Skylines Composing at Home (Young Instrumentalists) >

In this activity you will compose using the shape of a skyline near you to create a melody.

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Most of us can't go very far at the moment but we can look out of our windows at the skylines around us or, notice the shapes of buildings and other features as we go for a walk in our neighbourhoods. Here's the skyline of Birmingham city centre:

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photo credit: beansandsausages

The first movement of Music for a City by the American composer Aaron Copland is called Skyline. As you listen to the music, imagine the shapes of the buildings he might be describing.

Copland also composed Quiet City. Have a listen. Does it reflect the quiet streets around your home?

Another composer interested in cities is Heiner Goebbels, who composed Surrogate Cities for mezzo-soprano singer, speaker, sampler and big orchestra.  CLICK HERE for a video of Simon Rattle conducting this piece with the Berlin Philharmonic. This performance involves young people and the wider community from Berlin and Potsdam as dancers. 

Your turn!

Take photo of a skyline near you or find a skyline image you like. Now trace the skyline using the edit function on your phone, Ipad, computer or copy/trace it onto a new piece of paper. I've used the Birmingham city centre skyline which has lots of different heights and interesting shapes but something small and local might also have lots of interest.

Birmingham city centre trace 4

Can you play the line you have created so that is becomes a melody? The higher the line the higher the note, the lower line the lower the note. If the line is on a level, stay on the same note. Or maybe, your line is going up or going down. How can you play this? How long is each bit of your line? Try to match how long the line is with how long you sty on the same note. If you want to, you could notate your melody. It might help to draw your shape onto manuscript paper.

Now try and notice some of the features of the buildings or landscape in your photo:

  • Patterns of windows - how many? how big? And how are they grouped?
  • Chimneys, spires, domes and aerials
  • Textures of hedges, walls, fences, fields and woods
  • Decorations on the top of or under roofs
  • Interesting patterns of bricks, pillars or ? Are they regular or irregular?

How could change your melody to reflect these differences? Maybe....

  • The number of windows and how they are grouped tells you how many times to play a note
  • Chimneys and aerials become accented high notes.
  • Your sound or how loud or quiet you play changes to show different textures and patterns 
  • You zoom into a particular feature or section.

Create a final piece from your ideas. Please send any music you create to and the image that inspired it.

For a PRINTABLE version of this resource CLICK HERE