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Kids As Composers:

Ten Approaches To Composing by Bradley L. Green

Georgia Southern University Reprinted from Georgia Music News

zart as the most famous models, it is no wonder that composing-es- pecially in the general music class, can be sidestepped for something appearing to be a bit more achievable and less time consuming. Even so, music teachers continually discover ways to help stu- dents become composers. They are tearing down the boundaries that can exclude composition from music learners at many levels. These music teachers are achieving the kind of music education Paul Hindemith described as “not a special branch of knowledge... to be taught to those gifted or interested enough” but a “logical outgrowth of a healthy and stable system of education.” The standard perception of the process of composition is also


changing. Over the past two decades, the computer, along with oth- er recently developed tools, has allowed the craft of composition to be both accessible to and understandable by a larger audience. Countless technologies for recording, arranging, notating, and editing music are available for musicians at skill levels ranging from the elementary school child to the professional musician. Free open-source notation, sequencing, and audio editing software such as Noteflight, Musescore, Linux multimedia software, and Audacity, make creating and manipu- lating music inexpensive as well. This article identifies ten approaches to teaching composition in the general music classroom. There are many resources for finding composition activities, and some examples are mentioned here. However, the main purpose is not to present activities so much as it is to point out alternative methods. Have you become stuck in one “go-to” approach to exposing your students to composition? Then read on for alternate ways to bring music creation to your classroom, sparking new musical life into the curriculum. Music creation is arguably the highest order of thinking. It re-

quires synthesis and evaluation of materials. Perhaps the most im- portant thing to remember is to provide a structure, but don’t be too strict about the process.

1. Composition as a way to synthesize and apply musical learning

After students have learned a new musical element, they can compose a piece based on that element as a way to synthesize and ap- ply the new learning. For example, after students learn paired eighth notes, ask them to compose a piece that uses paired eighth notes in different patterns. A sample activity in a first grade classroom learn- ing songs about insects might look like this:


he image of a composer is of the creative type at the up- right piano, pencil in hand, getting just the right sound on manuscript paper. With Beethoven, Bach, and Mo-

a. Ask students to think of an insect word that has one syllable (e.g., fly). Draw the word with a quarter note above it. Then think of an insect word that has two syllables (e.g., spi-der); draw paired eighth notes above it.

b. Ask students to combine the quarter and eighth note words into four beats, and draw one example on the board (e.g., fly, spi-der, spi-der, fly). Ask students to draw three more phrases for a total of four phrases, including both the notation and the words.

c. Let students speak the four measures and transfer the rhythm to unpitched rhythm instruments.

d. Ask the students to evaluate the composition and refine the composition to satisfaction.

2. Composition as a culmination of improvisation At Claxton Elementary in Claxton, GA, Rita Ponder, the mu-

sic teacher, often asks fifth graders to improvise a melody on the recorder with notes they already know: B, A, G, and E. She invites several students to the large staff rug in the middle of the room. The students improvise several variations and patterns of these notes. Af- ter everyone takes their turn at improvising, the students experiment and evaluate the patterns, deciding which ones they like best, and notating them on staff paper.

3. Composition as a basis for the entire curriculum

Teachers can approach composition as the primary tool in their music classes, making it a medium through which all other music concepts and elements ate introduced. Students in these classes com- pose for the duration of the school year, using composition as a tool to explore and apply learning. Programs such as Composers in the Classrooms and the Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project were designed with composition as the primary component.

4. Composition as a tool for group learning Composition is often the product of group work in music class-

rooms. In schools where cooperative learning groups are the norm, composition is a natural fit. Many teachers value cooperative learn- ing for its strengths: peer-teaching and learner-centered instruction. There are three grouping options: composing individually, compos- ing in a group of two to five students, and composing as an entire class. In a group learning environment, the teacher serves as a guide and support.


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