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Reinvent the wheel?

wooden cabinet and stereo

I was sitting in a masterclass for composition students, listening to someone’s doctoral update. We listened to his beautiful music, and then it was time to discuss it and give him feedback. He had discussed how he had in fact ended up quoting an old melody he wrote, because”

“There’s not point reinventing the wheel, it’s all my music anyway.”

a truly wonderful composer

I was quietly inspired by this, as it present an excellent moment when hit with writer’s block. I wasn’t hit with writer’s block 6 months ago, how about I use that idea right now as well?

We reached the discussion section, and another doctoral candidate stood up.

He said:

“First of all, I completely disagree with you about not reinventing the wheel. I believe we should entirely reinvent it. I also think you missed opportunities to make your music more interesting and modern.”

a very different composer

(this is a definite paraphrase)

To give context, we had also listened to his music on an earlier occasion. Never had I seen such a complicated approach to creating sound. It was fascinating. I can’t pretend that I enjoyed listening to it, but it was fascinating, and for what it was, very well done.


Why are you hearing this story, you wonder? You’re a music teacher, not a composer, right?

Well, sometimes I wonder if we apply that same thinking to what our music students create. We look for perfect, when it doesn’t exist.

If you studied music in higher education, especially classical music, you know the pressure well. The pressure to create something perfect, infallible, but also never before heard.

I am not entirely ungrateful for that pressure, but it also did a bit of a number on my music output. I created some music that I deeply disliked for the sake of being ‘new and interesting’.

My point here is really very simple, and is something for you as a music educator to chew on.

Why are you pushing your students to make something new?

Is it for their learning to develop, or are you buying into the idea that music must be new and modern to be interesting?

Because if it’s the latter, stop yourself.

The problem with what the second doctoral candidate said wasn’t the part about not reinventing the wheel. It was that rather than discussing the considerable craft that had gone into the music, he instantly discredited it because it didn’t fit his “standards”.

Music is more than you, and although there can be such a thing as a composition that needs work, don’t destroy someone’s creativity to make them fit your idea of ‘good music’.

Let your music students create, be it good, bad or ugly. Their voice is not yours, and it really shouldn’t be.


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