First Steps into Composition
One of the main problems with composition is this pre-set idea that in order to compose you must be an advance musician or some sort of super creative type. Or that in order to write music you need a muse and be inspired by something … well inspiring.
But composition and teaching composition doesn’t need to start complicated, and indeed it can be included in lessons from a very early stage.
Composing is just slow improvisation – and students of all ages and ability levels usually enjoy making music up.
Where to Start
Creative composition can be quite a freeing exercise. Use a great picture of a story idea and just encourage students to make sounds and noises to represent what that picture means to them.
So for example if you have a picture of a stormy landscape:
Students might start with slow rain dripping noises, then build it up louder and faster to represent the rain. Then loud and crashing for thunder, with lightning flashes… for it to all quieten down and go back to the gentle rain drops again.
Writing it Down
You might remember he Begin with the Blues post I made and teaching composition can start in a very similar place.
Language is all around us and is something that students can relate to. So by using language as a basis for rhythms it makes writing melodies a lot more accessible.
Starting with a title is perfect as your students know what they’re describing.
Encourage students to start by writing a question down (this gets them to already write in even phrases) and then to write down the rhythm that goes with that small sentence. By saying the words out loud and clapping they will also be recognising the relationship between crotchet and quavers. (It’s quite helpful if you try and ensure that their sentence contains some easy words otherwise you’ll have some difficult rhythms to write down!)
It might be something as simple as:
What will you have for your tea today?
Once they have the rhythm for the first question, then all they need to do then is write an answer to that question. This also then gets their melody writing to not only be focused on working in phrases, but it starts them thinking how melodies work together and should also ensure that they end up the same length. I like to think about melodies about being organic, so the melody rows from the first phrase.
So you might end up with:
What will you have for your tea today? I’m having sausage and chips
When they have a sentence and the rhythms written down then it’s just giving them a series of notes to experiment.
As with teaching improvisation it’s often easier to start with fewer notes so they can write something that to them ‘makes sense’ rather than having too many notes to choose from.
Pentatonic scales are a brilliant resource for this – but any sequence of notes you fancy would work.
Encouraging students to start on the first note of the scale or sequence and ending on the same note at the end of the song also helps students find a melody that they find satisfactory.