Timbre and Pulse

Lesson Plan for nursery school, 8 – 20 month old, by Rania

Duration: approx 20 minutes

Scroll down for downloading the full lesson plan options

Aim of Session: feel a steady pulse moving fast, or slow
Skill:  observation, listening to the music, being social, memory, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, spacial awareness, awareness of loudness, confidence
Knowledge: Learn about 2 qualities of sound: loudness and timbre; and 1 element of music: pulse

Description of Session

  1. Warm up
  2. Move with scarves to slow music
  3. Move with scarves to fast music
  4. Give small percussion instruments and allow some time for the children to explore them.
  5. Drum patterns (PDF download further down): create small 3 beat, 4 beat or 5 beat sequences with the drum where everyone is quiet until the last beat and they make some noise 
  6. Sing: Open Shut them – 1st time normal, 2nd time fast, 3rd time quiet
  7. Sing: A Sailor went to Sea, sea, sea – 1st time normal, 2nd time slow, 3rd time loud
  8. Sing: Roly – Poly – 1st time quiet and fast, 2nd time loud and slow, 3rd time normal but omit the ending of each line.
  9. Warm down music and goodbye

Music Suggestions

  1. Changing between faster and slower sections:
    Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Harp (movement 1) – Andy Scott performed by Polaris Duo
  2. Or try this one, What is joy to you? performed by Polaris Duo again and written by Esther Swift, there are more subtle changes between mellower and more energetic parts
  3. Slow music or for calming down music Unicorn in Rainbows by Alison Berry  Listen to Unicorn in Rainbows by Alison Berry on #SoundCloud

Classical music suggestions

  1. Fanny Mendelssohn – Piano Sonata in C minor (there are 3 movements that you can use for fast music – presto movement 3 – ; slow – Andante con moto – ; or the Allegro moderato con espressione that has little textural changes

View full lesson plan including tips and explanations, covid-19 tips, and EYFS links Googls Docs here or

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020, lesson plan for nursery schools music  

Teach Composition in the Classroom – the right way

Part 3

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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.

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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. 

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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

Teaching Composition in the Classroom

Part 2

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If you’re still asking why invest time and effort in musical creativity, the short answer may be, and I’ll elaborate in another article more on the subject: 

  1. It brings forward needs for learning, like how to read and write notes, how do we indicate loudness and so on… Because now the student has to use them to right their musical piece
  2. Students spend time with their musical instrument and figure out how it works by themselves and for their own purposes.

Cool! Now that you are passionate about normalising composition in your lessons let’s dive in a little deeper. 

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Where to start? What do you do? How do we achieve an open-minded teaching approach, be truly inclusive with the students’ ideas of solutionising, and not get hung up on our own expectations ?

Top tip, we may be incorporating non musical elements to make points clearer and activities more appealing.

We’re interested in a holistic way of teaching music, and composition is part of this learning.

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Let’s start by aborting any notions there may be about (a) talent – it’s a different discussion – and people born composers, and (b) not everyone can teach composition. You might agree as well, school is the time when children get to observe, experiment and investigate what otherwise they wouldn’t have the chance to. Like how to do stuff and how the world works, how to think and problem solve using all of their senses in order to learn the whats and the hows. The Whys come through creativity.

Composition, musical creativity, in the classroom is an activity for every student and not only extra work for the (“talented”) few that might be up for the challenge. Of course, if you discover a child showing a bit more interest then by all means offer more material to work with. But you may consider presenting it like the bonus exercises they get in Maths, where those extra exercises are there for every student to decide if they want to solve them and the teacher will encourage as well.

Every music educator can teach music composition. You don’t have to win an IVORS award to do it. You don’t even have to study specifically music composition to qualify as the educator for musical creativity. If you think about it, not all primary school teachers have written articles for big newspapers or published books, yet teaching students to write essays, poems, diary entries and more is part of the national curriculum so they all teach it. The children finish primary school and know the process to writing a narrative. Throughout their school years the students practice different writing techniques, some abstract, some more concrete but the purpose remains to provide a set of tools and knowledge to use later on. 

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Adding music composition and creativity into our lesson plans will become a habit. Some teachers enjoy music composition written on 5 lines with a clef, and a key and time signature, finishing each piece on the tonic, regardless of what the children know about theory. This is acceptable. It’s closer to what the children are used to hearing and by practicing the same concept many times they will eventually realise what the more technical terms mean and how they are used (see reason 1 above). Other teachers use more abstract and kinaesthetic approaches, like tracing the periphery of an object with vocal sounds to play with aspects of musical form (see reason 2 above). The end product remains:  a musical piece (sound piece) written and performed by the students.

Identify your learning objectives for each lesson and that will lead to the best approach for the creative segment of the lesson. Every music educator is qualified to incorporate music compsition in their lessons and every student is entitled to being creative through music. It can be a short segment where the focus is on a small creative activity or creativng a new piece. But every time is for every child. I strongly suggest the Orff method for inspiration. Part 3 is following with tools on putting a your creative segment together.

You can read Part 1 here.

All thoughts and ideas written here come through personal experience and observation.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music Composition in the Classroom

Easy activities to get primary school students composing

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Sound and Music, which is a national charity for new music in the UK, have conducted a survey and discovered that music composition and creativity are generally overlooked in schools in the UK. You can find information about Sound and Music and their initiative here where you can also download the report here as well. Composition or music creativity is often overlooked during a music lesson. 

I’ve put together some activities and overall thoughts about teaching music composition in primary schools, for children between 5-11 years old and about 30 children in each classroom. Always assess your group of children and tailor to your teaching style. Everything is open to interpretation. 

My overall view on composition in primary schools aims to defy the rigid boundaries of classical music and concentrate on putting sounds together. I think one of our goals as educators is to set the bare foundations where students can later build on. Movement is an important aspect of music learning because it enhances the learning and it makes everything fun. Use the activities in a way that will serve your and your classroom’s purposes. 

I know, time is a major factor that determines what and how a lesson will take place. Focusing on performance, to read and play notes, is measurable by students, parents and the heads that determine if music is needed in the school. So it becomes risky to introduce this abstract concept called music composition. But I do believe it is worth it!

Activity 1

Ask the children to write on a piece of paper a note and give it a duration between a crochet, minim or semibreve. Display the papers on the board and arrange them in bars and perform it. The children will enjoy seeing that their own note is on the board  and anticipate to hear it being played, while you check they know their theory. For more advanced children, ask them to write an entire bar.

I’d suggest keeping a simple time signature, like 4/4 or ¾ and for the more adventurous 5/4 might work as well. Not using any time signature  is always an option and children will learn something different.

Activity 1b

You may go full avant-garde and instead of writing notes, write down sounds you can produce using objects in the room, your body or voice. The sound can be as short as 1 bang and as long as 4 seconds, for instance. Shuffle the papers and each student picks one out randomly. Arrange the students to their positions and listen to the beautiful specific randomness. You can introduce the idea of a conductor leaving it up to them to decide how the music will unfold. For this activity it might be good to call on being sensible. 

Activity 2

Link music history, discover new composers and musical styles with what the students are learning in other subjects such as English, Geography, Arts, History… I find that 20th century music is the easiest to experiment with. You would be looking at minimalism, serialism, atonal, aleatoric music, and the list goes on. I define the style in the broadest sense so the children don’t get confused or discouraged. Each time we talk about that style I add another small element to the definition. 

You can link serialism with the World Wars history. Ask the children to come up with a series of 7 different sounds or notes and number each individual sound from 1 to 7. Perform the series twice, the first time as is and the second time perform it in reverse, from 7 to 1.

Activity 3

Use the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to introduce to the children the idea of form in music, ABA structure, and invite them to come up with body movements to indicate each section. An example could be to wave your arms for A sections and bend and stretch your knees for the B section. Ask the children to work in groups and write their own set of moves on a piece of paper. Then exchange the papers with other groups and always finish with the performances. 

Activity 4

Take Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, write the last 4 bars of the song on the board. Ask the children to write their own piece using all the notes on the board, so use each note twice, in any order they like but keeping the first and last note as is. 

Activity 5

Invite the children to think of their morning routine and pick just one action, such as getting out of bed, brushing teeth etc… Ask them to try and mimic the movement using sounds from ordinary objects or musical instruments. Note it down using conventional or unconventional notation, and perform it. They can think about what they are feeling while they would do the movement, what they hear, see. This activity is comes ready with a beginning, a middle and  an end, it’s very concise and can be approached from many different angles. I wouldn’t try and guess what each composition is based on as it would subtract from the purpose of creating music, art.

Activity 6

Always sing, improvise, and listen to anything including folk music, which is very important. Ask the children regularly if they wrote a song they would like to share. This way they you are showing them that writing music is an ordinary thing and you are interested in their work.

I encourage you to check the Orff Method if you’re not familiar with it. It promotes a similar thinking and ethos. You can take part in day seminars or their incredible one-week summer school in York where they go into more detail about music education. You can find lesson plans online from other teachers incorporating this method and music creativity. Make these activities your own and have fun with them!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2019