Small assignment: Melody composition group work
Can you compose melodies by group work? In this assignment, yes you can.
Goal and output
Composing and notating a new melody by group work.
For beginners, possibly learning a new scale and composing a melody using that scale while exploring the tones and moods of the scale.
For somewhat more advanced students, interval practice can be added by asking students to favour a specific interval in shaping the melody.
For advanced students, concepts such as sequence, motif and transposition may be added along with learning new instrument techniques.
A monophonic melody to which counterpoint voices can be added later (individually, in pairs, in small groups or by the whole group) and/or which can be harmonised
- Decide which instrument to use to compose the melody. It does not need to be the same on which the melody is to be performed. The singing voice is an excellent composition tool; this also allows for practising solfège skills.
- Guide the progress of the composing in the group with question:
a) Is there a time signature? If so, what is it? The time signature can be decided later. You may also choose to have the students practise understanding a specific time signature or changing time signatures, in which case you need to specify the time signature(s).
b) Is there a key? If so, what is it? The key can be decided later and does not necessarily need to be specified at all. You may also choose to have the students practise a specific scale, e.g. melodic minor, whole tone scale, acoustic scale or various other modes.
c) On what note does the melody begin? Tonal melodies often begin on the root tone of the tonic triad, but this does not need to be prescriptive. Does the melody begin with an upbeat or on the downbeat?
What is the note value of the first note in the melody?
- From here on, composing the melody usually progresses faster. The next guiding questions could be:
a) Same note or different note?
b) If it is a different note, is it higher or lower?
c) Stepwise motion (to an adjacent note) or a leap? If a leap, how big?
- Have the students continuously look back at what they have come up with so far and what kind of motifs they have used. You may also introduce concepts such as sequence, modulation and motif analysis if appropriate.
- Have the students keep listening throughout the process, i.e. have them sing or play the melody and always make the decisions on where the melody should go based on how it sounds (listening/solfège).
- Continue working together until the melody is finished. Add dynamics and articulations if not yet added.
- TIP: If the assignment is progressing slowly, you may want to go with Option 3 or, after a brief start with the whole group, divide the group into small groups to work on the melody independently.
- Compose the beginning of the melody together and then have students come up with different ways of how to continue it, individually or in pairs.
- Examine and compare the results.
- Transpose the finished melody for performing on various instruments.
Option 3 (usually the fastest way to gain results):
- Draw a melodic arc on the board. Ask the students where the arc begins, how long it stays stable, whether it moves up or down, and draw the arc as you continue the interaction.
- Once the arc is finished, have the students compose the melody as described above but following the arc as a guideline.
Further tasks (once the melody is completed):
- Have the students harmonise the monophonic melody or compose a second voice to accompany it.
- The assignment can be used as a non-tonal exercise focusing on tonal colour.
Topics in the assignment
Detailed description of tools
Board with music staves
It is extremely important for this assignment that the teacher makes no decisions, only asks questions of the group. The melody can only progress according to the answers given by the students.
Keep listening to the end result as the assignment proceeds (even when only one note changes) and have the students play or sing all the alternatives given and then decide which alternative to add to the melody and write it down.
Tip: If progress is slow, it may be because the students are not testing the melody often enough. The melody should be played/sung again every time that a note is added.
Assignment suitable for further study