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Eric Salazar | Inspiring Kids to Compose Music

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Why did you become a teaching artist?

I love music. I love how powerful it is and how huge of an impact it had on my life. What made me want to teach composition to kids was how therapeutic composing is for me. It just feels right to perform my own original works. I perform with a level of confidence that is much higher than when I read other people’s music. I also get an amount of satisfaction from performing my own work that I don’t experience anywhere else. Once I experienced that confidence and satisfaction I wanted to share it with as many people as I could. I ended up wanting to teach kids about composition because I want them to feel as good as how I feel through composing.

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What do you enjoy most about your art?

It’s really fun being a musician, because I get to do what I love, but life as a musician is not always glamorous. Every day, I break out the clarinet and go over my fundamentals and heavily critique the way I am physically playing. My favorite part about performing and composing music is that music helps people feel. In the 21st century, with all our cell phones, emails, apps, and multi-tasking devices it often seems the only feeling that exists is busy. But, it’s not human to feel only busy. It’s not even an emotion. We need to experience the full spectrum of emotions to understand each other better, and music helps us do that.

What is your favorite thing about being a teaching artist?

I think my favorite part about being a teaching artist is that I get to teach kids music composition, a discipline that they probably wouldn’t get to learn otherwise. Most of my work focuses on getting kids to write music. Unfortunately, this activity is not usually taught in the public school setting, yet there is always at least one kid in every session who has something unique to say, and it comes out through music composition. It amazes me, actually.

How does that work?

A lot of people who begin composing music come to the table knowing how to read music. One of the reasons most people think teaching music composition at an early age is impossible is because kids might not be able to read music. What I’ve done is really broken down how to read music.

We go through a few different modules. The first one is called graphic scores. We have the students create what is essentially visual art that (with some imagination) can be interpreted into music. An example is a three panel comic about a bunny sleeping, waking up, and then running around like crazy. With some imagination, you can interpret that. The part where the bunny is sleeping can be depicted by slow, lullaby-like melodies. Then, the part where the bunny is running around can be depicted by a fast, driving rhythm.

In the second module, I teach them all about rhythm, but we don’t worry about pitch. We have them draw notes on a single line, rather than using the whole musical staff. This way, they are learning how to write rhythms that fit into a meter – they are learning how to make a measure accurately contain four beats of music. We then have the kids perform the rhythms that they wrote.

After they have mastered that module, we then take on the whole staff. Now pitch matters, but it’s not as scary because they already have mastered how to write rhythm. We go over how the higher up on the staff a note is, the higher in pitch it is, and we talk about the musical alphabet (ABCDEFG) and where each of those notes are in the staff. We have them write real melodies now, and then perform the melodies. In the ideal scenario, we have simple percussion or keyboard instruments available and we have the kids perform their own works for their peers. I usually bring another classically trained musician with me to help me tag-team and to perform the students’ works at the end of the lesson.

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They will write things that are so creative. They don’t have the years of music’s rules beaten into them like me, they have just raw, unbridled creativity, and they can say things that I can’t. That’s the most special part, I think, watching them discover and then listening to their work which is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It totally floors me.


Eric Salazar is an emerging artist with international press attention. Dubbed a super-human clarinet hero (Big Car, 2015), Salazar pioneers the indie-classical genre. He takes his classical training and fuses together modern electronics with classical instruments, blending ancient styles with present musical trends. Salazar is a solo artist in the catalog of Centaur Records with his new release, Soul Search, and also appears as a soloist on Records for a Reason: Vol. 1 with Beneficence Records. He is also the Assistant Director of Community Engagement with Classical Music Indy. Eric Salazar is a Pereira 3D Artist. He plays on a Pereira 3D printed barrel and bell, and 3D printed ligature.

September 12, 2018

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