Composition is such a beneficial activity for our students. It helps students create and explore music in an exciting and personal way. Composition is also a wonderful tool for assessing student knowledge and understanding. The problem is, it can take a lot of time – and time is often running short in lessons as it is.
To combat this problem, I modified a composition unit I taught when I was teaching general music. It is especially good for students – and teachers – who are unsure about how to go about the whole composition process. Best of all, it doesn’t take up much time during the lesson. I just do one segment at a time over several weeks. This is not the only way I teach composition, but it is a good place to start.
- Tell the student that they are going to write a composition. Many a student has given me a “deer in the headlights” type look. I assure them that I will guide them through every step, and it will be no harder than learning that piece of music that once looked so hard.
- To begin the composition, have students write rhythms for 8 (or more) measures. This comprises of the A section. Have them write rhythms for 4 (or more) measures for the B section.
- Next, we add notes to the rhythm. For beginning students, I tell them to use the notes in the middle C position, or a particular pentascale. If the students have learned the primary triads, or even simply the concept the of tonic, dominant, and subdominant notes of the scale, I have them write a melody in the treble clef using notes within either a pentascale of full scale depending on their ability. I usually do not have students write the notes on the staff at this point. They simply write the letter in next to the note. The A section must end on the tonic, and the B section must end on the dominant.
- At this point, I have the student write the music on staff paper. Go to www.blanksheetmusic.net for free, customizable staff paper.
- If the student split the melody line between hands, they are almost done. I simple have them repeat the A section to finish off the piece. I often show them how they can vary the section a bit, perhaps by playing an octave higher, adding staccatos, legatos, etc. We also add dynamics if they haven’t already.
- For students who wrote a melody in the treble clef, I have them add primary chords to the melody. I have students pencil them in as blocked chords. If they haven’t reached the point of the full chords, I will have them simple use the tonic, dominant, and subdominant of the scale for the bass clef.
- Next, I show the student several accompaniment patters. They discover how different bass patterns change the mood of the piece. They decide what they like, and write it in.
- Have them repeat the A section to finish the piece. Sometime students like to change the accompaniment pattern the second time around, or make some other changes as mentioned in #5.
- Add dynamics, phrasing, articulations, etc.
- Either have the student hand write a final copy of the piece, or have them enter it into a notation program to print. Finale’s Notepad is a free program that works great for this. It is basic, but does the job nicely for beginning compositions. I encourage all parents to download this to their home computers for their children to use.
- If you really want to be impressive, have students draw a picture to illustrate their composition, and make a cover for “real” looking sheet music. See this post for more detailed directions on how to do that. I usually print off a copy of all my students’ compositions and hang them on a wall in my studio. They look great, and the students love seeing what others have done.
That’s all there is to it! It is a lot of work, but broken down into small chunks it is quite manageable. Happy Composing!
Filed under: Composition |