The holidays are coming and what can that mean for piano teachers? Sometimes it’s “I didn’t practice this week because _____”. To add to the parties and shopping, my older students have exams next week.
Maybe this might be a good time to work on a composing activity with an elementary student. If you saw yesterday’s post, you recognize these words and the trees. (I like to recycle.) After the students can say the rhyme in rhythm they are ready to write their melody. Sometimes they will freeze at this point, especially if they have never written any music for you. I usually make up a little example and that seems to relax them. We start on the tonic and I encourage them to end the second measure on the dominant, but of course that all depends on the comfort level and age of your student. However, I insist they end on the tonic. Maybe that’s not being creative and I should encourage a 12 tone row, but somehow the words just don’t move me in that direction. I’m being silly. 🙂
Getting back to teaching, I have the students write whole notes for the melody first so they can get their melody down quickly. Then after they are finished we go back and turn them into quarter notes and dotted half notes. This is a pretty open ended worksheet, so if your students are capable, they can write an accompaniment. If a student seems to old for this, but you would like to use it anyway, encourage them to write a song for a younger sibling, or even for one of your younger students. Older students get insulted easily, but if they know that it’s just an exercise in writing a children’s song, they are relieved. You might tell the older student that writing easy music that sounds good is not so easy!
Don’t be discouraged if they start to lose interest and just write any old note to get it finished. This is perfectly natural. Young children have short attention spans, plus, if they really have a talent, they need to go home and doodle with the melody. It’s hard for a creative child to come up with a melody on the spot, but they can sketch out something. Tell them to take it home and erase the parts they don’t like. Remind them to always use a pencil!
Some kids just write notes without even playing them on the piano, showing no interest. At least they are getting some theory practice and you can discover who really likes to compose.
This activity takes a lot of time if you do it correctly, so it is a great thing to do when a student has nothing prepared to play for you. Let me know how it works for you and any suggestions you may have. If I get a good response, I will make something similar for Valentine’s Day.