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Here classes compose their own concert songs about frogs or other themes
Science, Music, Language Arts
Title – Composing songs for any theme (unit)
By – Michelle Monize
Primary Subject – Music
Secondary Subjects – Science, Language Arts
Grade Level – 3-4
- Bulletin board paper or butcher paper
- Rhythm in a Bag sets
- Various non-pitched instruments
- Piano or other pitched instrument
I wanted to have a spring concert completely based on songs that had to do with frogs, but I didn’t find many that were suitable to fill an entire concert, so I decided to have my 3rd graders write their own songs. There are 5 sections of 3rd grades in my school and each class wrote their own song. This added 5 songs to my concert repertiore! This has been an ongoing project throughout the school year and the kids have loved it!
We talked about general characteristics of songs (rhyming lyrics, patterns in the melodies, use of varying rhythms that included rests, time signature, etc.) to start off our discussion. I asked if they thought it would be difficult to write a song, and I told them we would be working on our own class projects to perform a song that they had written for the Spring Concerts. This was really exciting to them. I told them that each section of 3rd grade would have their own unique theme regarding frogs for their songs. We brainstormed different aspects of a frog’s life such as eating, jumping, swimming, habitats, colors/kinds of frogs, etc. Each class voted for their favorite topic. The goal for each class was to have 12 – 16 lines that rhymed to create our lyrics. I had the class begin with a first line of the song. They all wrote it down and took it home to see if they could come up with rhymes. Many of them came back with entire pages the next week!
To make sure this stayed a class project, we took bits and pieces (by vote) from several student’s work and began to build our poem/lyrics. We tried different ways to say the rhymes (holding out words for two beats, inserting rests, etc.). We changed the order of lines to see what made the most sense. Everything was voted on by the class. When the lyrics were finalized, the students wrote them on a large piece of bulletin board paper from the rolls in the teacher’s work room. This way, we didn’t have to keep re-writing them each class period. We spaced it out to leave room to work between the lines so that when we starting notating rhythms and melodies, we would have the room to do so. We got used to our poems by reciting them over and over as a class. I told them that the next time we worked on them we would begin writing the music to it. Some kids were nervous about the idea of it, but most were really excited.
We reviewed our poems and made any revisions that needed to be made. We made sure we had 12 – 16 lines that rhymed and were ready to be rhythmically notated. At this point, I split the students up in to several groups of 2 – 3 students and gave each group a set of “Rhythm In a Bag.” These contain plastic pieces that represent a ta, ti ti, and a rest. The only thing missing was the half note. My goal was to make sure all of those notes listed and the quarter rest were included at least one time in their songs.
I assigned each group a measure or a phrase depending on how long the phrases were. Their job was to come up with a rhythm that fit the number of syllables in their assigned lyrics without going over 4 beats in a measure. This made them have to add note values. They notated it with the Rhythm in a Bag sets. Then they shared it with the class. We talked about how each group’s could be varied slightly, then we took a vote on whether we liked the original one or the varied one. This let me help guide those students who had awkward or difficult rhythm while still using their work. Once we decided all of the rhythms, we notated that on the paper so it would be recorded for future use. We practiced saying and clapping the rhythms as a group and as individuals.
I took a couple of weeks off from creating but we kept rehearsing the rhythms and lyrics for a few weeks to become familiar with the song.
The next lesson, we reviewed rhythms and started to make changes to them if needed. Keeping in mind that I wanted them to use a half note, we talked about what they were and found places where they could be placed in the rhythms. We had to add the counts up to make sure we weren’t going over 4 beats in each measure.
Then we reviewed what we had learned in class in other lessons concerning solfege syllables, melodies, etc. We talked about patterns in melodies or motives. We made it a goal to create a pattern or a motive to use in the song. Then I split them back up in to groups of 2 – 3 students. Each student had a set of resonator bells. I assigned them different pitches that they could use (in order for me to fit an accompaniment with it later with a decent chord pattern). Some groups got sets of resonator bells that only had their assigned pitches to help eliminate mistakes. We talked about keeping the rhythm the same as what was already written. I let the groups practice different patterns of their notes to their rhythm to come up with a melody for their assigned phrase. We went through the same process as when we composed the rhythms, sharing them with the class, making a variation of what they composed using guided instruction from me, and then took a vote. Once we were done, we noticed where there was a motive or not and made the necessary changes.
Before the next lesson, I re-wrote the melody on new paper with the lyrics so that the kids would have it all together and could read it all at once. We took a few weeks familiarizing ourselves with the melodies. I wanted them to be memorized.
I have a digital piano with preset rhythms in it, so again, I gave them a few options and set their melodies to the rhythms. No class could have the same rhythm as another. We took votes on the rhythms they liked with it. We practiced singing the song several times with the new rhythm.
Next we defined an ostinato. I told the class we would now be creating different instrumental parts such as an ostinato to accompany themselves at the concert. Again, using the Rhythm in a Bag sets, different small groups of students created a 4-beat or 8-beat rhythmic ostinato to accompany themselves. The class voted on their favorites. At this point, I did not choose to create a variation. We practiced with the song playing on the digital piano: one group singing and the other group clapping the ostinato pattern. Then we switched parts. We decided what non-pitched instrument (by vote) we wanted to use for this ostinato.
We created 1 or 2 more ostinatos depending on their success from last week. We added them to the song.
We began to discuss melodic ostinatos. Using the bass xylophone and alto xylophone, the students created melodic ostinatos that would work with their song. This was much more difficult for them because they had to make the ostinato fit the chord progressions. In some cases, it was impossible, which was a good learning experience as well. I took those opportunities to teach them another difference between an ostinato and an accompaniment.
We reviewed the songs for the concert and assigned parts for each student. We had a chorus of singers, and small groups of students playing each different part. When we put it all together, they were amazed at what they had created!
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