Before we wrap up our piano composition month and head into September’s theme of group teaching, why not combine the two topics?
We are so privileged to welcome guest writer Wendy Brentnall-Wood to show us exactly how you can organise a group piano composition.
Wendy is a music teacher and examiner, a published author and a speaker, and founded Wendy’s Music School. She is full of experience, knowledge and wisdom and we cannot wait to learn from her. Take it away, Wendy!
Group Piano Composition
Can you imagine taking on the challenge of creating a group piano composition that every student in your studio and some parents contribute to?
Well, crazily enough that’s exactly what I chose to try for the first time earlier this year.
It all started with my decision to move out of my comfort zone and choose a unique theme for one of my studio concerts: Originals and Improvisation. As a classically trained musician, this was a great challenge!
Having chosen Originals and Improvisation as a theme, my next challenge was to inspire and encourage my students to take up the challenge and participate.
My beginning students have the opportunity to be creative in short activities, but nothing really suitable to perform at a live concert. I knew that with such a different theme my intermediate, advanced and adult students would need confidence boosts in performing an improvisation activity live or creating their own composition.
So, instead of putting my students out there by themselves for the first time, I took a different approach.
We started with a group piano composition. During individual lessons, I would work with each of my students on developing either a composition or a planned improvisation, depending upon which they preferred.
Need some creative ideas for your next piano studio recital? Check out this expert roundup: How to Organise Fun Piano Recitals
Surprise Your Students
Term 2 begins this year and each student bounces into the room and takes up their seat on the piano stool ready to resume lessons as normal.
But instead of a ‘normal’ piano lesson, I surprised my students. Here’s how the conversation went:
Wendy: So you know we have another concert opportunity at the end of this term coming up?
(Student nods unconcerned)
Wendy: Well this time we’ve got a bit of a different theme…….
(Student still unconcerned )…..
Wendy: We’re doing Originals and Improvisations. Do you know what that means?
(Student’s eyes have become wide and they are now sitting up very straight looking slightly panicked!)
We discuss the difference between composing original music and improvising and the student still looks worried about what they are going to be expected to do.
Wendy: So we’re going to start with a group piano composition……
(Student frowns, wondering how that will work when they never see most of the other students except at concerts)
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Wendy: Can you see the large piece of paper stuck on the back of the studio door? Well, it has the lyrics/words of the song Imagine by John Lennon from the Beatles. We are going to use that song as a structure to start writing our own song, one little piece at a time! Do you want to know how we’ll starrt?
(Student obliging nods head)……
Wendy: OK Great- let’s listen to the original song, following the words in black on the paper first.
Wendy: You can see under the first word Imagine in black I’ve written a word in pink. This means I’ve changed the first word, imagine, (also the name of the song) to the word “Creating”. That’s going to be our theme for this song!
Wendy: Now you get to change the next word!
(Student is unsure how to do this, so we discuss how many syllables, sound out, clap out the rhythm of the word they are changing, and encourage the student to say random words that may fit until they find one they like.)
For younger students, there was an unexpected benefit of parents joining the process and helping their child with word suggestions and reading through the lyrics that were being created.
The results were fabulous, particularly from a community sense!
Students were commenting upon one another’s choices, were excitedly reading what had been done since their last visit, rushing to pick up the pink pen and work out where and what their next word would be, as soon as they entered the studio.
I had each student put their initials under their words so I knew if someone missed out or we needed to make changes, but after the first week I actually didn’t have to give them much help at all- it was fabulous and the excitement was awesome to see.
Concert day saw the whole audience, (not just my students) singing our words to the tune of Imagine and a karaoke backing track from the words projected onto the wall. Here’s the video:
8 Steps to Create a Group Studio Song Composition.
- Choose a well-known song, preferably one with a simple chord base
- If you want, you can also choose a theme for the song
- Write the lyrics for the first section (verse or chorus as per the start of the song) on a large sheet of paper and post it on your studio wall/door, or wherever there is easy access to write on it
- Each lesson, have every student change one word from the original lyrics to a word of their own choosing until all words are changed. This can take several weeks depending on how many students you teach, so if you prefer you can allocate more words per student per lesson.
- Next, get each student to make up their own song name and their own name for our composer. The following week we did anonymous votes to determine the song name and group name to announce and perform at our term concert.
- Next step is to change the melody, one note or a bar at a time by each student each lesson
- Next step is to get the slightly more advanced students to change the chord structure to work with the new melody. VOILA! A new song has been created!
- Now you can record students singing or playing parts, which you could create a video for, or record a backing track for students to sing to
- New words must have the same number of syllables/rhythm of the original word they are replacing
- One word per student except if it is only a one syllable word (come up with your own variations too!)
- Parents are allowed to make suggestions and help in any way
- The new word should make sense within the sentence
- Once completed the teacher has the ability to edit, if necessary
- Words in each chorus will be the same
I will definitely be doing this activity again next year and highly encourage other studio teachers or classroom teachers to consider using an existing song as a starting point when creating a new or group piano composition.
What other ways do you get your students to compose music in groups? Leave your suggestions in the comments section below.