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This is a combination of three posts on Student Composition

Dissonance and Consonance

Its great to be starting our composition unit with grades 5 and 6 this term. Kynan Robinson and I love teaching this unit because its a great opportunity to see and hear student creativity. It’s also exciting to see the reaction of the students when they compose a successful piece of music especially when it’s a collaboration with other students in small and or large groups.

We have decided to begin the unit with looking at consonance and dissonance. Which lends itself to using a picture of a “Haunted House” as stimulus. Discussion ensued regarding what makes a successful scary story and one that has a haunted house in it. Build up, series of events, climax and resolution  We also discussed what are some of the sounds or imagery that needed to be included in our composition.  See Picture

When designing this unit, Kynan and I wanted the students to develop an understanding of consonance and dissonance to facilitate their abilities to create tension and release. The best way of doing this was to play them two pieces of music that use consonance and dissonance to the extreme. The first being Erik Satie’s – Gymnopédie No.1
a great example of consonance composition with mild dissonances. Its best described as background music or furniture music. For the second piece we wanted and example that was very dissonant and the great example of this is Krysztof Penderecki‘s ‘Threnode to the Victums of Hiroshima’. I love watching the students reaction to the opening bars of this piece. The use of tone clusters and glissandi are very effective in getting the point across. After a quick demonstration on how tone clusters are constructed and juxtaposing this against a simple C major chord the students were reading to start our first whole class composition.

Traditionally we have always started with student sound scape but this time we decided to launch straight into melodic and rhythmic ostinati. Using Orff melodic instruments only and as a whole class our first task was to compose a very consonant piece using melodic ostinato. This is to contrast and slowly build to the ‘scary’ part of the composition. Asking one student from each section to quickly improvise a short melodic ostinato they then had to teach it to the rest of their section. Gradually we put each ostinato together refining the odd note and rhythm so that each melody was able to lock together.

Part A of our whole class composition “Haunted House Music”

5J Part A of Haunted House Music Consonant

Moving Towards Dissonance

5J Towards Dissonance

This is the second installment of the grade 5 and 6 composition unit mentioned in previous post Dissonance and Consonance.

“I’m a big believer in getting children to compose from a very early age, in that way the mystique is taken away from the role of composer and it becomes a natural and enjoyable activity for kids to participate in.” Kynan Robinson (musician, composer and music educator)

This lesson focused on how we could shift the consonant movement of our haunted house music toward the dissonant movement. The students decided that we needed to gradual shift and that a second movement was necessary to build the tension.

Playing on Orff instruments has its limitations because most of them are not chromatic. We discussed the various dissonant possibilities of the C major Orff instruments, Shifting their ostinato up a tone, using B and C, E and F because they are a semitone apart, introducing the auxiliary keys Bflat and F#. After playing through the first movement (consonant) the students were given a few minutes to manipulate their simple melodic ostinati. As you can hear some wonderful ideas were created. I enjoyed the fact that they generally maintained  the characteristics of each ostinato an changing just one or two notes.


5J’s 3rd Movement Diabolical

This is the Third installment of 5J’s “Haunted House Music”. The previous two posts discussed Consonance and Dissonance as a compositional tool for students to use to scaffold their musical ideas. As a class we decided that three movements were required. 1st movement needed to sound consonant, 2nd movement was titled ‘Moving Towards Disonance’ (building the tension) and the 3rd we named Diabolical. After rehearsing through the first two movements the students were given only 5minutes to transform their ostinati into the diabolical centering around the clash of dissonant intervals. Again we discussed how this could be achieved using such diatonic Orf instruments and some of the students opted to substitute their F and B notes for sharps and flats. We also discussed how the rhythm could be changed to suit the tension of the diabolical movement.

Once the 5 minutes was up all new ideas were performed and written on the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). Further discussion took place and small changes were made so that the 5 new ostinati would lock together. Then Rehearsed, Recorded and Reviewed.

Their next task is to pull it altogether. How shall they arrange it so that their is smooth transition between each movement? Is it necessary for smooth transition? How is it going to finish?