Music composition is a wonderful way to introduce young students to music. It can open avenues of creativity, confidence, analysis, and self-reflection. It involves proportional reasoning, attendance to precision, and critical-thinking skills, among other important capacities.
In the 7th Grade arts rotation on the Upper Campus, Mr. Michael Davis not only wants his students to learn how to read music, understand basic rhythms, and experience playing various instruments, he also wants them to see how the creation of music works.
The class begins by looking at music composition through nontraditional scoring called graphic notation. The students study the Polymorhphia by Krysztof Penderecki and Music for Airports by Brian Eno, both compositions featuring nontraditional musical notation. Students analyze how the composers could express their thoughts through shapes and alternate symbols versus traditional musical notation. They then create their own graphic notation composition, culminating in practice and performance for the class.
After experiencing music composition through graphic notation, the focus of the class turns to traditional musical notation and an analysis of the pentatonic scale. This scale is one of the oldest recorded musical scales. The written history of its understanding can be dated back to Pythagoras, roughly 2,500 years ago. Furthermore, ancient instruments such as bone flutes dating back 40,000 years were tuned to the pentatonic scale.
The students choose to either use a major pentatonic scale or a minor pentatonic scale. They compose a short four-measure melody in 4/4 time that they can experiment with, finding their voice through the scale. Upon completion of their four-measure melody, Mr. Davis helps students input their music into Garage Band. From here, students may choose some rhythmic patterns to accompany their melody. They also choose instruments to play for rhythmic accompaniment.
Through this project, students learn about scales, notation, note lengths, and measures, all of which are necessary to understand how to compose music using traditional music notation. Mr. Davis is very confident in the young musicians he has been working with so far and is looking forward to inspiring more students this year.
Click here to hear some of the students' compositions.
Sierra Canyon School is a private, independent, non-sectarian, co-educational, college preparatory school for students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through 12 located in Chatsworth, California. The highly cosmopolitan campus community is reflective of the Greater Los Angeles area and the world at large. Students are empowered to realize their greatest creative, ethical, intellectual and physical promise through small class sizes, a diverse student-teacher culture and a family-like environment.