Creativity needs nurturing. Parents and teachers often put the focus on technique and ‘getting it right’. I admit that I often get bogged down with this when teaching my violin pupils. Lots of older pupils get nervous when asked to compose or improvise, which can be a hangover from the ‘getting it right’ approach, prevalent in schools and at home. They are self-conscious and worried about getting something wrong. If we do not let pupils’ creativity flourish, then how can they be expected to put their own emotion and musicality into their playing? How can we expect them to be brave and create?
Figurenotes is made for creativity, with its many colours and shapes. We can use these colours to help pupils tell their own story through music. Below is one way in which this can be done in the classroom, but easily adapted for small groups or 1:1.
Set up your workspace into pods containing Figurenoted instruments, such as chime bars, keyboards, guitars, and hand percussion. You can adapt the complexity of these instruments, depending on how advanced the pupils are.
Divide your class into small groups. Each group is given a printed image, selected at random or picked by a member of the group, which they take to their pod of instruments. Give each group a time limit to come up with a piece of music based on the image they have. Half an hour is often a good length of time.
There are so many paintings, photographs, and other artworks online that you could use as inspiration. Abstract art is often best for this activity. Look out for images containing Figurenotes shapes and/or colours. Print them as large as you can, laminated, as the group may be using it as a graphic score.
We find that some groups want to use a magnetic whiteboard with Figurenotes magnets and whiteboard pens. This is an easier way to record exactly what they mean to play. A conductor could be chosen, who would guide the group through the performance by pointing at the appropriate section of the image/whiteboard/score.
Then it is performance time! Let each group show the image they have used, perform their piece, and then discuss the reasoning for their composition. Were they matching the colours? Did they pick up a mood from the image that they tried to conjure in the music? Nurture their reasoning and ask questions about how and why they chose to do certain things. Was it a happy piece? Did they change dynamic at any point? Why?
Depending on the ability of the class, you can develop this activity using more complex images, instrumentation, or moving on to poems and film.
We have often used this activity to train teachers and support workers and have found that they are initially terrified. Once they have a little guidance on how to unpick the image – find the colours, find the mood, play with sounds – they have flourished. The pride at the end of the session is always my favourite thing about this exercise.
To make this a multi-disciplinary exercise, try painting images first, or taking photographs of colourful patterns found in nature or in your school. You could integrate maths by discussing tessellation and using Figurenotes shapes to do that. You could write poems or stories and develop music for them. Creating your own sources of inspiration can help from a copyright point of view too, as you need to make sure the images chosen are in the public domain. A quick Google search of colours, shapes, and abstract art should give you a few results, but you can take a look at the National Galleries’ website for inspiration. Search for contrasting images and the emotions often associated with the colours – bleak grey, bright red, calming blue, harsh black, optimistic yellow, etc. Mondrian is a perfect start for nervous pupils, as much of his work is a Figurenotes score in itself!
Try this out with your pupils and share your results with us in the Facebook group. Keep it simple at the start in order to keep fear and nerves at bay. You can build up later, once you’ve gauged what level your group is at when it comes to unleashing their inner composer!