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Paul in an Ear Opener video

Ear Opener – refreshing approaches to teaching composition


  • Session 1:  Friday 5 November 2021
  • Session 2: Friday 12 November 2021
  • Time: 2 - 3.30pm (applicable to both sessions)
  • Price:  £69 per person

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Ear Opener is a youtube channel and a programme of work with educators and students. The Ear Opener videos are not a ‘how to’ guide. They are conversations with 9 musicians who are very different to each other - different genres, different ages, different education and different profile - from world famous to up-and-coming. The aim is to unlock potential - to acknowledge that there are a million of ways of making brilliant music. All videos are created as a response to working with hundreds of young musicians and identifying things that are obstacles to them thriving to their full potential.

Session 1: Simplicity/Complexity: exploding myths about musical genres

Nearly all music has some elements that are complex and others that are simple. Indian classical music only has one chord (a drone) but is melodically and rhythmically complex. Bob Marley’s songs may only have 3 or 4 chords, but they usually have 3- or 4-part counterpoint. A Billie Eilish song may have very simple melody but has extremely sophisticated sonic textures. Mozart has a lot going for him, but rhythmically he is less sophisticated than most middle eastern music.

In this session, we will check our own preconceptions about musical ‘virtues’ but we will also use this lens to look at a very common issue faced by young musicians - the tendency to underthink or overthink. We will look at practical ways of picking apart a track of any genre and looking for a way of balancing the different elements that suits the aims of the composer.

Participants will be asked to stretch themselves and write a short track in an unfamiliar genre - to think differently about what needs balancing in order to make great music. We will discuss the results in the second session and think about how to construct lessons around what we’ve learned.

Session 2: Tension/Release

This session looks at the subject from two angles.

Firstly, harmony. Of course, you don't need a lot of chords to make great music. but what happens if you DO want to push your harmonic chops? As we know, a lot of students with little background in theory, get intimidated by harmony. Plus, most of the music they will be hearing is likely to have 4 chords or fewer - so they don’t have harmony in their blood. Here we discuss the issue from a different perspective, using the ears to hear tension and release - how to notice when a change of chord is possible and what to do about it. It is a way of hearing first, but sneaks in some theory through the back door.

Secondly, we look at musical structure. A classic beginner’s error is to make a track with 3 sections, but you could almost put these sections in any order - they are not leading anywhere. The track feels choppy and randomly assembled. Again, we’ll use tension and release to create simple tools for addressing the issue of how to make a track develop in a satisfying way that suits the genre.

Participants will ‘fix’ a poorly structured track and we’ll discuss the results and think about how to construct lessons around what we’ve learned.

Please watch the following Ear Opener video before attending -

'Simple/complex': this video outlines some of the themes we’ll be unpicking in session 1.

Please bring a couple of tracks (of your own or of other people’s) that either exemplify or challenge the ideas laid out in the Simple/Complex video. We will assign other tasks after Session 1.

You may also want to watch:

Learning Outcomes

  • Develop confidence in supporting students composing in any musical genre – especially genres that you don’t personally enjoy or have much expertise in
  • Identify common issues young people face when writing music and build your armoury of practical ways of supporting students to overcome these
  • Find common languages for discussing musical ideas – languages that people with music theory and those with no music theory can both speak
  • Develop ways of actively supporting critical discussion around composition

Who should attend?

Ideal for those who deliver music qualifications at levels 1-4 including:

  • AS level
  • A Level
  • UAL Awarding Body (level 1-4)
  • BTEC

About the facilitator

Paul Clark

Creator of Ear Opener As a leading composer on the British stage scene, Paul Clark has written dozens of critically acclaimed scores for theatre, dance and opera in the UK and internationally, including productions at The National Theatre, London; The Shed and the Lincoln Center, New York; and Vienna Burgtheater. Paul is co-artistic director of CLOD ENSEMBLE and has written critically acclaimed original scores for all the company’s productions to date – ranging from totally acoustic works to multi speaker installations. Each score is a bespoke piece that is in a dialogue with the visual material; Silver Swan is an acapella piece for seven classical singers; Under Glass is an entirely recorded surround-sound installation; whilst An Anatomie counterpoints electronics, live orchestral music and a rock band. He has written music for film and TV and with a hugely diverse range of musicians from Manchester Camerata, the Welsh National Opera and Renée Fleming, to Dangermouse and Mark E Smith (The Fall).

“For the last 15 years we have been developing tools to help young people write the music they want to hear; we now have the opportunity to share them online. With huge cuts to education budgets and radical changes to the place of music in the curriculum, it’s essential that we support young people from all backgrounds to become the next generation of inspiring musicians, composers and listeners.” Paul Clark

Social media handles

Twitter: @ear_opener

Instagram: @ear_opener

Facebook: @EarOpenerVideos



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