Songwriting & Composition for the Classroom

(not scheduled at this time)

This course is a journey into the world of composition and songwriting. As musicians, we have our own individual quests to explore how we can reach further and more deeply. As teachers, we have the exquisite opportunity to create a world where our students open themselves to landscape of creativity and composition.

Creativity is at once without limits and without rules. Musical creativity is different than all the others art forms. According to Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan, “Every word of poetry forms a picture. Sound alone does not make any object appear before us.”

While there is beauty in that abstract, it is our job as creative forces to develop and nourish means of expression. Further, as teachers, it is our job to create processes.

Course objectives:

Students will have created some new musical works (songs and compositions) and will have experienced an array of approaches to creating new musical works that they can bring to their own work as well as directly to their classrooms. Students will also explore how to manage effective feedback in a group setting. Students will also go through the process of song analysis, evaluation and approaches to collaboration.

Instructor: Michael Miles

f-57-162-9894722_8lJ7K0wQ_Miles_head_shot_2_copyMichael Miles is one of America’s most innovative clawhammer banjo players. His musical background is steeped in Chicago folk and blues, J.S. Bach, Motown, rock ‘n’ roll, and the American Songbook hits that his blue collar father sang in the car. With an expansive, unpredictable repertoire and high-reaching musicality, his work is described by Banjo Newsletter as “a brilliant tour de force that effectively obliterates the limits of what was thought possible on clawhammer banjo.” Miles has been hailed as a “genius” by Chicago’s legendary WXRT, and lauded by the Chicago Sun-Times: “Give the banjo to Michael J. Miles and you’ll hear a mighty soul stirring sound.”
In 1990, when Pete Seeger heard Michael’s very first recording, his response was, “This is enough to make me want to learn the banjo all over again.” Over the past 30 years, MIles has created and refined an evocative musical, educational and theatrical voice that has created countless award-winning orchestral compositions, theatrical works and songs.
In 2018, Miles was named by the Old Town School of Folk Music as the “Musician and Educator of the Year.” That same year, he was honored by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs with a grant for his newest composition, “Mississippi River Suite.” His latest book has just been published by Hal Leonard, Gold Mine for Banjo, and his most recent show is 100 Years of Protest, 1919-2019: A Pete Seeger Centennial Celebration.
For over 30 years, Miles has taught hundreds of professional music teachers how to create guitar programs for school, how to play and share folk instruments, and songwriting and composition at schools including VanderCook, Villanova University, West Chester University and Connecticut State University.
To view and hear his work, please visit and

VanderCook College of Music - (312) 225-6288