Composition GCSE Key Stage 3

1 Note Composition?

If you are struggling for ideas on how to start students off on composition then look no further than the 1 Note Composition. This is not a new idea or anything particularly original from me, but I thought I would share it as I know it works really well. I am also thinking along the lines of using Notation software such as Sibelius – but you could use this concept with other pieces of music software. I find it useful for introducing my students to Sibelius.

The thing with composition is that you want students to approach it in the correct way. There is little point sitting them in front of a computer and just saying compose. similarly you want them to get going quickly and be creative.

So get them to choose one note – a G, or C etc. They can work in different octaves but they have to just use one specific note. They can change anything else, work in any time signature, use dynamics, accents etc. But just one note.

What is the point?

Well I guess what this does is stop them thinking about melody but gets them thinking about everything other than melody:

  • What time signature am i going to use?
  • How fast is my piece going to be?
  • Will I change tempo, or time?
  • Where might I add crescendos or accelerandos?

I have found that students in the process get familiar with how to do things on the software. They learn how to add notes, change rhythms, work with score markings and score text. What I love to see is that they experiment with rhythms and create interesting rhythms. I encourage them to include rests and think about note values. I just find that it gets them composing and thinking about music in a really different and creative way. They have to listen and they have to think about everything other than melody.

And lets face it rhythm is the starting point for composing melody in many ways. How many times do we see students work in 4/4 time at 110 beats per minute and fill bars with crotchets and quavers and no rests. We need to get students to engage with rhythm in order to write melodies that are interesting. I have listened to dozens of 1 Note Compositions in my time and I find that there are some that are really good and some that are awful! The ones that have rhythmic themes are particularly good.

As an extension you can then start to teach them about Retrograde, Augmentation and Diminution. You could lead into work on Minimalism or a study of rhythms around the world. You can teach them more about time signatures, and you could actually tell them that they have to use a Simple & Compound time signature in their one note piece. I have linked this to minimalism through clapping music, topical at the moment and there is an iOS app for it.

So if you want to try and different approach to composition then why not try the One Note Composition and see where it leads. It would also work with a top set Year 9 group or KS3 group.

Let me know how you get on and get in touch if you have any more questions!


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  1. Great idea and surprised I have not heard of it or thought of it before! I think there’s something crucial missing from your bullet points, though: ‘how will I articulate a clear structure?’. I suspect this could really help with the very tricky task of balancing contrast with continuity at points of structural transition- I’ll give it a go and find out!

  2. Good point and I agree. I think structure is also crucial. I think maybe students should be given some clear parameters, and I suspect I have done this before:

    1. Use at least 2 time signatures
    2. Have a clear structure – Ternary, Rondo?
    3. Use a variety of different rhythmic ideas.

    I guess it could easily be differentiated to different students. Some could be given certain rhythms that they have to include?

    I suspect that this composition is just a starting point and is all about sparking creativity. But in-fact on reflection there are lots of applications, extensions and add ons to the basic principal!

  3. This is fab! Think I’m going to enjoy going back to secondary school, teaching only A Level is a tad……samey..

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