Teaching Music Composition
Teaching Music composition to your upper elementary and middle school music students can sometimes be really hard. Composing in the classroom is often a difficult activity for students to do. They struggle with the theoretical side of things, and if you give them too much choice, they often give up. I have found, from years of experience, that when you scaffold the composition lesson activity, students find success and are happy to try again in the future.
The best way to develop skills as both a young performer and composer, is through guided composition lessons. When students are given a chance to use their new found knowledge of reading and performing new rhythms, they love to show their creativity in composing using those same rhythms.
Try the following steps below to help you students compose
Teach the Rhythms
The best way for students to experience success is to firstly teach the rhythms that they will be using in their compositions. Try using a variety of percussion instruments to perform the rhythms and ensure that every student can perform them.
Give the students some choice
This can be the fun part! Let your students choose who they want to work with, and on what instruments they will compose on. If you let your students have some choice, they will be more engaged in the composition activity. Of course, you know your students best, and you will need to set some ground rules and limits on what they can use, and how long they will be working on the activity!
Use Formative Assessment
During composition lessons, try using some different strategies to check in on their progress. The “thumbs up or thumbs down” strategy is tried and true method for checking in how students are progressing. At a given point in the lesson, have your students show you how their progress is going – a “thumbs up” means they are going well, a “thumbs down” means they need help and are not making progress in the lesson. This simple strategy lets you know as a teacher, who needs the help most, and you can target those groups to help them with their compositions.
At the end of every composition lesson, try getting your students to perform what they have created. Let your students know that you are not expecting perfection, but you are expecting them to try, and it is OK to fail. If you let students know that fail stands for – First Attempt In Learning, they will often have the courage to show you and the class their progress. This is also a great time to give feedback on their compositions. You can choose to give the feedback yourself, or even try training your students to do this using the following strategy-
- First statement in the feedback should tell them something positive, “I like how you have used those instruments in the composition”, or, “You have all kept in time together”, or, “It is great how your group has experimented with different rhythms”
- Second statement should be about something they need to fix. “A great effort, but you are not all in time together”, or, “I think one of your rhythms is not being performed quite right”, or, “Are you all performing the same time signature?”
- The last statement should focus on how to improve – “Try having someone count you all in” or, “Maybe try these rhythms and make it a little simpler”, or, “It might sound better if you try performing on this instrument instead”.
The feedback would sound something like:
I like the choice of instruments you have chosen in your ensemble. You have some great ideas, but your timing as a group is not quite right. Can I suggest that you have a leader to count you all in so that you stay in time together next time.
Once your students have had the chance to create and perfect their own compositions, the fun begins. Your students will love the chance to have their time in the spotlight while performing their own compositions. Make sure you set your audience ground rules before the final performances – no one is to call out, clap appropriately at the end, show encouragement and enthusiasm to each other, and most of all, enjoy the experience. Try videoing the performances of the compositions so the students can watch themselves, they will love that part!
If you want to try composing with your students, check out the following Composition Worksheet Bundles by clicking the links below
Until next time
Julia from Jooya