Ben Somewhen - Skempton Composing with Contemporary Music (Teachers) >

Composing melodies inspired by Ben Somewhen by Howard Skempton

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Programme Note

Ben Somewhen (2007) by Howard Skempton is inspired by ‘fifteen drawings… adorned with texts’ by the artist Ben Hartley. The drawings and words are humourous and lyrical observations of life, reflecting Hartley’s life in Devon in the 1960s. The Ben Somewhen images include short poem-like texts, with black and white line drawings that capture the world of nature and people. Howard Skempton selected fifteen of the one hundred and four drawings in the collection as a starting point for his music.

The fifteen short contrasting musical episodes run without a break, the whole piece lasting just twelve minutes. The music is composed for flute, clarinet, harp, violin, viola, two cellos and double bass. The double bass has a central role in the piece and the composer groups the instruments around it in different ways throughout the music.

The sun is strong by Ben Hartley © Bernard Samuels

The sun is strong by Ben Hartley © Bernard Samuels


In this resource the children will take different aspects of Ben Somewhen as starting points for composing melodies. They will:

  1. Compose a simple melody with accompaniment using chance procedures to generate the rhythm and melody
  2. Compose a melody using intervals of 3rds and other specific intervals.

Learning Objectives

  • To learn how to compose simple rhythms and melodies using random procedures
  • To learn about the interval of a 3rd and to use 3rds to compose a melody
  • To understand how the same musical material can be used in different ways
  • To be able to use visual images to change the character of music

Please listen to Ben Somewhen, performed by BCMG and recorded by NMC, then read the Music Maze Guidance before you begin. 

Resources Needed

  • Photocopies of Resource Sheets 1 and 2
  • Music whiteboards or photocopied manuscript paper
  • Coins or dice
  • Pitched percussion and/or own musical instruments

Activity One: Composing a Rhythm


In this task pairs of children will compose a rhythm using single beat notes (crotchets) and two-beat notes (minims) using coin flips.

Click on the extract from Ben Somewhen to hear Howard Skempton’s version of a melody with single beat and two-beat notes. Point out that the patterns are always shifting and are not predictable.

Explain that the children will now compose their own rhythm to play, using single and two beat notes. In Activity Two they will compose a melody for their rhythm.

Hand out Resource Sheet One. In groups of three or four, ask the children to flip a coin eight times to determine the length of each note for their rhythm. If it is heads they hold the note for one beat, if it is tails they hold the note for two beats.

Ask the children to fill in top row of the eight-box grid with their one and two-beat notes. Some children might be able to notate this, e.g.


Give time for the groups to practice clapping their rhythm followed by using their instruments on one pitch.

Activity Two: Composing a Melody

Using four or five pitches, e.g. C , E , F, B + (A) ask the children to add pitches to their rhythm from Activity One to create a melodic shape to play on their instruments. They can use dice throws, pick notes out of a hat, or find a melody by taking turns to choose notes.

Ask the children to write down the order of the note names in the pitch boxes on Resource Sheet One, for example:

Ben Somewhen Example 2 

Encourage the children to count the beats carefully and to learn to play the melody and rhythm together bit by bit, only adding in the next note when they can comfortably play the notes so far. It may sound something like this:

Notated version:

Ben Somewhen melody

Activity Three: Hocketing

Hocketing means dividing a melody up between two or more players. Ask the pairs to make a new hocketed version of the melody. They need to decide which of them plays which notes of their melody. It will help if they mark on their sheet in different colours who will play which notes e.g.


Below is a notated version.

Ben Somewhen Hocketed Melody

Listen to the audio example played by the BCMG musicians. 

Give the pairs time to practice their hocketed melodies so that the transitions between players are smooth and it still feels like one melody. Introduce the sketches of Ben Hartley (see Images and Page 6 and 7 ). Choosing one of the images, the pairs should think about the mood of the picture, and to list the things they can see i.e. characters etc. Using the picture, ask them to create a version of their hocketed melody that reflects the character/mood of their chosen sketch. They should add no extra notes but think about tempo, dynamics, articulations, playing techniques etc. Listen back to the hocketed melodies

Activity Four: Adding a Chord

Ask each pair to compose a chord using two or three of their notes that sound nice together, e.g. C, E, (F) to accompany their melody. Later on the pairs will join together so that the pair who created melody continue to play their melody but the other pair(s) play the chord they have chosen. (NB If children are using xylophones etc. suggest they create a roll or just a repeating pulse version to create a sustained version of the chord).

Listen to the BCMG musicians perform their chords.


Now ask the pair to play the melody accompanied by their chord. They could either:

  1. Use the original melody played solo or together (in unison)
  2. Use the hocketed version of the melody
  3. Alternatively, you could play the composed melody while the group plays the chord

Discuss the balance between the melody and accompaniment. The children could create a second chord from their notes and indicate where the other children should change chords.

Now allow the groups some time to compose a longer piece that incorporates some of these different ideas to create a short piece - with or without the chords, solo, unison or hocketed melody. They must keep the character of their chosen sketch in mind as they do this.

Activity Five: Building a Melody using Intervals

Much of the distinctive sound of Howard Skempton’s music comes from the distinctive intervals he uses in his melodies. This individual task explores composing a melodic idea using certain notes based around interval shapes.

With their own instrument ask the children to find as many thirds intervals as they can. Hand out Resource Sheet Two for an introduction to intervals. 

With the children listen to these melodies from Ben Somewhen:

Ask the children to listen for the thirds in the melody and the rests between notes. Then ask the children to compose their own melody for their own instrument using a combination of 3rds and rests.


Listen to this melody from Ben Somewhen which uses 3rds and 4ths intervals.

Ask the children to compose a new melody which uses 3rds and 4ths or other specific intervals of your choosing.

Once again introduce the sketches of Ben Hartley (see Images and Page 6 and 7). Ask the children to choose one of the images or continue with the same one and think about its character. They should use it to create a version of their melody that reflects that character. They should add no extra notes but think about tempo, dynamics, articulations, playing techniques etc.

Putting it all together

Now allow the groups some time to compose a longer piece that incorporates some of these different ideas to create a short piece – the pairs melody with or without the chords, solo, unison or hocketed and the individual intervallic melodies. They must keep the character of their chosen sketches in mind as they do this.