Priming Activities and Inquiry for Guiding Composing Experiences in Gen Music

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    My preservice teachers and I just completed a 4-day interdisciplinary project in creative writing – program composition in music and creative writing in Haiku poetry. I was once again struck with the usefulness of priming experiences to build context for the upcoming creative problem solving – especially those that include musical examples – and the usefulness of having a prepared list of questions for engaging young students’ thinking for composing, and that can also serve as foundational context and stimulus for composing. There are many ways to engage students in composing. In this particular fieldwork program for general music that is offered area schools each spring, the goals and learning outcomes include:
    Goals (Guderian, 2011) Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning: Creative Writing and Composing
    1. Introduce children to world famous programmatic compositions by deceased and living composers
    2. Development of perceptual listening skills and response to music
    3. Development of the conceptual idea that humans express themselves through various symbols systems
    4. Development of skills and understanding in creative writing and composing
    5. Development of cooperative learning skills
    6. Development of instrument playing skills, rhythmic skills for timed response and ensemble performance skills
    7. Development of independent learning skills
    8. Development of skills for nontraditional notation of music

    Student Learning Outcomes SLOs
    • Students engage in a teaching and learning experience that results in the creation of two contrasting Haiku poems and an original programmatic music composition
    • Students will respond to music during guided listening experiences
    • Students will demonstrate ability to perceive musical events during guided listening experiences
    • Students will demonstrate understandings in meaning making through artistic symbol systems and forms via the creation of original Haiku poetry and program music compositions
    • Students will demonstrate understanding of form in music via the creation of compositions in various formal structures: ABA, AABB, etc.
    • In small groups, students will demonstrate ability to play instruments and perform their compositions

    Essential Question: How do individuals express ideas through various artistic forms and symbol systems?

    Capstone Lesson (sharing performance): Students will finish the assigned tasks, practice their pieces and have them ready for the “sharing performance”

    For the composing portion of this teaching and learning experience between preservice teachers and 5th graders, priming experiences began with the lead teacher (in this case, the university professor) asking questions regarding symbol systems and as aligned with listening examples/experiences surrounding works based on nature themes such as Beethoven’s 6th, movement 4; Enya’s “Storms out of Africa”; and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, movement 3, Summer. The examples helped to nurture students’ understandings in how music can be created to represent ideas from outside of music. To guide students’ listening experience, questions such as “What is it about this music that makes us associate it with a storm?” “Can you listen for the thunder in the music?” “How did Beethoven use instruments, dynamics, and high and low pitch so that we were able to hear thunder in the music” and many additional questions served as context building and a point of departure for the creative work at hand.

    Preservice teachers served as facilitators in small groups of 5th graders. Each group created Haiku poems and program music to express the poetry. As in the whole group priming activities, preservice teachers facilitated the creative process by having ready a prepared list of questions. The lists served as a framework and useful guide in the young students’ creative process during the creative writing and composing. The questions are to be implemented in a flexible way according to the ideas that are generated in the group and to timing during the process as needed. For the composing process, questions included:

    1. Shall we go over and explore the instrument sounds to see what might be interesting choices to show ideas in our composition?
    2. What instruments might be good choices to express the sounds of your ideas?
    3. Can you draw a picture in the air as to how the idea or sound of the idea might look? For example, could you use your body to show what lightening looks like? How might you show that same idea, or shape of the idea using instruments or sounds?
    4. How long do you want the sound or part to last? What level of loud or soft do you want this part to be? How can you show that in the score?
    5. Do you want to express the idea with one instrument sound or additional instrument sounds? Will one person play a part or more than one play a part at the same time?
    6. Will you use the chart to notate your work or will you notate it in some other way? How will you notate it on the chart?
    7. Will this help you to remember your piece so you can perform it for the class?
    8. How will you show others how to play your piece?
    9. How can we write it down on the chart?
    10. What would your piece sound like if you added an introduction or a bridge between the two Haiku ideas? A coda?
    When you have composed your piece, practice it and try to determine the form or decide on a form and compose the piece to represent that form.
    11. If you finish early, you may want to explore the idea of making the piece longer or of extending the form. Or, you may want to consider creating a new piece with a subject other than nature.
    Some students will need very few questions to guide their learning process and others will need direction and organization for either the sound-making process and working out of ideas (composing) or for the organizing of the group score writing and practice in preparation of a sharing performance with their classmates.

    Interplay and synthesis of understanding are possible during guided learning experiences and applied creative problem solving. As teachers, the questions we ask can help our students to both discover and add to conceptual knowledge and understandings that are necessary for ongoing levels of understanding in responding to music and in making and creating music.

    Guderian, L.V. (2011). Music in the elementary classroom, K-6. Lake Zurich, Illinois: LoVeeG Publishing.

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