One of my most favorite classroom activities to do is Composition. I just love, after teaching students the basics, watching them go through the creative process. I just love watching them as they realize that they can create a melody that sounds pretty. The smiles that come with this activity are so worth it!
For many years now, whenever I teach a new musical skill to my students, no matter what age they are, I love to reinforce their learning with composition. This means that even after teaching my classes the basics of rhythm – for example only using two different notes such a crotchet (quarter note) and a pair of quavers (eighth notes), I will ask them to compose a simple rhythm. The deal is they must write it down, clap it, rehearse it, perform it to their neighbor, then perform it to the class. The students love it! Especially if you let them use a percussion instrument of some sort to perform. Usually once the class has had their turn of composing and performing, we create a class composition using their rhythms and then perform it using the instruments at hand.
The same process is true when I teach the recorder to my middle school music classes. After each new note, and performing several songs using the new notes, my students will complete a recorder composition worksheet. Depending on the class, and their writing ability, I have two main composition activities for them. The first, and easiest one, is for the students to write a simple melody using only the letter names of the notes that they know.
For example, if we have learnt only the notes – B A G and E, then they will write a melody using those notes. For this melody I ask them to start and finish on a G, and they are to use a total of 8 notes. Then, once they have their instructions, and worksheets, I let the “noise” begin! This is certainly the most difficult part for you as a teacher. You must be prepared for the class to be noisy and give them the chance to explore what makes a pleasing melody. During this part of the I will wander around the room checking the progress of each student. I will ask them to show me what they have written so far, and to play it for me. I will ask them if they like what they have played, if they are happy, then they just have to practice until it is time to perform. Depending on the time available, this might take one or even two lessons to complete.
I find that the best part of this process is when the student has the chance to perform their own melody. The sense of achievement that they feel after completing this activity is priceless. I just love watching their smiles! Sometimes there are tears too, don’t get me wrong! There will always be students who become upset and anxious while trying to perform on their own. But usually, this is the rare event and not the norm.
For other classes that are more capable, I will ask them to plan their composition using only notes, then once they are happy with their final product, I encourage them to write their melody onto the staff. For this activity, and the previous one, I am not worried about timing or rhythm – my main goal is for the student to be able to compose a melody that they are happy with. When completing this type of recorder composition activity, it takes a little longer, and I find that I have to check the student work closely to ensure that they have notated their melody onto the staff properly.
As my students advance, the composition activities get more difficult. For this next stage of composition, which I usually try towards the end of the year, I provide students with a rhythm that they must compose to. This activity takes a few lessons to compete properly. The first thing I teach is the rhythm. I make sure that the students can clap the rhythm. Once the rhythm is secure, I demonstrate the process of composing. Each of the steps is written on the page, but no matter how many times you ask students to read the instructions – they don’t’! I will go over the instructions a couple of times, then it is time to let them “make noise” as I say. This is the most difficult part for me as a teacher to have the noise that is up to 30 recorders going at once – but it is the most necessary part of the creative composition process. You just have to let them have a go. Again, I will always check their progress, giving advice and help as needed. Then, like with the other activities, it is time to perform!
Using the recorder for composition is just as important as teaching to play a song as part of an ensemble or as a soloist. Students will learn more from this activity, working independently, then they will learn from myself as a teacher.
If you would like your students to experience the joy of composing and performing their melodies on the recorder, and you don’t want the hassles of creating your own worksheets, then try the 30 Recorder Composition Activities over at my store. This printable resource will be one that you will use year after year with your classes, just like I have with mine. The composition activities are levelled with different notes to use at each level. There are two different activities for each level from 1-5, then there are 3 different activities for level 6-10, then as a BONUS there are 5 Pentatonic composition activities as well! There will be something there for any class you teach.
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Until next time
Julia from Jooya