Key Stage 3 Composition

Film Music – More Ideas!

Last week I posted a blog about film Music -Click Here if you missed it:

Film Music Lesson.

I hope that you found it helpful and that you have tried it out – I would suggest that you spend 3-4 lessons on this kind of project.

I wanted to build upon the last blog with a few more ideas for students and it might be that some students need extension tasks. I aimed the last lesson at Year 9, mainly because my school starts in Year 9, but also because I feel it is a suitable project for the end of Key Stage 3.

The last lesson focussed on how we can take a piece of film – a trailer is best – and change its mood. This approach is good because it doesn’t involve composing a melody, but instead gets students exploring sounds, chords and “musical effects”. It might be that you bring in these concepts at the start or save them for lesson 3 or 4.

One way of adding to the composition to think about the concept of “Clash & Resolve” and I use the angle of Suspended Chords. I ask students to put in a chord and then experiment by moving the middle note of the chord either up or down. This creates either a “Sus 2″ Chord or  a “Sus 4″ chord – guitarists and keyboard players will come to life here as they recognise this! Using suspensions like this can really add to the film music and it is an important concept. Students need to understand that in music everything is working towards a sense of resolve – so by avoiding that you can create tension and unrest in the music. This can easily be linked to Cadences – the perfect resolve of course being the V-I progression.

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Another idea to extend this work is the get students to start to experiment with devices:

  • Retrograde
  • Diminution
  • Augmentation

First I ask them to create a highly rhythmic section in their film score – it is likely to coincide with some action on screen. In order to create this I ask them to fill a bar with semi-quaver chords and then delete chords as they wish. This helps them to create an interesting and move complex rhythm.  I then get them to experiment with the three devices above. Sibelius will automatically do all of the following so don’t panic:

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Once they have experimented with this they might like to add some percussion and use one the retrograded rhythms underneath the original or vice-versa:

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This can create some interesting sounds and poly-rhythms and it helps them to get some really interesting rhythmic and chordal ideas.

But what is the point of all of this?

For me composition is about being creative and experimenting. What I want from my Year 9 students is for them to become creative, inquisitive risk takers with music. It is great to work within structures and follow set briefs – 12 bar blues, Reggae, Ternary Form etc. But what is crucial is that they become creative and experiment with Sounds & Silences! This type of work could be deemed as “Unmusical” and yet what they are doing is thinking about what sounds might work and where they might best be placed in a piece.

The ideas above are also useful skills to be aware of and why not let Sibelius do the hard work for you. Functions such as Retrograding will come in handy in lots of other compositional settings and I like Year 9 to know that this exists in preparation for GCSE composition.

What they are also learning is how to develop existing ideas and build up additional layers by re-using or adapting what they already have. Making a snare drum rhythm using the melodic rhythm backwards is quite a fun way of generating a melody. There are countless examples in numerous genres of composers taking small cells or motifs and building up the whole composition.

Lessons such as this do rely on students being independent learners and creative. It also relies on them having a desire to create music for a film. It is therefore of utmost importance that the film trailer is an interesting one, something they know. It is also crucial that they understand Sibelius. This project will help them no end with learning the software.

Let them create and experiment!

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