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

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teaching compsoition to kids

Over the term Andrew and I have been working with the level four kids devising their own compositions for mixed percussion groups.

The key concepts that we taught were:

1. The need for a bassline and its role – to hold the piece down harmonically and rhythmically.

2. A Melody line and what it does – adds character and individual taste to a composition – it’s the thing on top that gives spice.

3. An accompanying part either using a counter melody or chords and what it does – it enhances the melody and provides some substance.

4. An A section and a B section for interest sake – to provide variety for the listeners ear.

5. A Rhythm part.

The kids all worked in small groups of 5 and co-composed all the parts and then each person performed one part. Finally we filmed all the performances and did some quick editing using Final Cut Express

The kids love this and are all very confident in their ideas and with the idea of being able to compose. Marimbas and basic metalaphones are great to use when composing with kids because they are generally diatonic (all in the same key center) so allow kid to instantly play and sound quite good.

I often just encourage them to hit a couple of notes and decide if they like the combination of sounds and then they are off and running.

Children’s Compositions

Over the term Andrew and I have been working with the level four kids devising their own compositions for mixed percussion groups.

The key concepts that we taught were:

1. The need for a bassline and its role – to hold the piece down harmonically and rhythmically.

2. A Melody line and what it does – adds character and individual taste to a composition – it’s the thing on top that gives spice.

3. An accompanying part either using a counter melody or chords and what it does – it enhances the melody and provides some substance.

4. An A section and a B section for interest sake – to provide variety for the listeners ear.

5. A Rhythm part.

The kids all worked in small groups of 5 and co-composed all the parts and then each person performed one part. Finally we filmed all the performances and did some quick editing using Final Cut Express

The kids love this and are all very confident in their ideas and with the idea of being able to compose. Marimbas and basic metalaphones are great to use when composing with kids because they are generally diatonic (all in the same key center) so allow kid to instantly play and sound quite good.

I often just encourage them to hit a couple of notes and decide if they like the combination of sounds and then they are off and running.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10744543&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Grade 6 Original compositions from Kynan Robinson on Vimeo.

Getting grade 5/6 kids to compose using dissonance and consonance

Over the space of a term (ten weeks) Andrew Williamson and I work on a number of composition ideas with our grade 5 and 6 kid.

The ideas are both conceptual and practical

The first idea we look at is the notions of dissonance and consonance in a musical perspective.

As a listening exercise I play the kids two obvious examples such as Penderecki’s Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima to emphasis dissonance and Erik Saties Gymonpedie Number 1 to to look at consonance. These pieces can both be found on youtube  Penderecki . The Penderecki piece always starts great conversation with the kids on the role of music, why the sounds have to be so harsh, what is dissonance (clashing) when and where it is necessary, when it is to much, how does music effect our emotions, why do some sounds make us feel certain ways and others make us feel differently.

Following this I move the lesson into a class composition piece. It’s important to model this to the kids, how you want them to compose as the idea is for them to break into small groups and replicate the processes in the coming weeks.

On the electronic whiteboard I would bring up a picture of a haunted house that has the obvious connotations and leads well to a combination of dissonant and consonant sounds.

This picture has been taken from the Music Express Series

A discussion would take place about the intention of the picture. It is to scare the viewer or leave a dark feeling. How has this been achieved? Through the use of dark colors, through the various elements in the picture, where they are placed, at the front or at the back. These are all concepts that can be transported to a musical setting. Do the elements clash or flow freely.

Placing a number of instruments in front of the kids they would choose instruments that they think might match the various elements they would see in the picture. They would then be given a  short time to come up with a quick pattern that they could teach to a small group who would all be assigned to that instrument. Once five or six different parts had been composed and groups of 4 had been formed around those parts I would place those into some sort of visual arrangement on the whiteboard.

This is where the piece gets fun because the kids can now try and change the various arrangements to see if they were effectively achieving their original stated aims, to musically replicate the picture, to have some definite dissonant sounds involved. To get a sense of darkness in the music etc. When inventing the melody you will notice in the video the kids had a simple melody and each new part comes in mimicking the same melodic shape but moving it away by a semitone creating a fairly obvious and easy to hear dissonance.You will also notice there is a mixture of melody, rhythm as well as some textural elements to the piece. We also spoke of how tempo changes a piece, originally the bass  was quite fast but we found it was much more effective to slow the whole thing down. This class should take no longer than 2 lessons. Following this the children would have a class to compose their own piece in groups of no more than 5. Because we have worked on these ideas for an number of years with the kids they feel completely comfortable in their role as composers.

Finally we filmed the whoe class performance and here is an example.
http://fnps.fliggo.com/embed/gVxr6kO9

Space Compositions

In Grade two we have been working on vocal compositions. This is where you draw shapes on the whiteboard and find appropriate vocal sounds to match (an early form of notational teaching). We also invented shapes to represent loud and soft and duration. We then incorporated some of this learning into the theme of space and added some sounds from the marimba that could be translated into variouse movements. Finally we made masks to make our short performance look cool and filmed it.

This is a great way to introduce children to the concepts of composition – using their voice, using sounds that can be made on the instruments having some simple notation and finally performing.

Heres the video

http://fnps.fliggo.com/embed/BFb3PDBs

Music Education

In my role as a music teacher Im a big believer in teaching children to be composers. All children intrinsically have the ability to compose music just as they do draw a picture. All that needs to happen is they need to be given some very simple starting blocks and off they go. These starting blocks never need to be traditional western notation.
Here is an example of a piece written by a group of five, elevan year olds. They were given 45 minutes to write and perform this piece. They have been composing in my classes for about 4 years now so are very used to that sort of task expectation. You can hear they have written a four part piece of music including an A and a B section. It totally rocks

Play Song

Heres some more venue reviews

The Powerhouse – BRISBANE, QLD

Cool room Uncool people running the show – they take a cut of the door, cut of your merchandise, cut of your rider,anyway to make money of the band they will – and I got a paper cut as well

Joes Waterhole – EUMUNDI, QLD
Strange town strange pub. It’s like your in the set of a 1980s cliched Australian soap opera, complete with a meat raffle, dog, men with beards down to their knees that look like the dog, rugby shorts, blue singlets, photos of old school boxers and fights in the crowd.

Lake Kawana Arts Theartre– CALOUNDRA, QLD
0/10 I loved this joint but don’t recommend it to anyone

Students as composers

remy-ruby-and-saskias-piece As a very good example of children as composers here is a composition written and played by 5 grade six students. They were given a one hour class to come up with this piece and then performed nd recorded it at the end. You can hear it is written for four parts with both an A and a B section. These children have been with us for the five years I have been teaching at Fitzroy North PS so are very used to the idea that they are composers, an idea that myself and fellow teacher Andrew Williamson really believe in and try to teach . It was exciting for me to hear this composition as it justified alot of the philosophy