A few weeks ago I mentioned a composition technique I tried with my beginning instrumental music students called a “snowball fight.” It’s commonly used in more academic classes, but was the perfect fit for music writing as well! Yes, I realize it’s the end of May and almost summer vacation, but this is a great time to try it! If you’re interested, here’s what Discovery Education says about it – SOS: Snowball Fight.
The basic idea of a snowball fight is that students are creating something together. Multiple students contribute to the final product. This allows individuals to focus on small parts, rather than a larger whole. For my snowball composition project, I wanted students to focus on writing melodies using the first five notes they have learned to play on their instruments. Students used quarter note and eighth note patterns, as we have been working on in class.
When I passed out the manuscript paper, students were first instructed to draw the appropriate clef on their papers. I then told them to write a four-beat melody and play it on their instruments. Some students wrote very simplistic melodies, using only quarter notes and stepwise motion, while others were more adventurous using complex rhythms, skips and leaps. This was fine with me. The point was for students to write a short melody; the complexity did not matter. Once students could play their melodies, I had several volunteers perform for the class. I think it’s important that students can play what they write!
Then things got interesting. I instructed students to come to the front of the room with their papers and spread it out. I told them to crumple their papers into a loose ball. You would have thought I suggested we start a bonfire in the middle of the classroom! The kids were shocked! But, they complied. Once the papers were crumpled, we had a snowball fight! They were so excited. I counted to three and students threw their snowballs across the room, found another snowball, and took it back to their seats. The students then needed to add four more beats to the existing melody, creating a two measure composition. Once again they had to play their work, and I encouraged several volunteers to share with the class. We repeated this process two more times, so the students ended up with a four measure composition they could play.
I could have easily had each student write a four-measure melody and left it at that. The students would have done fine with it. I like this technique though because it made the students focus on a small portion of the melody at a time, making it less cumbersome and easier to manage. I also liked how the students had to think about what was already on the page before adding their measure. Many did a great job thinking about continuity throughout the piece. In addition, on the fourth rotation we could talk about song endings, and what makes a melody sound complete. Having students play the melody after each step also helped. Many wanted to play what was written prior to adding their measure. I encouraged it.
This is not a technique I will use every week, it’s something we may do once or twice a year. It’s definitely worth considering if you want to have students work on any kind of compositional techniques, be it writing with specific notes or rhythms, or even expressive elements. The sky is the limit. Music composition should be fun, allow your students to enjoy it!
Looking for other ideas for having students create music? Check out these posts:
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