In part 3 of her series of guest blogs, Matilda Brown lets us peek behind the scenes at her work with pupils from Hampden Primary School. You can see tips and ideas of how to get to this step by reading parts 1 and 2 of this series.
Part 3 – Composing at Hampden
Fun with colours, fun with shapes…an unstoppable urge to play that tune again
As mentioned throughout this series, I am working with two groups at Hampden Primary School. I showed both groups an example of how to make a simple Figurenotes tune. I chose 3 notes in front of the pupils, from middle C (red circle) to the C above (red triangle). I moved the order of them around and played these different orders on the keyboard until, as a group, we were all happy with the order of the notes/colours/shapes of the tune.
This introduction was useful, as the pupils recognised the colours and shapes from their warm-ups and were very comfortable with the task. They seemed to identify how to make up a tune using colours they were already familiar with. The pupils voluntarily wanted to choose their own 3 colours. I played some of their tunes on the keyboard and put my own accompaniment to them. It was a lot of fun and very easy.
Over the weeks we have selected two songs we would like to develop. Group 1 loves their animal song and group 2 created exciting words for our Pirate Song. Group 2’s piece is more developed. We have recorded our own samples, using our voices saying some Pirate words, sounds and rhymes. We have put these recordings on switches and created an exciting sea soundscape using switches and percussion.
Composing our first tune with Figurenotes
Most pupils chose colours, then played them on the piano or xylophone. I was really impressed with how quickly they follower their colours. They moved the colours around until they decided on the pitch order they liked best. We introduced rhythm, note length, and timing after this initial process.
One pupil improvised to the Pirate Song’s chord structure, which meant he chose his notes by playing them, then looked to see which colours matched the notes.
Below are three examples of how different approaches work with different pupils. If you come across disinterested and distracted pupils, connect with what they like to do or are doing at that moment. There is always a way to connect.
When working one to one with Abigail, I didn’t think she would stay in the room without her peers, and I certainly didn’t expect her to choose colours. She was very happy and enjoyed seeing all the coloured stickers laid out in front of her.
We sang the song we had been working on in our group work. This helped to engage her in the harmony of the composition. The task gained momentum quickly. The more colours she selected, the more excited she became. We made two tunes and she chose her favourite. Expression was brought in when Abigail decided her tune was going to be loud and represented an elephant. She wanted the tune to be played slowly, with the last note sustained.
Cameron usually likes to observe and listen, rather than take part. In our one to one session, I told him all he had to do today was pick a colour. Without further prompting, he said ‘grey’ and pointed to it.
“How many colours do I have to pick?”, he asked. I said he could choose as many as he liked, but I could see that this confused him. I suggest we pick 3 to start with. He chose 3 colours, put them on the piano, then played it perfectly. It was amazing. Cameron has never played piano before and doesn’t usually join in the group straight away, so this was excellent.
Paul created his Figurenotes tune through improvising on the piano. We played and sang the Pirate Song, that he had helped to write in the group. This helped centre him in the right harmony and sound. I suggested that his improvisation would work best for this song if he used the white keys on the piano. He played for a while, taking this on board.
We then selected the notes/colours he seemed to use the most in his improvisation. We used the coloured icons, so Paul could move them around to create his tune. He added more and finally came up with his tune and a structure with the song.
There are many ways to connect with pupils’ creativity and get composing. The pupils I was working with have ASN/SEND, but everything I have discussed can be used for mainstream pupils too. Get composing with your pupils, regardless of the setting. You’ll be amazed at what can be achieved using Figurenotes as a tool.
Did you miss parts 1 and 2? Read all our guest blogs, full of advice and teaching inspiration.