Composing with students is one of my favourite lesson activities. To start with I found the idea quite intimidating as I had no experience with composing, but I’ve worked out a method that makes it really simple.
If you’d like to give it a go but don’t know where to start, then just follow these six easy steps!
Step One: Choose a Song & Analyse the Structure
First find an example of a well known song to use as inspiration for the structure. Here are some good options (click on the links below to download a copy of each song):
Next go through the song with your student and find the repeating measures. Use coloured pens or washi tape (my personal favourite!) to identify the different sections. For example Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star has two different sections: the first is made up of four measures, and the second is made up of two measures. Once you’ve marked these different sections the song will end up looking something like this:
Your student’s composition will follow the same structure.
Step Two: Explore Rhythm Options
Now that you know how many different measures to compose, it’s time to decide on the rhythm for each one. Hand over some rhythm flash cards and get your student to choose which ones they’d like to use in their song.
Click on the links below to download some rhythm flash cards to use with your students:
On a blank sheet of paper write down the rhythm for each measure in the different sections. Remember to leave some room for writing underneath each line.
Step Three: Choose the Notes
The next step is to decide on a key signature (I recommend C Major to keep things easy!) and let your student experiment with different notes. Once they come up with a melody they like they can write the note names under the matching note values.
Once each measure has been completed arrange the sections in the same order as the original song.
Step Four: Preview the New Song
It’s time to bring everything together and play the new piece from start to finish (for beginner students it can be helpful to play it for them first). This is a good time to make any changes, especially to the ending which may sound incomplete if it doesn’t end on the tonic.
Step Five: Name the Song & Write it Down
Now the song is complete and it’s time for the student to think of a name, and notate the finished song. I like to use the free staff paper available at Color In My Piano, or the free composition book from Piano Pronto.
Naming and notating the song can take a bit of time, so I often ask my students to finish this task at home before their next lesson.