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Learning through creating: students express themselves through music composition

Grade 9 and 10 students in Ms. Healey’s music class can list music composition on their list of skills now that their music trimester has concluded. And they have their own original pieces of work to prove it.

As their final class project, students were asked to compose and write their own original song and lyrics about any topic of their choice, as long as it followed IPA’s 5 agreements of aloha, mālama, hoʻolohe, kuleana, and pono.

“My intention in assigning this project was to teach students how to compose, step-by-step,” explained Ellie Healey, Secondary Music Teacher. “But also, just as importantly, it was to give the students a creative outlet to express themselves in these stressful times during this global pandemic.”

Healey guided her students through the composition process, breaking it down into the basic components of a song. Students learned about chords and chord combinations, then moved to creating chord progressions. They worked on lyrics for their compositions and finalized their harmony. In the final steps, they created a melody for their lyrics, and put everything together adding instrumentation, either with real instruments or using Garage Band.

“Their songs had to have a melody they created and a harmony of at least three chords, and they had to write their own lyrics. They also needed a chorus, pre-chorus, and three verses,” shares Healey. “They were able to demonstrate in a very personal way their knowledge of chord progressions, genres of music, and lyric analysis and came up with some really great work.”

The students’ compositions touched on a wide range of themes, from social commentary to personal reflections.

Amelie Kitakis ‘24 addresses the issue of cancel culture on TikTok, with lyrics like

Don’t want to be cancelled,
Follow this little handbook,
At the small price of your humanity

Step 1: hide your scandal
Step 2: cry for the cameras
Step 3: it helps if you look pretty

We’ll tear you to pieces, we got the receipts,
It don’t matter if you say that you’re sorry
We love looking for someone to blame,
Acting like we all haven’t done the same

Light up your torches, pick up your pitchforks
Ruining your life is just our main course
Hunting for witches and you might be next,
But what happens when we bully someone until they’re dead?

Grade 10 student Anya Holmen’s composition shares her experience of moving from Minnesota and finding her place in Hawai’i.

Hey, I’ve been thinking about some time when I was younger
Fallen snow upon the driveway though I always still wonder,
What would it be like if i lived in Minnesota
Have you ever noticed, bro, it’s never really cold here

75 degrees isn’t the same as fallen leaves,
Please oh please, don’t want to go to the beach

I wanna go to the coldness
I wanna go
I wanna go back to the coldness
I wanna go back home

As the culmination of the project, students shared their compositions with their peers in class. Not unexpectedly, many students were nervous or uncomfortable about presenting their work publicly, but the supportive class environment nurtured by Healey and the positive feedback from their peers ensured a positive experience for them.

“This project really was a way for the students to get their foot in the door with music composition and provided a new creative outlet for them,” explained Healey. “Music is so important because it is a safe and healthy way for them to express themselves, especially now that they can’t see each other in person with the pandemic. This was a new way for them to connect and express themselves.”

“It is my hope that they enjoyed the process and may decide to do this for fun on their own. That’s the goal.”

Scroll down to listen to some of the students’ compositions.


Grade 9 student raising hand.
Amelie ’24 raises her hand to give feedback on her classmate’s composition and performance.


Grade 9 students in music class
Grade 9 students applaud for their classmate’s song performance.


Grade 10 students on Zoom
Grade 10 students shared their compositions over Zoom.