Composing with words

Asking a pupil to come up with a rhythm or a melody can be very intimidating. They have complex musical ideas swimming in their heads yet they might not possess the technical or notational capabilities to share these ideas with others. For me, the biggest hurdle in composing is getting the ideas and sharing them with others.

I start with words. I found the following activity useful for getting a class generating small ideas and to then experiment when them to explore what composing can be:

1. Play word association: then when students say a word they particularly like they should make a note of it. They could then add additional words before this.

2. Pupils can repeat their group of words as a pattern; explore removing elements or changing the way they say it. We’re now introducing the use of rests and dynamics/timbre. If the pupils are in different groups, then different groups can do different things so we’re now experimenting with texture.

3. Move to clapping the rhythm of their words. This will be immediately more interesting than a rhythm of crotchets and quavers that might have been created if that had been the starting point. Pupils can then experiment with layering up their different rhythms.

4. Add pitch – melody – by having pupils play or sing their rhythms on one note. Maybe join the individual rhythms together to make longer rhythms? Maybe add additional pitches to make the line even more melodic.

5. Reduce the number of rhythms even further by combining all rhythms in one group to make one long line. The group can have a few pitches and decide when to use them. Different groups could use different sets of pitches to create harmony when performing the groups lines at the same time.

A difficult activity to explain…! But one that can’t be written down really but should be progressed by the teacher on an individual basis. Every class is different. But starting with words and progressing towards pitches speeds up the composing process for less experienced composers, and it gives a sense of what composing is: experimenting with sounds and how they can be combined.

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