Small assignment: Throw-the-dice composition
An exercise that is completely random, inventive and great fun: creating music by throwing dice! This assignment has become a hit among students of many ages.
Goal and output
Introducing an aleatoric composition technique in a fun way. May include an introduction to concepts in composition technique (inversion, retroversion, augmentation, diminution, transposition).
Depending on the approach, this assignment may include teaching new things about scales, keys, notation, improvisation and sight-reading.
Small compositional motifs that can be combined into a group piece or continued as individual projects
- Agree with the group on the scale to be used.
- Have the students listen to the mood of the scale and think about the images it prompts.
- One possible starting point is to 'spice up' a major or minor scale with notes that do not belong to it. You may also want to introduce a new scale for the students to learn (e.g. modes, melodic minor, acoustic scale, whole-tone scale, octatonic scale).
- Have the students work individually, in pairs or in trios to randomly select the desired number (e.g. 3 to 5) of pieces of paper with pitches from the agreed scale written on them (face down, so that the pitches are not visible).
- Throw a die for each pitch to determine how many times the pitch is to be used (the result might be something like 2 Cs, 2 F#s, 5 Gs and 1 Ab).
- Have the students make up motifs with the exact number of each pitch specified above (with the example given above, a motif might be G-G-F#-C-G-F#-C-G-Ab-G-C), using their own instruments, classroom instruments and/or their voices.
- Note that the same pitch groups can be used to create several different motifs. Write down all the motifs created on music paper.
- Analyse the motifs created. What intervals do they contain? What associations do they prompt?
- Focus on rhythm, using different note values to create motifs. Add rests and fine-tune the notation by adding dynamics, articulation and different playing techniques if desired.
- Motifs can be modified in various ways, for instance by making an inversion (mirror image), retroversion (back to front), retroinversion (mirror image back to front), or by playing the motif twice as slowly (augmentation) or twice as fast (diminution).
- The motifs may be transposed.
- Have the students continue the piece either by composing freely or, if necessary, by picking more pitches and throwing dice.
Topics in the assignment
Detailed description of tools
Dice, pieces of paper with pitches written on them.
Students may use their voices, their own instruments, classroom instruments or keyboards.
The exercise may be performed with chords; write chords on the pieces of paper instead of pitches.
The exercise can be executed as 'pointy music'; write many different pitches on the pieces of paper.
It is important to note that the dice are merely a starting point, a technical aid for composition. Once motifs have been composed, pupils may forget about the dice and continue working on their piece as they please.
Assignment suitable for further study