I love group composition lessons! Not only are they fun for both student and teacher but they have got me out of some sticky situations. Here are some examples (these things never happen to anybody else – do they??)
- Your school has a new ‘integrated learning’ plan so each subject has to teach the same topic each term
- You have a visiting dignitary who wants to see creativity in the music department (this only ever happens if you have planned a day of quiet sensible lessons)
- There are a bunch of trainee teachers who are coming to watch you teach and you are supposed to look inspiring. (Still?)
- You have to demonstrate how you integrate problem solving, group work and creativity in your curriculum
- Heaven forbid – there is a new national curriculum that has a huge and exciting new emphasis on composition!!
Luckily all of these situations will barely cause you any stress with the good old trusty group composition lesson. I use these lessons all the time – especially for last minute issues or events. I have set them at every year level and ability level by manipulating a few variables.
- Set the topic
This is fun.
- When the head of OXFAM was touring our school my year 9 class created compositions about goats to perform for him. We were supposed to be doing our group performances that day which would have been perfect but half the class were on an excursion so I had to think on my feet! The topic was the class’s idea and they had about 20 minutes. Some were hilarious and one was actually quite poignant. He loved it.
- When the integrated curriculum for that term was about ‘The environment’ we created compositions about composting.
- At the start of one year when I wanted to get the students brains back into it, we created ‘The day in the life of a rubbish bin’.
- My favourite one is still ‘These Cheese Commercial’ (link) as students are happy with their topic but there are no musical implications to cheese at all!
- Assign instruments
This could be anything from anything you can see, to your own instrument, to only using body percussion, only vocal, no words, through to using chairs and paper. It all depends on your learning outcomes, age of students, location, topic and availability.
Tip: The drums go on last, especially if they are using a kit. I usually break the kit up so each group gets a bit as often the group with the drum kit doesn’t achieve much.
- Assign a time limit
This can create some fun as well. I have done these as long as 2 or 3 periods. Most of the time I try around the 30 min mark for the composition. This seems to give a sense of urgency and difficulty while they still have time to hash out ideas and come up with something worthwhile. I have also done 7 minute sprint compositions with seniors. This really stimulates them into action and we did several in the period – we were all exhausted!
- Other variables
These will depend on your learning outcomes for the lesson, the skills the class has been working on and age of your students. They might include – form, style, time signature, key, rhythmic rules (like featuring dotted rhythms or swing feel)
- Put them in groups and send them off
Make sure students know that they are all performing their compositions to the class, preferably on the same day. This avoids key students being away or forgetting their parts. Walk around and supervise and assist where needed. For most groups the hardest part will be starting or trying to get the planning done while others just want to play on the instruments.
Be prepared that the 1st time you try this it will be a bit dodgy. They will get much better at it.
These lessons are creative and fun and remind all of us what music is all about.
Related Resources – Creating New Stuff