Faculty Insights: Composing Away From the Piano


Garrett Schmidt

This is the beginning of my 3rd year of teaching at SIUE. I have learned so much in that time from my colleagues and from our talented students. I’ve also learned something very important from my office. It is SO nice having a piano whenever you want (says the trumpet player). For the first time in my life, I don’t have to fight for a practice room or play on a 44 key electric organ with foot pedals and a BANJO setting that my parents have in their basement.

Since I have easy access, I thought it would be a great idea to write a jazz tune 2-hands-on-pianoeach week and potentially arrange these tunes for the Concert Jazz Band at SIUE, which I direct. This is and was a great idea. However, I quickly learned that my piano skills were holding me back (says the trumpet player).

Throughout my education, I have been blessed with fantastic teachers. Since I was experiencing jazz writer’s block, I gave one of my teachers from the Eastman School of Music, Dave Rivello, a call. Dave is one of my favorite jazz writers and spent a significant amount of time working with jazz composer Bob Brookmeyer. I drove up to Rochester to take a couple of lessons with him at the end of May 2016!

AL061313rivelloCc-1306141316_1_1.jpgAfter Dave tore into a piece that I showed him, he spoke to me about writing away from the piano. Instead of trying to find melodies or chords that work at the piano, there are some “pre-compositional techniques” that I can try with staff paper and a pencil. What Dave explained to me is called the 3 Pitch Module. Basically (kinda), a composer can choose any three pitches within one octave and generate pages and pages of material based on the intervals and their inversions created by those three pitches. After this, the composer chooses a starting note and uses the intervals to choose their next notes. After that, you can use all of those words you learn about in music theory! Augmentation, diminution, inversion, sequencing, and more.

That last paragraph is a little dry sounding, but I am truly excited about working with this technique more and taking my piano skills out of the equation for awhile. Hopefully I will come up with some new ideas and some new music worth sharing!

The one piece of advice I want to pass along to students is to spend time asking tons of


Dave Rivello

questions to your teachers… So you don’t have to drive 800

miles to take a lesson when you graduate!

Feel free to check out some of Dave’s music!




Garrett Schmidt, Assistant Professor of Music, SIUE





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