We all know how important it is to teach students how to compose their own music, but it can be very intimidating and difficult to teach! Today we have lots of ideas and resources to make composition easy for any age!

 

Lower Elementary

With lower elementary the key is to keep it simple, and keep it fun! Keep compositions short- limit them to 1 or 2 measures- and keep their options limited so they aren’t overwhelmed. Keep it fun by using seasonal themes for inspiration, like using candy names as rhythms around Halloween, or using manipulatives like mini erasers, legos, or cutout shapes as iconic notation! You can read more tips for teaching composition in lower elementary grades in this post from Organized Chaos, and read on for more tips from other crew members!

  1. An easy way for lower elementary students to compose is to have them start by composing their own vocal explorations. You can do this with pencil and paper or by having them draw on an interactive whiteboard and have the rest of the class sing their composition when they’re finished. It’s quick, easy, and students feel successful! – Jennifer Hibbard from The Yellow Brick Road
  2. Start small. Start only with rhythm, or only with melody. If you try to add too many elements, the kids will get confused. – Melissa Stouffer from Mrs. Stouffer’s Music Room

Check out these resources for lower elementary composition:

Composing Cards for Voice or pitched percussion (freebie)    Music Chef    Shape Composing for Young Musicians {Ta TiTi} {Steady Beat}

Upper Elementary

For upper elementary, focusing on specific musical elements is key! Whether it’s rhythm, pitch, tonality, or something else, narrow their focus to the one element you want them to practice using, and have them create with just that one. If you want students to create a larger piece, start with one element and gradually add to it over time, or work together as a class or in small groups. Here are more ideas for teaching composition to upper elementary students:

  1. A great starting place for rhythmic composition is language. Pick a theme, and start rattling off items. Find the rhythms of the words, then write it out and perform. – Chrissy Hutzel from Hutzel House of Music
  2. When you compose a song there are 5 things you need to compose a song. Choose your Time Signature, Notes, Dynamics, Style Words, decide flats & sharps (or Key Signature). Depending on the grade I am teaching I may say – decide what scale you want to use. Teach students to change the musical elements to match different genres. – Darlene Abbott from The Music Mom
  3. Create a chant as a class before composing individually. More information in this post! – Jane Marsilio from SillyOMusic
  4. Have a framework for your composition, such as a pentatonic scale kids already know and limit it to a few notes the first time. Then add words. – Linda Seamons from Floating Down the River
  5. Have a rubric or specific things you want them to do and stay focused on that. If you are focusing on rhythms, try to ignore if the pitches don’t make sense. If you are looking for them to demonstrate pentatonic understanding, don’t get upset if the rhythms don’t match the lyrics. Having concrete objectives will keep your subjective opinion out if grading. – Melissa Angstadt from Musical Interactions

Check out these resources for upper elementary composition:

Basket Full of Beats: Food Rhythm Composition ~ Music Centers Stations    I Am Kind Music Composition Project    Rhythm & Speech Composition Activities with Bulletin Board - Thanksgiving

Secondary

Composition is an excellent way to engage middle and high school students because it gives them opportunities for self expression. Give them plenty of ways to build in musical elements, but also give each composition meaning and context, whether it’s creating a jingle for a new product, or writing a soundtrack for a movie. You can see more tips and ideas for teaching composition to secondary students in this post from Organized Chaos, and read below for more tips from the crew!

  1. The best melodies are those that move mainly stepwise. The occasional leap can be used to create interest. Try to include a sequence in your melody. They help create a flowing and musically interesting melodic line. – Kim Maloney from Music Teacher Resources
  2. The most meaningful composition lessons for middle and high school students are ones that focus on communicating a particular message, whether it’s conveying a feeling, putting poetry to music, or creating music for a specific purpose like a commercial jingle or movie soundtrack. – Elizabeth Caldwell from Organized Chaos

Check out these resources for secondary composition:

Music Composition: A Step by Step Approach to Melody Writing    Movie Music Composition Project    Video Game Music Composition Project

I hope you found some fresh inspiration and helpful resources to make teaching composition easier and more fun for you and your students! And if you have any questions for me, you are welcome to contact me and I’ll be happy to chat- you can find all of my social media links on my blog, or you can email me at [email protected] .

Elizabeth Caldwell
Organized Chaos

Elizabeth Caldwell

Elizabeth Caldwell is the creator behind Organized Chaos. Her passion is to give music teachers the freedom to embrace the chaos of creativity through purposeful organization and simple ideas. Her primary focuses are curriculum development, world music, composition, and character development in the elementary music setting.

                       

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