From movement expression to graphic notation
Musical invention is play and movement, shapes, textures and outlines that gradually acquire details and transform from a soundscape into a composition.
Goal and output
This exercise may broaden the students' expressive potential and diversify the ways in which they notate music.
A performance on the boundary of sound improvisation and composition, with a determined musical form.
If the group members are shy of one another, various contact and warmup exercises used in drama teaching can prepare the group for working in pairs.
Stage 1: Preparatory movement–sound exercise
• Divide the group into pairs.
• One of the pair is to perform a continuous movement (without sound) – moving arms and body – in front of the other. The other is to play or sing sounds that match the movement.
• Swap roles in each pair.
• This exercise can also be performed in the form of a choir or an orchestra. Have the conductor move and the entire group make sounds matching the movement. The group may be divided into two halves, each with its own conductor.
• You can use only the group version or only the pair version if you so choose.
Stage 2: Notating and performing the movement and sound
Note! You guide progress with your questions, but the students provide the answers.
• Invent graphic figures to match the movements/sounds and draw them on the board, as a group or in mall groups, or on paper if working in pairs.
• Add detail to the texture and to the graphics: add dynamics, character, tempo, pitches and melodic figures, rhythms, tonal colour, harmonies.
• Think about which figures/textures could be superimposed and how the piece should begin.
• Agree on a form for the piece and adapt the score.
• Continue to specify further details; play or sing the music and shape it into a composition with pre-determined agreed features. Lines may turn into melodies, dots into rhythmic figures or random staccato notes within a given harmony, oblique lines into glissandi, boxes into chords or clusters, wavy lines into trills and vibrato, and so on. Think about the moods of the piece and add markings for character, tempo, dynamics and articulation.
• You may divide the group up into small groups or pairs at any point to work on sections of the piece.
• Decide on the instrumentation. Is it tutti all the way through, are there solos or smaller ensembles?
• You may have the group improvise the piece on the basis of the graphic score produced so far and then further refine the piece in the group, in small groups, in pairs or individually. You may divide the piece up into sections for small groups to work on.
• You may also select the 1 to 3 most inspiring graphic figures and create a composition based on them.
• Bring everything together and analyse the piece as a whole.
Topics in the assignment
Detailed description of tools
A large room with room to spread out, a large board and (coloured) markers.
Introducing the students to graphic notation helps them write down notes about the piece without having to determine details right at the beginning (pitches and note values).
This exercise can be useful for young students who find musical notation slow to write down or too difficult, but also for advanced students who like to write field-like structures or musical shapes with undefined details, or who use extended tonal colour where detailed notation is irrelevant or is a stage arrived at later in the process.
After this exercise, the group may even discover inspiring musical shapes in, say, a weather map!
The preparatory movement–sound exercise is a good warmup for many composition assignments where graphic notation is used. It is derived from the 'Luovat muusikontaidot' (Creative musicianship skills) course taught by Riitta Tikkanen and Elina Stirkkinen at the Sibelius Academy of Uniarts Helsinki, and it has been used on many composition pedagogy courses (including ITU and Kuule minä sävellän! - 'Hear this, I´m a composer!').
See also the assignments 24. Movement–sound and 15. Graphic notation: introduction.
Examples of graphic notation to read and to listen to:
John Cage: TV Köln (1958)
Iannis Xenakis: Pithoprakta (1955-56)
György Ligeti: Artikulation (1958) and the visual study score prepared by Reiner Wehinger
Assignment suitable for further study