CNMN > Projects > Composition Workshops

Carmen Braden, composer

See profile

  • Acoustic instruments
  • 5 to 12 years of age
  • 13 to 18 years of age

3 45-minute sessions

  • Education

Composition Workshops


SUMMARY: A three-ses­sion work­shop series (45 mins each ses­sion) intro­duc­ing young peo­ple to com­po­si­tion­al ideas. Stu­dents ide­al­ly have one year of some musi­cal expe­ri­ence. Read­ing music is not necessary. 

Mate­ri­als: coloured pens, pen­cils, paper that has a few lines of staff nota­tion, but a LOT of blank space. An audio or video cap­ture device (i.e. smart phone / voice memo app).

Main ideas covered:

  • Notat­ing music the stu­dent hears — i.e. record­ed music
  • The­mat­ic musi­cal devel­op­ment using behav­iours or char­ac­ter­is­tics of a non-musi­cal idea (i.e. an ani­mal, the weath­er…); con­trast­ing ideas; evoca­tive titles; nar­ra­tive concepts.
  • Notat­ing an orig­i­nal musi­cal idea using an adapt­ed ver­sion of tra­di­tion­al nota­tion: left-to-right
  • read­ing of start­ing and mov­ing through time; indi­cat­ing length of time in different ways — size, space; indi­cat­ing high­er or low­er pitch­es with high­er or low­er dots + lines; indi­cat­ing two different with different colours
  • Inter­act­ing with a per­former who will play a new composition.

SESSION 1 — Notate what you hear; Write your own piece by start­ing with the drawing.

10 mins — intro, wel­come, names, instru­ments, venue information.


Teacher: Chose one or two short exam­ples of music to play. Three plays: Play once, just lis­ten­ing. Play again, draw the shape as it goes along. Play once more, add the different colour to show the different sound. 

Stu­dents: Write down music you hear. Show up, down, same notes with your hand! Give cards with hor­i­zon­tal line (time, as well as the start­ing note). Draw the shape of the music as it hap­pens in time. When the SOUND of the music changes (intro­duce ideas of tim­bre or dynam­ics or instruments/orchestration), use a different colour / shape / draw­ing to show the difference. You can use musi­cal sym­bols if you want, but don’t wor­ry about the exact notes or rhythms. Make up a name for the song — imag­ine an animal.

10 mins — group exercise

  • Trade cards, all play the cards togeth­er at the same time, with same start­ing note.
  • Choose a top­ic: ani­mal, an expe­ri­ence, some­thing in nature, some­thing you’ve learned about in school, MUST BE some­thing that you’re real­ly excit­ed about

5 mins — start own composition

  • Think of 2 char­ac­ter­is­tics of that topic’s behav­iour — write them down.
  • Now imag­ine how those char­ac­ter­is­tics would SOUND in music — ask for suggestions.

10 mins — Next steps

  • Instruc­tions for writ­ing your music — just write the shape! Write the start­ing note (note the name if they can).
  • Impro­vise on your shape, start on the start­ing note. Encour­age the music to be different every time you play it. Once you find some­thing you like, write down some­thing about it — note names, use colours, lines, shapes, tra­di­tion­al musi­cal nota­tion if they want. Use range, note length, loud­ness, different ways of play­ing the note. Ask mature stu­dent to be example
  • Key­board instru­ments — can add anoth­er hand, but keep it very sim­ple (i.e. one or two notes)

10 mins — Wrap up, next ses­sion, “home­work”

Give out sam­ple cue card- play­ing / com­pos­ing — have sam­ples on the back Next week, bring one com­po­si­tion that you want to work on
Record your­self try­ing things, can bring a video or audio to show

SESSION 2 — New piece / devel­op­ment of first piece. Adding details beyond notes.

5 mins

  • Review mate­ri­als from first ses­sion, answer any ques­tions. Impor­tant to review the idea that left to right “space = time”, and high and low “space = pitch”.

15 mins

  • Exer­cise: write a new piece with new theme OR keep work­ing on the first idea, add new parts, etc. Use the same for­mat of impro­vis­ing, and writ­ing down what they play.

10 mins

NEW: Add ways of indi­cat­ing HOW to play — different tech­niques i.e. ped­al, pizzi­ca­to, artic­u­la­tion, dynam­ics, tem­po. Can use different colours or shapes, word direc­tions, tra­di­tion­al musi­cal symbols.

ADDITIONAL if applic­a­ble: Add note names, rhythm nota­tion (space = time), per­for­mance direc­tions, etc.

Sug­ges­tion to Teacher:

  • as you go around to each stu­dent, video / audio record how the stu­dent is play­ing it. Often this is the BEST way to cap­ture their ideas in order to record in a more tra­di­tion­al nota­tion format.

15 mins

  • Per­form the works — each stu­dent per­forms their own work /Teacher to per­form / inter­pret if stu­dents are shy. Sug­ges­tion — video/audio record.
  • Look­ing ahead to Guest artist ses­sion — intro­duce the idea of the composer/performer rela­tion­ship, and how they will have the chance to inter­act with the guest.

Teacher’s fol­low-up work: Take the graph­ic nota­tions and put them in a more tra­di­tion­al / stan­dard West­ern nota­tion for­mat. Send these AND the match­ing graph­ic nota­tion scores to the guest artist. If the stu­dent is able to do this on their own, encour­age them to do it. It could be by hand or using soft­ware pro­grams (free ones include Mus­eScore, etc.)

SESSION 3 — Guest Artist

  • Intro­duce the guest artist, their back­ground, their instrument
  • Show the orig­i­nal graph­ic nota­tions, as well as any tra­di­tion­al ver­sions that the teacher (or stu­dent) has made.

5 mins — Guest Artist Intro

35 mins — Per­for­mance / Dis­cus­sion — 3–5 mins per piece (one piece per student)

  • Guest artist per­forms the work, either using the graph­ic or notat­ed score
  • Dis­cus­sion — Guest artist asks ques­tions of the stu­dent, encour­ag­ing them to sug­gest different choic­es or ideas i.e. tem­po, dynam­ics, range
  • Guest artist should have a cou­ple com­ments pre­pared for each piece — one find­ing a strength in the work, and one find­ing a sug­ges­tion or ques­tion that engages the student’s com­po­si­tion­al process again.
  • Stu­dents are encour­aged to ask ques­tions or make comments

5 mins

  • Wrap­ping up. Dis­cus­sion on larg­er idea of com­po­si­tions, per­form­ers, and music being passed from per­son to per­son, through time. Relate it to music they learn in oth­er places, i.e. tra­di­tion­al , pop…

Sup­port­ed by Prairie Debut — NACC — Black Ice Sound

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