we write music, and the ideas can sometimes really flow like a river! That is my problem…sometimes a student will request some info about writing a song, and before you know it, that song just flowed right out of me! Still, it’s a great learning experience for really both of us, as I love the sheer exercise of simply doing that…writing a song and coming up with fresh ideas all the time!
Many students are extremely creative with whatever tools you may give them, and may only need three chords to get going on immediately writing a tune. Let’s face it, everyone has a song in them, and sometimes it doesn’t really take very much to tap into this wellspring of creativity. I for example now have a little seven year-old girl, who only needed a G and an E minor chord to immediately start two great songs with! She just keeps on strumming, and the words just keep on flowing out of her, dancing over those two cute chords! I can remember not only writing but also performing the first song I ever wrote, and it consisted of the only 4 chords I knew at the time….all I needed was a little music to put in my hands with that guitar, and the inspiration was instantly ignited!
But teaching a student writing and helping them write is a touchy thing. You must maintain a proper balance that enables them to feel that they in fact are really the writer, and that you are merely helping the process along. Egos can be very sensitive, and a song must really feel like it belongs to someone, especially when it can be such a personal thing, and personal areas are being tapped by writing such a piece of music. If you’ve ever collaborated with someone, how many times have there been petty fights over just “who wrote what?!” Even the most mature of us players and writers can get very protective when it comes to our contributions within a song writing mode, and it really helps to have a balanced working relationship!
So in the end, when a teacher writes with a student, it’s always a two-way street, and you must keep things on an even keel so that the student always feels as if they in the end, are the ones making the final decisions. If they want you to really “take charge” do so, but only at your own risk. Keep it positive and fun for everyone!