This week’s focus on composition in the classroom certainly had me reflecting on my own use of compositional activities in my elementary general classroom. Bauer (2014) discussed two different types of composition. The first focuses on using traditional music notation, while the second instead focuses on experimenting with sound to “engage the student’s musical thinking” (p. 60). Most of the compositional activities that I utilized in my own classroom followed the practice of using standard musical notation. I found that informal compositional activities using manipulatives were an excellent way to assess rhythm writing and reading when students exchanged rhythmic compositions with each other. Since I did not have technology available to me in the classroom, I was never able to incorporate more compositional technology or digital audio workstations (DAW) into our classroom work on an individual level.
Since I do have an iPad of my own, I was able to create some technology-centered lessons for us to complete as a whole class, however. My favorite used a voice looping app called Loopy. I first saw this app on Jimmy Fallon’s show when he used it to perform “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with Billy Joel. I knew immediately that it would be a hit with my kids. Unfortunately, since I only had one iPad available and I didn’t have the option of centers, the lesson only worked very successfully with my smaller classes (ELL, special needs, behavioral, etc.). For this lesson, we would learn a song as a class and compose several coordinating ostinato patterns that could accompany the song. Then we would use the voice looping app to record the class performing each ostinato, layering them together, and finally performing the entire arrangement with the app playing and students singing the song. This was one of my students’ favorite activities throughout the year because it allowed them to be creative and work as a team. They also loved being able to record their own voices and hear the results of their hard work.
I was also very impressed with the video in this week’s lecture about the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. I was actually introduced to the concept of the Educational Tour Bus last year when I met somebody who works for the company at a wedding and was immediately interestested in the work that they do. After watching the video this week, I am impressed, but not surprised, by the amazing creative accomplishments that the students are able to achieve in such a short amount of time when given the right tools and guidance. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young-adulthood, I was involved with a very similar program at a rock music summer camp called DayJams. Campers in this program would take daily group lessons in their instrument, write an original song and rehearse with a band of their peers (with the guidance of a teacher), design a logo concept for a t-shirt and CD cover, and create a music video. At the end of each week, the entire camp would put on a concert for family and friends, which would be recorded onto a CD. I began as a camper, before becoming a counselor, and eventually the vocal teacher and one of the band leaders at the camp. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated my traditional music education during the school year, the creative outlet that I received at DayJams was never matched at school. Creating something original inspired teamwork, personal growth, and a great sense of pride. I am so glad to see that the Educational Tour Bus is taking similar experiences around the country and allowing students the valuable opportunity to create in such a setting. Although a Middle School Chorus classroom is not conducive for exactly this kind of work, I am certainly going to use what I saw in that video, as well as my own memories as a camper and teacher at DayJams, to inspire some creative compositional opportunities in my classroom.
Bauer, W. I. (2014). Music learning today: digital pedagogy for creating, performing, and responding to music. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.