Five IDeas



Learning to compose music can be a frustrating process. The first step is often the most difficult: coming up with an initial idea. Every composer has struggled with sitting down to compose and having no idea where to start. This can be so discouraging that some never get past it. Other times, inspiration strikes and you come up with an idea you love, and it feels so good! This feeling is soon followed by a sense of complete dread. What comes next? Do you have to wait for inspiration to strike again? This can be even more frustrating than coming up with the initial idea. If you just wait around for inspiration, you’re going to spend a lot of time waiting. This is not a productive system.

Luckily, our clinic lets students in on a secret that every composer learned the hard way: being a composer doesn’t take unique talent or divine inspiration. They already have the tools necessary to be incredible composers: a history of listening to music and the desire to make their own. They simply need the tools to get themselves out of their heads and into writing. Our method involves a fast-paced exchange of ideas and improvisation to blast through the initial insecurities and hangups that often plague new (and even more experienced) composers. By teaching them to come up with ideas quickly and to develop those ideas through their own instincts, composition becomes more practical and less elusive.

We'll begin our clinic by performing a few original compositions that were created using this method. We’ll then come up with some original ideas in the moment and ask the students to come up with their own. The process is so quick and easy (10 seconds or less) that the students will not have time to judge whether or not they like the idea - whether it’s good or bad. You can see examples of these type of ideas on the staff paper above. We’ll take the students’ ideas and show them multiple ways to develop them into a complete composition, and we’ll do it entirely by ear. Here are five ideas I came up using this method and quick demo track I created to show how we put the ideas together. 

During the session, we will cover multiple topics including:

  • How to come up with ideas;
  • How to put multiple ideas together;
  • How to manipulate and develop ideas to get the most out of them;
  • How to arrange the ideas together create a complete composition; and
  • How to improvise using these ideas.

Everyone attending the clinic should bring their instrument regardless of ability level as a instrumentalist, composer, or improviser. If a student feels comfortable, they will have the opportunity to stand up and improvise or they can just sit back and play a part.

We’ll show the students how to work on the basics such as:

  • Composition;
  • Improvisation;
  • Ear training;
  • Creative thinking; and
  • Teamwork.

Our method can work within any genre or style of music. At universities around the country, we have guided students to create dramatically different compositions. This clinic is not about teaching a certain style of music or imposing our own ideas onto the students. Instead, it’s about showing students how to use their own experience to come up with creative solutions to make composing easy and fun.



"The workshop by Matterhorn was one of the most interesting and well-received sessions we have had at Truman. Their approach of coming up with compositions on the spot, using ideas from the students, was innovative and refreshing.  Matterhorn members did not play it safe, but jumped right in and figured things out on the fly. It was great for my students to see that even the professionals didn’t automatically get everything right the first time, but instead kept working at it fearlessly until they made great music. The workshop concept would work with any level of musician, and would not be limited to jazz. I look forward to hearing more from John’s group and hope they continue to present and develop these workshops."  

- Tim AuBuchon, Truman State University


"The guys from Matterhorn provided a great educational experience for my students. They were interactive and were able to provide information to students of all levels and get everyone active and engaged. They encouraged anyone who wanted to get up and play to participate with the entire group and also were able to give 1-on-1 instruction to students. They were very knowledgeable and could express very complex topics in language that high school students could understand and then apply on their instruments.

- Michael Kosiek, Carlisle H.S. Band Director