Composing Music

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PDF video transcript: Composing Music

New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers, P.S. 11, Brooklyn, NY

Jon Deak, composer/founder
Angélica Negrón, composer/teaching artist

According to a survey by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), music educators find the national standard about creating music to be the most challenging. The New York Philharmonic Very Young Composers program is based on the premise that creating music is an activity that should not be limited to a highly trained, elite group of adults. Founded by composer and bassist Jon Deak, the program assumes that all children — whether or not they can play an instrument — have the capacity to express musical ideas. The program is nurturing young composers in multiple states across the U.S. and several countries around the world, including Venezuela.

At P.S. 11 in Brooklyn, Jon and composer/teaching artist Angélica Negrón help fourth and fifth graders record their musical ideas using graphic notation. Students consult a list Angélica posts in the classroom to more fully develop those ideas, doing things like repeating a phrase, playing it backwards, and adding harmony. Two months later, Angélica has translated the scores into standard notation, and the students refine their ideas through collaboration with an ensemble of professional musicians. The payoff is an exciting concert for peers and family members.


  • Programs both serve and respond to the needs of a community, as well as build on the assets of a community.
  • Ensemble music-making is at the heart of all learning — both musical and social.
  • No student is too young to be a vital contributing member of a musical ensemble.
  • Musicians have a responsibility to share their skills or knowledge with others who are still learning.


  • Using voice and simple pitched instruments (keyboards, recorders, and resonator bells) to create melodies
  • Using graphic notation — on its own or as a precursor to standard notation
  • Serving as “scribes” for students’ musical ideas
  • Suggesting possibilities for things to do with a musical idea
  • Providing students with opportunities to collaborate with musicians when exploring musical possibilities


The musical activities in this unit address the following Anchor Standards of the National Core Arts Standards:


  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
  • Organize and develop artistic ideas and work
  • Refine and complete artistic work


  • Analyze, interpret, and select artistic work for presentation
  • Develop and refine artistic work for presentation
  • Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work


  • Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art