Borrow or steal! Composing at Home (Young Instrumentalists) >

Compose by borrowing or stealing a tune from a piece you already know. Re-imagine it to create your own melody.

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Borrow... or steal

In this activity you will borrow or steal a tune from a piece you already know and re-imagine it to create your own melody.

Many composers borrow or steal snippets of other people's music to use in their own music. One of the most famous of these is Hammered Out by composer Mark Anthony Turnage who borrows from Beyonce's Single Ladies.

Turnage's son Milo loved to dance to the track and so he created this piece. Here is is performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain:

Composer Thomas Adés uses Cardiac Arrest by Madness:

Here, Thomas Adés arranges a much older melody Les barricades mystérieuses by Francois Couperain:

For a printable version of this resource CLICK HERE

Your Turn!

Do you have a favourite piece of music that you feel confident playing? Now look at it again. Play the melody section by section. What do you notice about the melody: the melodic shapes, rhythm patterns, phrase structures etc. Create a list and mark the different sections/phrases.

Here's Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:

Twinkle Twinkle 1

Twinkle Twinkle has these musical features:

  • Melodic pattern: two notes repeating on the same pitch, then two other notes and so on
  • Distinctive interval: a fifth between first two and second two notes 
  • Rhythm pattern: 6 crotchets followed by a minim
  • Pitch contour: steps that go down

Choose a short section of your melody. Play the section again but vary it in some way. You could change the pitches, dynamics, duration, speed, articulation, play it backwards etc. Use the downloadable variation ideas below to give you ideas. 

Here are some examples from Twinkle Twinkle: a grand loud slow version of the first four notes:

Twinkle 2

and, a fast staccato repeating version of the repeated note falling figure. 

twinkle variation 2

Now choose some of your favourite ideas from your explorations. It might help to write them down in music notation. Play around with putting them in an order to make a longer piece. Think about the beginning, middle and end. You could start with the original and then your version. You can repeat ideas as many times as you like. 

Or you could record you ideas and use Audacity to organise the different sound clips. 

Please send any music you create to