In this activity the children will compose a short piece using just one note. They will use dynamics, articulations and other techniques to create musical expression.
'Using only one note compose a short piece of music – all I ask is that you don’t bore me!'
- Murray Schafer, Composer
Limiting choices is an effective way of composing. When starting a composition, there are often too many decisions to be made. This activity limits those decisions and enables the young people to explore rhythm, timbre, pacing and articulation. It works effectively with any level of technical skill, from beginner to professional and allows each child to be individually creative within a clearly structured framework.
The children will:
A successful composition will:
Play a simple idea on one pitch on your own instrument and ask the children to copy you, all together, as precisely as possible - on any note they choose. Do not set a fixed pulse. Vary your musical ideas. Make them lively and unpredictable. Incorporate different playing techniques, a wide range of dynamics, articulations and rhythms. Make sure that the children are copying you accurately. Repeat the idea if the children are not accurate at the first attempt.
Ask the children to notice and describe the different musical ideas and ways of playing that you have used. Make a list together, adding any the children miss out. Demonstrate and encourage the children to describe the sounds in their own words.
Explain that each person will compose their own piece of music using only one note.
Give everyone one or two minutes to compose a short and simple one note musical idea using just long and short notes and silences. Remind the children that they can use any note. With some children you might want to start with just long and short, notes and silences and then move on to adding different dynamics, playing techniques and articulations. With other children you might want to encourage this from the beginning. Ask them to memorize their idea, and to notice what kinds of sounds or patterns they are using.
The children’s ideas will be diverse: some will use rhythmic patterns; some will concentrate more on timbre, dynamics and articulation with more abstract results. Some will have pulse and others not. Both are valid responses. Value each child’s idea and encourage this diversity.
Listen to some of the ideas and model describing verbally the different musical elements being used and their effectiveness. Continue with this asking the children to describe the ideas and to suggest ways to improve them. E.g. maybe by adding in a silence, a tremolo/trill, or varying the note lengths more.
Now play the children a one note idea and follow this with a simple variation on it (e.g. loud version, add a note on the end). Ask the children to listen and notice what was the same and what had changed? You may need to repeat this to build up a repertoire of variation possibilities for the group to use.
Give the children about 5-10 minutes to create variations of their one note idea. Ask everyone to find a partner to play their variations to. Ask them to listen to each other and notice what has been varied from the original. As you go round listening to the children’s ideas, remind them to use articulations, dynamics, etc. Spotlight different children ideas to demonstrate effective use of this.
Now ask them to create completely contrasting idea but still on the same note. The children now have their original idea, two variations and a contrasting idea.
You might at this point ask the children to find a way to draw their ideas e.g. using dots and dashes. They can use this later for structuring their ideas if they would like.
Variation one (backwards)
Variation two (jumbled up)
Play the children your original idea, its two variations and your contrasting idea. Model using these to make a short piece. It is important to demonstrate different ways that you could do this effectively. See examples on the right. Ask the children to listen and explain the structure that they hear.
Now ask the children to compose a short piece. It can include their original idea, their two variations and their completely contrasting idea. Explain to the children that: they don't have to use all their ideas, they can repeat ideas as many times as they like, and they can revisit ideas.
Listen to the final pieces and again ask the other children to:
Chose one or two of the children's One Note Pieces to turn into a whole ensemble piece. As a group decide:
You could also join some of the children’s One Note Pieces together to make a longer piece.