9 National Standards, 1 Composition Project

Not only can you teach composition, you can incorporate all the National Standards at the same time. Preservice teachers developed a 12-week composition project, and here’s what students did:

Weeks 1–3

  • Listened to songs of the Adirondack Mountains in New York and by Adirondack composers.
  • Analyzed and described the music (Standard 6), developing a list of its musical elements (stepwise motion, duple or triple meter, repeated sections, instrumental interludes between sections, and the use of folk instruments).
  • Sang many of the songs (Standard 1).
  • Completed rhythm activities to prepare for use while composing.
  • Learned to play traditional folk instruments (spoons, washboards, and jugs) in the Adirondack style (Standard 2).
  • Improvised simple thythmic and melodic patterns on Orff instruments (Standard 3). Patterns were normally 8 beats long and used stepwise motion.
  • Improvised short rhythm ostinati on spoons, washboards, and jugs.
  • Composed a setting for the poem “How it Starts” by Roger Mitchell, with his permission and help (Standard 8).

Adirondack Museum representatives presented a program, “Work in the Woods: Logging in the Adirondacks,” with logging artifacts, tools, and large photographs (Standard 9).

Weeks 4–10

Working in pairs, students composed music for the poem (2 lines for each pair) and 4 measures of instrumental interlude (Standard 4). The parameters were

  • Use quarter and eighth notes and stepwise motion.
  • Use the improvised rhythms and melodies, and develop and revise them with Orff instruments.
  • Evaluate the music and make sure it adheres to the characteristics of Adirondack music (Standard 7).
  • Notate the music, first in a system of the pair’s choice, later with traditional notation, and lastly with notation software (Standard 5).

The pairs’ compositions were combined into a single class composition, “How It Starts: An Adirondack Song.”

Weeks 11–12

For their performance, students

  • Rehearsed their composition and performed it with Orff instruments at the Winter Concert (Standards 1 and 2).
  • Read their combined music notation (Standard 5).
  • Evaluated their performance (Standard 7).

This project was taught to sixth-grade general music students, who met twice each week for half-hour lessons.

Other ideas for themes

  • A geographic region (e.g., Ozarks or Appalachia)
  • Multicultural music based on the family heritages of the class
  • Topics being studied in students’ social studies class
  • History and music of local communities
  • Music of specific composer, genre, or historic era.

This article was condensed from an article of the same name by Patricia Riley in Teaching Music, February 2006, p. 24.


–Linda C. Brown, June 17, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)