Mentoring Process Examples

Sample Mentoring Thread Molly, a sixth grade student with three mentors

This piece was commented on twelve times over a period of three months. Using Noteflight, Molly continually revised her piece with 290 versions recorded online, including automatic saves. Below is a truncated sample of the online conversation, samples of her work in progress and a recording of the live performance at the end.


Molly's Composition - Initial Posting - Feb. 2 (PDF)
Molly's Composition - 1st Iteration - Feb. 25 (PDF)
Molly's Composition - 2nd Iteration - Mar 7 (PDF)

Continue reading for final score, thread of mentoring discussion and live performance recording

Comment posted by mentors Erik Nielsen, Alexandra Fol and Mike Close in GREEN
Comments posted by student composer Molly in BLUE


Dear Molly,

Thanks for posting the first version of your piece for four strings…. So let me see whether I can help you. First, as to key, what you have so far is very clearly centering in C. Notice that the ends of your phrases always point to and land on C and I think that will show you that the key signature ought to have no sharps or flats.

Second, rhythmically, if you want this to be a jig, you'll need to think in terms of 6/8 with two groups of three eighth notes (or their equivalent) going (quickly) ONE two three FOUR five six. I'm including a link so you can hear a very typical jig, the Irish Washerwoman, in which you can hear the fast 6/8 and how it becomes really two beats per bar (a dotted quarter note per beat): If you right click on the link and click Open Link it will take you right there. This also means that your steady quarter notes in the piece will definitely need rethinking.

Finally, please keep in mind that you don't have to use all the four instruments if that seems too difficult, but cello and bass can give you a fine bass line, or you can use the bass pizzicato (plucked) carrying the bass of the harmony while you use the cello and viola to accompany the melody (or take it over) in other ways.
I hope this is helpful, Molly. It just looks to me as if you need to keep thinking about what you want your piece to be and to do and once you have a clearer idea, things ought to start to flow. I look forward to your next posting.

Best wishes,

Erik Nielsen


Dear Molly, Thank you for posting your new version. I read your description too and will answer all concerns. What do you call the "random notes" in the B part? I even went to the previous version on noteflight just to see whether your description was referring to the old score. To be honest, I only see an A part in all of your version, do you know why? Because the rhythm and the musical ideas are the same, they keep flowing. In order to have a "B" part, you should invent something that is very different from the "A" part.
This brings me to your next concern: You may be better off giving less notes per measure to the bass. Bass parts generally provide exactly what they say - the bass of a chord, of a harmony. When they play too fast, especially so low, they muddle the texture. This would be perfectly fine in some pieces, but I don't think this is what you want in your piece, it seems to me that you are going for the crispy sound. So, I propose that you do use less notes in the bass.

You mention that you want a percussive pizzicato sound, so here is a suggestion - when you start your B music, make it as different as you possibly can from the A - have you thought about all, or most of the strings playing pizzicato? The effect is quite stunning. The best part is, you can bring later the A and the B music together: the violin can play your melody and the other instruments can accompany with the pizzicato (the B).

In general, your A-music has a lot of parallel motion. Beware of too much note-against-note-parallel-motion. I think it is fine when you introduce the instruments, because we are focused on the new instrument that sounds. I suggest you edit the music starting on page 2 measure 4 and write less parallel motion. I think you are discontent with it partially because the parallel chords continue.
Dear Molly, you have done a lot of good work and all your questions are good and thoughtful. Keep composing! I look forward your next revision.

Best wishes,
Alexandra Fol


Hello Alexandria and Erik, I have changed the time to 6/8 with 80 dotted quarter notes as suggested. I have written a better description about what I am writing a song about, the sound I am looking for. I am thinking about changing the bass to the stomping of feet that I hear in my head when I hear a jig.


Dear Molly,

Thanks for posting the latest version of your piece for (now) string trio. Although I'm sorry to see the bass go, if it makes it easier for you to create a successful piece using only a trio then it's a good decision. I'm also glad to see you've put the piece in 6/8. You've also created some real rhythmic tension by having the viola play a 3/4 rhythm against the violin's 6/8 starting in bar 5.

There are two issues I see here. The first is that I think the viola's use of all quarter notes comes too soon. We really need to get a feel for the jig rhythm before things start to change too much and that's not the case here. We only get 4 bars of straight jig rhythm before the viola enters and changes how we hear things. I'd let the piece run in a true 6/8, with the accompaniment in dotted quarter notes rather than straight quarters perhaps, for more like 16 bars before the background rhythm changes.

The second issue is pitch center. Starting in bar 5 it sounds pretty much as if the piece is in A minor, which is fine, but the opening really isn't clear because the violin starts out really emphasizing C (that's also okay) but the cello is in F. This creates a conflict that's not necessary. Try something for me. Move the cello part in your first bar down four notes so it starts on C instead of F and check out the difference in sound.

Finally, if you want the piece to be in C it needs longer than 4 bars (or 8 counting the repeat) to really establish itself, so I'd give it a bit longer before going to A minor. 
In fact, one way to address both issues above is to add some new music after bar 4 that a) keeps the music in a clear 6/8 and b) keeps the music in a clear key of C major. Perhaps you can add some viola as well so that all three instruments are playing. Using all the trio at the same time for at least some of the piece is important.
 Molly, you've been working hard at this and there have been improvements.

Now if you can take into account what I've written you ought to be able to keep moving forward. I look forward to your next posting.

Best wishes,




Hello Molly,

I enjoyed listening to your jig. It's well written and a lot of fun. There are some places where the harmonies do not agree. For example, on the downbeat of m. 11 the bass is playing an F while all the other instruments are playing in C. In measure 13, beat 2 the upper voices are outlining a G7 harmony but the bass is on E. You may want to write in the names of the chords you want beat by beat and then make sure that all the voices are on the right notes to make those chords.

In the section starting at m. 15 you might consider simplifying things. There is so much going on that I have a hard time keeping track of the melody. The viola and cello part really are competing with the violin for attention. At the very least, you can make the secondary parts a softer dynamic, but I would consider simplifying things so that the secondary parts support the melody rather than competing with it. This is really nice.

Keep up the good work!
Mike Close


Dear, Alexandra or Erik, I worked on Grand Jig this weekend a lot and will continue to change the harmonies for cello and viola. I need help on how to write a 6/8 pluck-slap rhythm for the Bass. I want it to go pluck slap pluck slap pluck slap in each measure for the a part but do I just write that with the text? Alexandra, I can not find a traditional Irish jig with rests, I am thinking of something like Irish Washerwoman or Swallowtail Jig. Do you know of these songs? I think it is because they are for dancing? Thank you for your help, I enjoy learning from your posts. Thanks, Molly


Mollie’s Piece Description: I love Northern traditional music, music used in contra dances, fiddle music from Ireland, Scotland, Canada, even Norway. I know some people don't think of it as important music but it was important to the people who gave emotions to their songs. They found courage, joy and comfort in the simple tunes which have remained a part of their culture for hundreds of years. When I go to traditional music camps and workshops, a tune starts out slow with just one or two players. Then other instruments join in as the song is repeated four or five times. Not every instrument is in tune, not everyone is at the same level of talent, some play a harmony part or drone, but it all comes together and sounds good. Even the stomping feet, clapping hands and dancers laughter create part of a great romping joy. This is the sound I am looking for in this jig. I named this piece the Grand Jig because I want it to be a thank you to my grandparents, great grandparents, and all my ancestors who came from different countries, played different instruments and remembered the old songs. Each of them added something to the tune we call family and each gave a musical gift to me.



Dear Molly, Ms. Lubin asked me to respond to you so we could try to straighten out the bit about the bass. Usually when bassists are slapping notes it's for shorter notes like eighth notes and it's because of the way they pluck the strings. In your case, if you want that second note slapped, I'd mark it as a staccato (that is, with a dot) with a sharp accent over that (it looks like a house roof) and mark "slap" above that. The second time do the same thing, but mark "simile" (as Mike suggested) instead of slap. However, do get rid of the x heads and use regular pitches because the notes will have a pitch (the player is slapping the strings, after all). As for the pizz./arco option, it is possible at this speed, but the bowed note will be louder and longer than the pizz. note unless you mark staccato and at a softer dynamic. I personally prefer the slap option, but it's up to you. I need to say that with all the repeats and without dancing this will not be as interesting as real contra music when we're dancing, so I'd suggest either some changes or eliminating some of the repeats. I hope this helps. Oh, and I simply loved what you wrote in your introduction to the piece about folk music!

Best wishes,

Here is my finished piece hope you like it. I want to thank everyone who has helped me. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Final Score Posting from Molly

Audio recording from Opus concert of Grand Jig
Opus 24 Concert Performers: Sarah Briggs, Violin, Elizabeth Reed, Viola, Michael Close, Cello and Evan Premo, Bass