Here’s another composition group class idea, adapted from a composer’s seminar we had at Hartt with composer Michael Colgrass.

Activity B: Group Composition #1

Time: 20 minutes

Specific materials: a white or chalk board large enough for everyone to see and draw on.

Explain that composers oftentimes like to plan out pieces with drawings and words, and then write the music.  Add that this process is what we’re going to be doing.  We’re going to make a piece with drawings and words, and then play it  back with our voices.

Show them the board, and tell them that we’re going to make the piece on the board.  Remind them that we write from left to right, and read music from left to right.  So, which direction do we go on the board [ask them]? Left to right, of course.

Tell them that we’ll place events on the board, which can be a drawing, a shape, a word, a phrase, a note, whatever they want.  These events will be the piece, and we’ll make sounds with our voices to represent the events on the board.

Establish the guidelines: anything that happens up or down from another thing happens at the same time as the other thing, and anything that happens to the left happens before, and to the right happens after.  If more than one thing is in the same spot up or down, then the participants choose which event they personally vocalize.

Have them take turns placing one event per person, one at a time.

When the board is complete, have them pick out the key parts to the piece, the events that are most important to it.  Have them look at the form of the piece through event density, quality of event, dynamics (if applicable), etc.

Tell them that we’re going to vocalize the piece as I walk across the board.  Use a yardstick as a playhead and demonstrate what will happen.

“Play back” the piece (with vocalizations) at different tempos.  Discuss with the kids how these different tempi affect the feel of the piece.

Tell them that even though they didn’t write on a staff, they made a piece.  Ask them if they think there are other ways to make music besides playing what’s on 5 staff lines (aka. conventional notation).