Composing with Grade 5 and 6 children

As I have mentioned previously composition is at the heart of my philosophy when it comes to music education. It is also what starts to make your music classes exciting and moves them beyond the some times mundane experience of teaching skills or singing songs.

With the grade 5 and 6 students this term we are focusing on a number of compositional styles.

These include

1. Composing with Melodic Instruments

2. Minimalism

3. Chance compositions

4. Composing soundtracks

5. Composoing with Text

5. Composing Machine Compsitions

These are all styles that are very accessible to children and there are lots of great examples on you tube of composers using these ideas as the basis for their own music. Composers like John Cage and the concepts he introduced always fascinate children.

The first four weeks were spent on Composing With Melody and to do this we used our diatonic instruments. Initially to children almost everything sounds good when composing with diatonic instruments so it gets things rolling quickly and gives you a chance to help them refine their ideas.

I always get them to write four parts into this composition. A bass line a melody line a chordal accompanyment and a percussion part and initially explain the roles of each of those parts. I then get them to add a B section which we decide to be something different to the A section and something short. A chance to provide a point of difference in the music. At the end of each week I film the children and one quick viewing at the start of the next week is all that is required for them to remember where they were up to. Depending on your philosophy regarding notation you could get them to notate but I find that childrens ears are generally pretty good and notation merely slows the composition process at this stage.

In the following weeks I will blog about how I go about teaching the other musical styles and upload some video.

But here is a video of a couple of completed Melodic Pieces

2 thoughts on “Composing with Grade 5 and 6 children

  1. Hi Kynan,
    I like what you have done with your students. I have adapted it for use with my 7s and 8s. They were really good at creating chords, bassline and percussive accompaniment, but they really struggled with the melodic side of things, except for the brave few who sang.
    How do you approach the melodic composition process? Do you start with the chords and demonstrate a theoretical approach or a more chance based approach?

    • when using diatonic instruments I generally I let them go for it and it seems to initially work ok. They then learn to use their ears and refine their work
      2. encourage them to make short statements – like a sentence . (initially theses can fall within a 2 bar structure)
      3.encourage them to mainly use stepwise motion, with maybe one large intervallic leap
      4. Encourage them to think about direction eg the first statement goes up the second comes down
      5. encourage them initially to use any sequence of notes but try and end on the chord tones – tonic 3rd 5ths


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