It’s no big deal – Improvising & Composing in the Everyday Music Lesson

It’s no big deal – Improvising & Composing in the Everyday Music Lesson

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Improvising and Composing are NOT Scary!

As a teacher I often avoid the things that I think I am not good at e.g. improvising and composing. Of course I CAN improvise and compose but I am not comfortable improvising and composing.

Does this mean I shouldn’t teach my students how to improvise and compose? Of course not!

The best way to think of these two, closely linked but still unique, activities is as another teaching tool like all the others we use in our classrooms (solfege, rhythm names, tone ladders, instruments etc). The only thing to consider before attempting any of these tasks is that they are both LATE practice activities for any concept i.e. students must know the elements they are improvising or composing with extremely well or the activity may be a disaster for all!

So here are some things to think about when creating improvising and composing activities for your students.

Improvising and Composing are:

  • are more practice more tools to use (like solfa, rhythm names, reading, writing etc)
  • should be fun (for the teacher as well)
  • area great to use for late practice of anything and everything
  • are a great way to include technology (such as Sibelius etc) in your lessons without the actual technology being the focus
  • are great for formative assessment
  • can (occasionally) be used as formal (and of course informal) assessment if required

To create successful improvising and composing activities in your classroom:

  • give VERY clear guidance or set parameters
  • use scaffolding – both in the teaching of the task and the task itself
  • consider having some choices or options on the board for the less confident students to use if necessary
  • if doing rhythmic improvisation or composition consider having the rhythm set (all rhythms they know or can use) on the board
  • if doing melodic improvisation or composition consider having the tone set (as a tone ladder or on the staff) on the boardDepositphotos_4397068_original

Easy ideas to begin with:

  • Repeat welcome as class starts e.g. Teacher sings “How is Jason?” using only so and mi. Student replies “Very well thank you” using only so and mi.
  • Creating/altering text/lyrics.
  • Students point to notes on a tone ladder or a staff to create a melody
  • Use given fragments (such as flashcards) to create a rhythm/melody. Once comfortable, create own fragment to add in (then more as confidence grows).
  • Create only a few beats of rhythm e.g. rhythmic snake games and rondo rhythms
  • Create a short rhythmic ostinato (based on the song itself).

Ramping up the difficulty a little:

  • Create only a few beats of melody e.g. melodic snake games and rondo melodies
  • Create a short melodic ostinato (based on the song itself).
  • Alter a known song – e.g. change the rhythm and/or melody of the ending, change only one aspect and keep the rest, e.g. change the melody but use the same rhythm, words, tone set etc
  • Rhythmic augmentation and diminution
  • Question and answer/ call and response /Rondo form
  • Create examples for class to echo clap/sing
  • Add a rhythmic accompaniment

Advanced activities:

  • Create sequences for singing and practicing scales
  • Adding a bassline
  • Adding chromaticism to known songs
  • Compose an interval line – great way to reinforce various tonalities and their interval patterns
  • Major/minor transformation (or even modal)
  • Improvise over a given set of chords
  • Create canons by improvising using chord notes, passing and auxillary notes only

One task for many students:

Improvising and composing tasks are very easy to set for students at various different levels of ability. A task can be made easier by asking for a shorter improvisation or composition, giving some of the task already completed for them to finish or by limiting the elements allowed to be included.

In the same way a task can be made more difficult by extending the length of the task, adding more elements, adding a second part etc.

As usual there are heaps of ideas in my Level 1 and Level 2 Teacher books.

Other ideas:

My Songfile Newsletter

Choksy, L The Kodaly Method. Published by Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

Johnson, J Practise Makes Perfect. Published by Clayfield School of Music, Brisbane.




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