One of my goals for this summer’s lessons is to have my students do more composing. There was a really interesting article on the ComposeCreate blog last month that inspired me to incorporate more writing into my lessons. In a nutshell, the author suggested that writing music is great training for reading music – especially for students who struggle with notereading. (If you haven’t already seen it, it’s definitely worth a read.)
So, anxious to test this idea out, I’ve been hinting to my students that they’re going to have a chance to be composers this summer. I’ve even tried out a bit of writing with some younger students as we’ve had a few extra minutes here and there in lessons. I’ve been rather surprised to discover the following two things:
1) I was expecting students to be excited about the chance to do something different this summer, but many of my students seemed intimidated by the thought of composing. Even some of the ones who constantly “doodle” out melodies and patterns weren’t sure about putting them on paper.
2) Some younger kids REALLY struggled at writing a pattern of notes on the staff. I had one who couldn’t even decipher his own notes when I asked him to play back a line he had written.
Hello, big red flags!!! Somewhere between all of the repertoire, technique, ear training, rhythm, sightreading and theory we’ve been doing this year, we apparently needed to fit in more writing and creating. Thankfully, the almost-here summer term is going to give me an opportunity to make up a little lost ground.
Rather than just assign students to start working on a composition from scratch, I made up several of these Composer’s Challenge worksheets to ease us into writing:
There’s a space in the middle of the staves for students to write out the rhythm of a familiar song. (The new tub of LEGOs in my studio has been a hit with my students, so I’m planning to use those to dictate the rhythm, then have them copy it onto the sheet.)
Next, students get to compose a new melody for the song, using the rhythms they just wrote. I intentionally didn’t include instructions on the sheets so that I could use them in different ways with different students. I plan to have younger students write melodies that use both their left and right hands. Older students will write a treble melody, then eventually add an accompaniment (tonic/dominant, I, IV and V7 chords, etc.).
There are 4 sheets available for download on my studio site. The Song That Never Ends and B-I-N-G-O don’t use any eighth note rhythms; Michael Finnegan and Camp Grenada use paired eighths.