By K-12 Composing Ideas by Music Ed Teachers | February 17, 2013 at 03:18 PM EST | 6 comments
Respond to comments made by others in the BLOG and post your own IDEAS of composing in the K-12 classroom.
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WELCOME to the COMPOSING MUSIC BLOG for music folks of all varieties who want to read about what other music teachers are experiencing or who are willing to post their successful composing ideas for K-12 students. This BLOG is to help with the process of collecting teachers’ stories about presenting opportunities to compose. Please submit any type of idea or experience related to presenting composing opportunities for K-12 students! Submit curricula you have developed, specific group and student experiences, and teaching moments-- challenges as well as successes. This is also an opportunity for composers and educators to work together to design unique and engaging curricula for improvising, composing, and arranging for K-12 students. It is my hope there will be technology, choral, band, alternative, and general music-related ideas submitted!
You may respond to this BLOG as many times as you wish and also email me at email@example.com. It is always fun to hear where you are teaching, too!
I like encouraging students to compose pieces for themselves, they often write challenging material, and learn more about notation and sometimes what they struggle with.
I will also write pieces or exercises that focus on specific difficulties a student or students might be having, rather than using generic exercises that may not address what I need.
As a student I was also involved in commissions of pieces for my instrument, and encourage my students, especially as they reach high school age to commission works for themselves or even for groups of their friends, inspired by World-Wide Concurrent Premieres and Commissioning Fund. Especially as students get a bit older, when they have a piece written for them, they take ownership of it themselves. The same way they tend to when they write pieces for themselves.
My middle school band director encouraged students to compose. I tackled a piece as a 7th grader and she had the band perform it and gave me feedback. That was invaluable. Then I went on to compose more music for eighth grade: a piece so music for solo clarinet that won the county's PTA Reflection's competition and a piece for band that was performed for the spring concert. It is so valuable to allow a young composer to HEAR what they wrote down and have it justified and then provide feedback. Was an amazing experience for me.
I have done a lot of composing projects with my AP Music theory students, which feels a bit like cheating, but some have also been worked into my concert band classes as well. It is particularly fun and engaging with 20th century techniques, such as minimalism, twelve-tone, and impressionism. One of the most successful has been taking different scales such as the whole-tone and having them create with them after showing them how easy it can be to make different sounds with symmetrical scales. I often try to show them the concepts of creating with small form and basic Schenkerian concepts of reduction in reverse. We will start with a small scalar melody, create a four bar phrase by making goals, and then take the scale and embellish and elaborate. Then write a consequent.
I do a ton of composition in popular styles with my guitar class since it is easy to create when I can give them a set of simple guidelines. The two most common styles are either basic diatonic chords or using power chords. With the first, I will limit them to open chords in a diatonic key, like only using G, Am, C, D, and Em, and then arrange the chords in any order in a four bar pattern, and voila, they have a verse, do it again and they have a chorus. At that point, they can elaborate on the structure in many ways, by altering tempo, strumming pattern, embellishing the chords, etc. For power chords, which are a three note group of root,fifth,root, they can literally move the same held pattern anywhere on the lower string groups and have the entire chromatic scale open. With this, they can basically play any progression and do so by experiment. To get things started, in class I will ask 4 volunteers to give me a number from 1-9 and 4 others to give me either 5 or 6. This will yield a four chord progression, which typically sounds awesome, although often strange.
As a music student taking jazz trumpet lessons, I learned much about improvisation through guided listening. I was assigned trumpet solos to transcribe, focusing on one jazz trumpet player to serve as a model. I was presented a number of licks that I had to learn in every key. From the transcriptions, I discovered new licks that I also had to learn in every key. Through this process I developed a larger vocabulary of improvisational ideas.
I use the same approach when teaching jazz improvisation. Students gain so much through listening to quality models. By providing structure and assignments centered on listening, young improvisers can acquire skills in an authentic way.
I get my beginning band students started down the composition track by doing very simple exercises. We do echo patterns as a part of our weekly warmups where students play a series of 4 beat rhythms for the band to play back. Most students are hesitant at first but after a few attempts are confident about coming up with their own rhythmic tune. We also write variations of easy 8 measure songs from the Standard of Excellence book. I find that my young students (12-14) need a lot of structure and direction in their beginning composition exercises. It's a great way to get them thinking about how to write music and to develop a deeper appreciation for music composers!