Sometimes, it takes a good song to help to help us feel better. Researchers have pondered the possible therapeutic and mood boosting benefits of music for centuries.

Even sad music brings most listeners pleasure and comfort, according to recent research from Durham University in the United Kingdom and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, published in PLOS ONE.

The founder of I can compose, Rachel Shapey, is a finalist in the Outstanding Music Education Product category at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence in London in March.

Rachel’s online music education platform, I can compose, has already won a Stelios Philanthropic Foundation Award for disabled entrepreneurs in 2018. She was also a finalist in the 2018 Enterprise Vision Awards.

I can compose is a unique platform that provides interactive step-by-step courses to help students compose music in a range of styles and genres.

Rachel uses tried and tested methods from her years of teaching composition at GCSE and A level to develop courses teaching everything from how to follow a score to how to compose a jazz piece.

The I can compose platform lets students find inspirational, fun and engaging tutorials to help them create their own compositions. It also allows teachers to access helpful, expert resources, either for free or at a low cost.

Myndr had the chance to interview Rachel, discussing her vision and how music can heal:

What was your inspiration behind creating the platform?

I had been a secondary school music teacher for twelve years, and particularly enjoyed teaching GCSE and A level composition.  I liked trying out different approaches and guiding students in shaping their creative ideas. There’s a real lack of resources available for composition and so I created my own materials to use in the classroom.  I always thought that it would be great if there was a dedicated composition website where students could find clear and user-friendly tutorials on different aspects of composing.

How does music help to shape better and more well-rounded well being for the young people the platform is for

Most people are aware now, that music has a positive effect on emotional well-being – research shows that the ‘happy’ chemical, dopamine, is released when listening to and playing music.  Making music (performing and composing) is a rewarding activity, which engenders feelings of pride and achievement – this is so important for teenagers who can lack confidence in themselves and their abilities.  Music is a social activity and through working as part of a group and collaborating with peers, pupils are learning so much more than ‘just’ how to play an instrument or write a song.  They are problem-solving, appraising, leading, brainstorming, evaluating, encouraging, creating and so on.

One of the main points that myndr builds on is that when you create value (either through a job, helping others or creating art, etc), people are exposed to the idea that they are worth something and valuable to our society, do you feel that I Can Composeworks with those same principles?

When a student composes a piece of music and then hears it being performed, there is a great sense of pride and satisfaction that they have created something personal and unique.   I’ve seen teenagers with very low self-esteem, tentatively create a musical idea, develop it into a piece and be genuinely astonished when it received glowing feedback.  They then had the confidence to audition for the school show or perform in an end-of-term concert and subsequently feel like a valuable member of the school and wider community.

I can compose offers a student-friendly structured approach to composing through its clear, interactive courses.  As I create each online lesson, I imagine the class in front of me, asking questions and completing practical tasks.  This helps me to make it clear and thorough so that students feel confident in the process.  This is why I compose a piece of music specially for each course and then break it all down – so that students can see how a small musical idea can be built up into a full composition.  Students often say “I can’t do composition” but it’s often because they fear getting it ‘wrong’ somehow or that they will be laughed at if it doesn’t sound ‘right’.  Once this barrier is removed, and we change the mind set to say “you can do it”, the anxiety ebbs away and creative ideas start to flow more easily.

How important do you find music is to the development of the young minds that you are inspiring?

Everyone experiences music.  It’s never been easier to listen to whatever you want, whenever you want.  Music has the power to affect your mood – it can cheer you up, calm you down, get you moving, get you sleeping…listening to a familiar track can be a place of refuge or can evoke memories – both positive and painful.  But essentially, music helps you to feel.  Connecting with your emotions is hugely important for the mental well-being of children and teenagers.  There’s a great quote by E.Y Harburg: “Words make you think a thought, music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”

Was I Can Compose the first business that you have ever run? If so, how have you found it? If not, what other businesses have you run?

I can compose is the only business I have run and it’s certainly been a steep learning curve, but I love it!  At first, I was unsure about my idea for the website – I was just working on my own from home, on the site content and started to doubt myself.  However members of the music education community really encouraged me to launch I can compose, and that really boosted my confidence.  The website was shortlisted for 3 business awards within the first 6 months of going live and so I knew that there was a definite interest in my product.

What advice would you give to someone with a great idea that they would like to take to market?

Don’t be put off by television programmes like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice!  Every business started off as an idea and it’s easy to look at large successful companies and think that it’s going to be impossible.  Make sure that you have spent time working on a really clear pitch – you should be able to explain what your business is in one sentence – and know who your target audience is.  Look up your competitors and see what you can offer that’s unique and will set you apart.

How do you balance your mental health and well being with running a business?

Because I work from home, it’s very easy not to take a break and to ‘just finish’ a task (which ends up taking the whole afternoon!).  There is always something on the to-do list so a 30 minute break outdoors won’t make much difference to the workload but does have a huge impact on my energy levels and sense of perspective.  I try to run 2 or 3 times a week, which is great for clearing my head, though I usually get more ideas when I’m out running!  I also find that it’s important to schedule in time with other people, even if it’s a trip to the coffee shop, as it can otherwise get quite lonely.  I’m a member of the local traders association and a Facebook group for local women in business, and these are a great source of advice and encouragement – it’s good to be part of a supportive community.

Find out more about Rachel and I Can Compose in the links below: