My second graders are composers! They’ve just completed the first step in a process that will result in each student having created an original piece of music, written in standard music notation. So far, they’ve exceeded my expectations (as they often do), and they seem to really enjoy the work.
One of my teaching techniques is to break music down into individual elements (i.e. rhythm, melody, harmony, fingering, tempo, dynamics, articulation, etc.). This works very well when I’m teaching private lessons. When a student is learning a new piece, I advise adding elements one by one to give a solid understanding from the start; when a student encounters a difficult passage, they learn to subtract elements until they discover the one that is causing the problem. In my classes, we’ll sometimes work on the rhythm of a song first. Then we discuss the notes and/or melodic direction. Occasionally, we’ll sing it in solfege syllables. When we finally sing the song as it’s written, the kids have no trouble knowing how to sing it, and they understand the music on a deeper level than they would if they were learning the song by rote.
This strategy is the basis for my approach to teaching composition. The second graders are composing their music one element at a time. The first element is rhythm. They have put together pieces made up of single beat rhythms (quarter note, quarter rest, two eighth notes), and I have been delighted to see that several of these assignments show deliberate thought in their creative uses of rests and musical patterns. I’m now starting each class by having five students individually perform their own rhythm compositions for the class.
Meanwhile, second grade has been learning more of the solfege scale and applying this knowledge to new songs. Soon, they’ll be adding solfege syllables to their compositions. After that, they’ll learn how to convert those syllables to notes on a staff. Maybe they’ll even add some lyrics!