Stephanie Lewis - Music & Education Talks expert

Composition for Music Teachers

Tips to organize your music teaching

In this new video aimed at music teachers, Stephanie gives useful tips to organize your own teaching composition by introducing the concept of "integrated themed programming."

Released on March 6, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. It's Stephanie and Virtual Sheet Music. This is the last in a series of videos that has looked at how one can offer a balanced musical diet in the course of an academic year for all age groups and using intelligent themes as a means of contextualizing work undertaken. So if you haven't seen my previous videos on theory, listening discussion, and performance, then I'd go back, not least of all because I've left some downloadable materials that hopefully you might be able to use in your own teaching realities.

Today's video looks at the use of composition for all ages, with the possible exception of the under-5s, where obviously in a class of 25 the average 30-minute lesson tends to come in at around 15, 20 minutes for all number of reasons, including crying, sickness, toilet issues, and any other human condition that conceivably springs to mind. So excluding that age group, let's go on to composition, which as far as I'm concerned should only be done once a year with non-elective music classes, and it has to link up to performance, listening discussion, and the theoretical aspects of music, so that it is undertaken in a controlled and contextual way. And by the way, I'd like to highlight something that, for me, is a total no-no within composition, getting students to invent their own way of representing sound. This is simply nuts for beginner and average students, who should be applying standardized notation whenever the opportunity presents itself. There is time enough for students to start experimenting and developing new notation when they're at an advanced level, but until they have a solid musical foundation, it makes little sense to do stuff à la Maxwell Davies. You know, it's a bit like inventing another alphabet. Creative in itself, true, but slightly pointless if you've not yet mastered standardized lettering and punctuation.

So back to composition and to the theme that I've been using throughout this related set of videos, humor. Now, you remember how I used the symphony scherzo as a means of linking the theme with music, and how I suggested this as a springboard for introducing the standard four movement form of the symphony. Well, for young students, we could take Haydn's Clock symphony, and use that as a starting point for classroom instrumental compositions based around the idea of clocks, time. You know, get them into four, five groups, each with the different types of clock, the sundial is an interesting one for example, and use this as a means for independent group work, where students are able to write down choice order of instruments, the hows and whos of playing and so on. You know it'll be noisy, and I wouldn't dedicate an entire lesson to the one activity, both for your sake and theirs, maybe three or four half lessons. But it gives students the responsibility of musical decision making, which all things considered is quite tricky. Performance of course comes into the act, as each group would need to prepare a performance for the rest of the class, and even here to make sure the non-performing students are attentive, agreeing on two or three criteria to mark the performance composition would be a good way to keep everyone attentive, not to mention establish bench levels generally. Now composition task for the advanced students, this is obviously much easier, as pupils have a good grasp of musical concepts, a certain ability at analysis and supporting communicative language.

Linking onto humor could be as easy as taking a humorous text. Let's take Lehrer's "A Christmas Carol" that I referred to in a previous video, and use this as the base for a different song. Naturally, the connection between music word rhythm would need to be reviewed, as well as other aspects such as scales, the hierarchy of their degrees, and eventually harmonic and cadential patterns, same old. For average students with a little bit of music under their belts, here's an idea using the laugh-out-loud Cancan theme as a starting point. Strip off the notes, give students the rhythm, and stipulating the key together with a starting and ending note, get students to work in pairs on the keyboard. Naturally, a composition, once completed, should be practiced up and performed for the rest of the class, again, ideally with some kind of criteria so students can grade their own composition performance and that of their fellow classmates.

Now, the examples already used demonstrate three different ability age groups, and they do show how fundamental composition is at drawing together performance, listening discussion, and theory. In itself, it proves the basis of these videos, i.e., that the integration of performing, listening discussion, composition, and theory is essential for a contextual understanding of music generally. It also inadvertently means that all aspects of the rounded musician are touched, revised, and expanded upon. As teachers, isn't that what we really want?

Below, you'll find two examples of integrated themed programming for beginner, medium, and advanced level:

The themes, learning objectives, time needed, and pupil activities have been clearly indicated, together with resources, either referred to or attached as separate documents. Assessment is also highlighted, though I've not indicated criteria for marking, maybe this should be in another video. In the meantime, I hope you found some, all, of what I've been talking about useful and that the downloadable materials can be integrated in some way into your own teaching. In the meantime, please do get in touch to share some of your own experiences, and I'll see you in the next video. Bye.
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