CNMN > Projects > Composition Workshops

Carmen Braden, composer

See profile

  • Instruments acoustiques
  • Instruments rock
  • 5 à 12 ans
  • 13 à 18 ans

3 45-minute sessions

  • Éducation

Composition Workshops


SUMMARY : A three-ses­sion work­shop series (45 mins each ses­sion) intro­du­cing young people to com­po­si­tio­nal ideas. Stu­dents ideal­ly have one year of some musi­cal expe­rience. Rea­ding music is not necessary. 

Mate­rials : colou­red pens, pen­cils, paper that has a few lines of staff nota­tion, but a LOT of blank space. An audio or video cap­ture device (i.e. smart phone / voice memo app).

Main ideas covered :

  • Nota­ting music the student hears – i.e. recor­ded music
  • The­ma­tic musi­cal deve­lop­ment using beha­viours or cha­rac­te­ris­tics of a non-musi­cal idea (i.e. an ani­mal, the wea­ther…); contras­ting ideas ; evo­ca­tive titles ; nar­ra­tive concepts.
  • Nota­ting an ori­gi­nal musi­cal idea using an adap­ted ver­sion of tra­di­tio­nal nota­tion : left-to-right
  • rea­ding of star­ting and moving through time ; indi­ca­ting length of time in different ways – size, space ; indi­ca­ting higher or lower pitches with higher or lower dots + lines ; indi­ca­ting two different with different colours
  • Inter­ac­ting with a per­for­mer who will play a new composition.

SESSION 1 – Notate what you hear ; Write your own piece by star­ting with the drawing.

10 mins – intro, wel­come, names, ins­tru­ments, venue information.


Tea­cher : Chose one or two short examples of music to play. Three plays : Play once, just lis­te­ning. Play again, draw the shape as it goes along. Play once more, add the different colour to show the different sound. 

Stu­dents : Write down music you hear. Show up, down, same notes with your hand ! Give cards with hori­zon­tal line (time, as well as the star­ting note). Draw the shape of the music as it hap­pens in time. When the SOUND of the music changes (intro­duce ideas of timbre or dyna­mics or instruments/orchestration), use a different colour / shape / dra­wing to show the difference. You can use musi­cal sym­bols if you want, but don’t wor­ry about the exact notes or rhythms. Make up a name for the song – ima­gine an animal.

10 mins – group exercise

  • Trade cards, all play the cards toge­ther at the same time, with same star­ting note.
  • Choose a topic : ani­mal, an expe­rience, some­thing in nature, some­thing you’ve lear­ned about in school, MUST BE some­thing that you’re real­ly exci­ted about

5 mins – start own composition

  • Think of 2 cha­rac­te­ris­tics of that topic’s beha­viour – write them down.
  • Now ima­gine how those cha­rac­te­ris­tics would SOUND in music – ask for suggestions.

10 mins – Next steps

  • Ins­truc­tions for wri­ting your music – just write the shape ! Write the star­ting note (note the name if they can).
  • Impro­vise on your shape, start on the star­ting note. Encou­rage the music to be different eve­ry time you play it. Once you find some­thing you like, write down some­thing about it – note names, use colours, lines, shapes, tra­di­tio­nal musi­cal nota­tion if they want. Use range, note length, loud­ness, different ways of playing the note. Ask mature student to be example
  • Key­board ins­tru­ments – can add ano­ther hand, but keep it very simple (i.e. one or two notes)

10 mins – Wrap up, next ses­sion, “home­work”

Give out sample cue card- playing / com­po­sing – have samples on the back Next week, bring one com­po­si­tion that you want to work on
Record your­self trying things, can bring a video or audio to show

SESSION 2 – New piece / deve­lop­ment of first piece. Adding details beyond notes.

5 mins

  • Review mate­rials from first ses­sion, ans­wer any ques­tions. Impor­tant to review the idea that left to right “space = time”, and high and low “space = pitch”.

15 mins

  • Exer­cise : write a new piece with new theme OR keep wor­king on the first idea, add new parts, etc. Use the same for­mat of impro­vi­sing, and wri­ting down what they play.

10 mins

NEW : Add ways of indi­ca­ting HOW to play – different tech­niques i.e. pedal, piz­zi­ca­to, arti­cu­la­tion, dyna­mics, tem­po. Can use different colours or shapes, word direc­tions, tra­di­tio­nal musi­cal symbols.

ADDITIONAL if appli­cable : Add note names, rhythm nota­tion (space = time), per­for­mance direc­tions, etc.

Sug­ges­tion to Teacher :

  • as you go around to each student, video / audio record how the student is playing it. Often this is the BEST way to cap­ture their ideas in order to record in a more tra­di­tio­nal nota­tion format.

15 mins

  • Per­form the works – each student per­forms their own work /Teacher to per­form / inter­pret if stu­dents are shy. Sug­ges­tion – video/audio record.
  • Loo­king ahead to Guest artist ses­sion – intro­duce the idea of the composer/performer rela­tion­ship, and how they will have the chance to inter­act with the guest.

Teacher’s fol­low-up work : Take the gra­phic nota­tions and put them in a more tra­di­tio­nal / stan­dard Wes­tern nota­tion for­mat. Send these AND the mat­ching gra­phic nota­tion scores to the guest artist. If the student is able to do this on their own, encou­rage them to do it. It could be by hand or using soft­ware pro­grams (free ones include MuseS­core, etc.)

SESSION 3 – Guest Artist

  • Intro­duce the guest artist, their back­ground, their instrument
  • Show the ori­gi­nal gra­phic nota­tions, as well as any tra­di­tio­nal ver­sions that the tea­cher (or student) has made.

5 mins – Guest Artist Intro

35 mins – Per­for­mance / Dis­cus­sion – 3–5 mins per piece (one piece per student)

  • Guest artist per­forms the work, either using the gra­phic or nota­ted score
  • Dis­cus­sion – Guest artist asks ques­tions of the student, encou­ra­ging them to sug­gest different choices or ideas i.e. tem­po, dyna­mics, range
  • Guest artist should have a couple com­ments pre­pa­red for each piece – one fin­ding a strength in the work, and one fin­ding a sug­ges­tion or ques­tion that engages the student’s com­po­si­tio­nal pro­cess again.
  • Stu­dents are encou­ra­ged to ask ques­tions or make comments

5 mins

  • Wrap­ping up. Dis­cus­sion on lar­ger idea of com­po­si­tions, per­for­mers, and music being pas­sed from per­son to per­son, through time. Relate it to music they learn in other places, i.e. tra­di­tio­nal , pop…

Sup­por­ted by Prai­rie Debut – NACC – Black Ice Sound

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