In a video shared to his Instagram account, Palo Alto High School senior Matthew Caren begins to strum a funk riff on his crimson-colored guitar. The video cuts to a clip of him introducing a lively beat on an electronic drum pad. Suddenly, a cascade of jazzy notes rush in from a piano, eventually combining with a relaxing guitar solo.

Being one of the most musically inclined students in the Class of 2021, Caren spoke with us about his unique instruments, composing and his musical journey. Here is what he had to say.

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When did you become interested in music and what sparked your interest?

Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with music. I remember being really little – maybe three or four – and stealing pots and pans from the kitchen to drum on in the living room.

Which instruments do you play?

My main instruments are piano, guitar and drums, and I sing a bit too. I’m always trying to get my hands on new instruments to learn, though, so I’ve picked up a lot of random instruments, from the mandolin to the ocarina to all sorts of percussion.

Was it difficult to learn how to play multiple instruments?

After you learn the first few instruments, there start to be so many similarities between instruments. There are tons of instruments with keyboards — piano, organ, melodica, synthesizers. There’s a lot of overlap between all sorts of guitars — electric and acoustic, bass, mandolin, ukulele. It’s really just different flavors of translating ideas in your head into sound.

What have you learned from being in AP Music Theory?

I’m much more familiar with the jazz side of music theory, so being in AP Music Theory has been really interesting to learn the classical point of view. The two perspectives are simultaneously very similar and quite different — they’ll both look at a situation and come to the same conclusion about which notes or chords are appropriate, but have two completely different lines of reasoning for why that is.

Walk us through your music composition process.

For me, composing music really just comes from a desire to explore — a cool snippet of a melody, a new sound, an interesting rhythm. Sometimes it’s more conscious or deliberate, when I’m actively trying to develop an idea, and sometimes I’m not thinking about it at all, just seeing where things take me. Even away from any instruments, I’m always experimenting and playing with music in the back of my head.

Is there a specific type of music that you like composing the most?

I truly love writing in all styles, and I think there’s also a lot more stealing and borrowing between genres than people realize. Different types of music sound different on the outside but it’s really all the same ideas on the inside making it tick.

What do you love the most about music and composition?

I’ve never been that attracted to playing songs exactly the same every time — I start to feel a bit too much like a human CD player. I find it so much more liberating to take a song and rearrange and reimagine it, or even better just compose something completely new. Composition and improvisation are really freeing and I think that creative and exploratory spirit is really why I love music so much.