Key Stage 3 Composition


If your classroom is anything like mine then you probably won’t have room for much else in it. Mine is packed full of computers and then by the time you have a desk and piano in there, nothing else will fit.

At the start of this year I had to make the decision to get rid of the old piano keyboards and also relegate the MIDI keyboard to the cupboard. There simply wasn’t room for everything and things were getting broken. If and when a piano/midi keyboard is needed then I can get one out, but the space save is great.

Now let me just add some information to this that I think is important. I start in Year 9 at my school and I find that when Year 9 get to me they have done enough on piano keyboards and not really much else, other than maybe some singing and ukuleles. It would therefore seem a shame to do even more piano keyboard based schemes of work. Instead I like to get them on the computers creating music as well as on instruments – see my p-bone blog.

So what is the solution if you red yourself of keyboards? Well what I am finding really useful is the QWERTY keyboard. I am hopefully right in saying that most software platforms will have a similar function – you can play in notes using the QWERTY keyboard? I am using GarageBand and it works really well.

So here is what I have been doing.

Recently I have been using a Loop Pedal in my lessons – the subject of a future blog series. However this led me to do some work with Year 9 on creating loops using Garageband. Having had some lessons using the loop pedal and creating loops using vocals I wanted them to understand how you could create harmony with loops – layering up different pitches etc.

  1. Open up software and talk through how to open a software/MIDI instrument as a layer within the sequencer.
  2. Explain to students that they are making MIDI signals when they play in notes and demonstrate this on the board. They need to grasp that what they enter into the computer is firstly totally editable and also can be assigned to different instruments.
  3. Get them to create a beat – this could be recorded in but it is easier to allow them to either use a pre-existing loop, or better still, create a simple drum beat. The QWERTY keyboard will allow them to enter a beat quickly.
  4. Discuss how to start, develop and record a short ostinato. This could be pentatonic or it could use just the first five notes of a major scale. Explain how they can edit this easily.
  5. Now they need to learn how to layer on top of this ostinato in harmony. There are two approaches. The first approach is copy, paste, press up. Simply put, students copy their ostinato to another instrument and then move the MIDI up so that it is a third away from the original. I find that trial and error is good alongside a simple explanation of harmony and how to create it.  I encourage them to really think about the instruments they have chosen. They can either go for variety or they can think about using a family of instruments and spreading the parts out accordingly.
  6. Now they can re-do step 5 to add another layer. encourage them to really listen to check that the harmony works as they wish. Depending on their melody there may be some triads created that aren’t totally what they want. The more they can engage with the editing functionally the better as that is teaching them so much about music technology.
  7. Now they need to add another layer of percussion – a triangle, shaker or tambourine maybe. This will just bring something extra to the piece.
  8. And finally I get them to add some kind of countermelody over the top just to really finish off the loop.

A lot of this stems from a great website that I am sure I have mentioned before:

Once you have visited this site you will be full of ideas and inspiration. Creating simple loop based pieces is not only fun and achievable, but it also teaches students all about harmony, bass-lines and how to create beats. Have a go and see what you think – simple but effective lessons.

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