Teach Composition in the Classroom – the right way

Part 3

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

Composition tasks could be focused around the Elements of Music, especially if you have already discussed about it while working on a song. For example, if the children are learning Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, you can talk about the form of the piece that is in ABA form. Or if you are teaching Oh! When the Saints, you might talk about rhythm. Use their experience of what they know to carry on learning and creating.

I’ve gathered the Elements of Music for you to have as a clear reference point. Different sources might use different words for the same thing, or say there are 5 elements only, or more. Adjust your findings for your teachings.

1) harmony (one sound existing around many other sounds), 

2) melody (the sound pattern, arranging one sound after the other), 

3) texture (how many sources of sound there are and how are they placed together),

4) rhythm (arranging short and long sounds to create a sound pattern), 

5) form (how to arrange bigger chunks of sound in time creating sections that may repeat), 

6) timbre (the colour or quality of the sounds chosen), 

7) dynamics (when to play louder or quieter), 

8) tempo (how fast or slow do these sounds progress through time)

9) other extra elements such as lyrics, or use of a video, dance, etc…

Thinking of music as a construction of sounds rather than only in the classical sense gives more options to you and the students. The children can approach music without misconceptions or predeterminations about what it should sound like. Whether the students are creating music with musical instruments, or their voice, or body percussion or, using objects in their surroundings, they will inevitably be referring to these elements while putting sounds or notes together.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

An easy way to create composition activities is to play with rules. You know that music, any type of music is set on arbitrary rules, or guidelines. Don’t use parallel fifths, play all twelve tones before repeating the cycle, hold the chord as long as you like, the rules are endless. Make up your own rules, allow the children to come up with their own rules, they absolutely love doing so, and thus composition has already started. You can research, or you will already know, different music rules that existed over the hundreds of years of what we call western music, and adjust those rules to better fit the group you are working with. I am thinking about the classical music of the western world because I am more familiar with, of course, apply my suggestions to better fit your needs. Use folk or traditional music or the music you feel most familiar with. I would also invite you to think of incorporating movement and drawing in your activities as these enhance the learning and creative experience. Sometimes it helps to not think of composition in terms of absolute music like playing a beautiful melody on the flute, and at the same time not all composition activities will be about turning noise into music. Experiment and improvise.

Improvisation is your first step to composing – that’s how I do it anyway… If your learning time is limited you could improvise for just for 2 minutes at the start of the lesson to warm up the instrument, or get familiar with instruments, or their voices, their bodies, open up their minds. You can use these first few minutes to introduce the theme of the lesson through improvisation. They don’t have to know what the theme is but it will gently set the mindset of the lesson and your expectations. By playing all together it gets noisy but it also gives the chance to children open up and familiarise themselves with their environment in the music lesson. 

Photo by Alex Gruber on Unsplash

Be accepting of what the children will come up with, be open to simplifying or complicating rules. Create, improvise, sing, dance!

You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

All thoughts and ideas writen here are through my own experience and observation.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

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