Friday, October 18, 2013

Can 5th Graders Compose?

In music, knowledge always manifests itself in a physical way.

Everything a musician (or artist, or athlete) knows about a topic is proven through performance. Musicians prove their skills through performance, artists prove their skills through their works, and athletes prove their skills through competition.  In the arts, in sports, and in any applied subject, the ultimate focus is never on skills - the focus is on what you do with your skills.

But at what age can we expect students to prove their skills at something as advanced as composing? That is what I hope to find in the project I have started with my 5th grade students.  We are composing using

To be fair, even 5K students can compose with inventive notation (I buy pipe cleaners in bulk).  But I am talking about real composing with traditional notation.  These two questions come to mind:

• Will the students be able to live up to their own expectations when composing a song?
     If the students are not able to compose something that sounds like the music they hear around them, they will likely give up before feeling a sense of accomplishment.
• Have I (as the teacher) given them enough skills to make this experience possible?
     I've had most of these students since 5K.  Have I made the most of every minute together so they can be successful at this project?  Have I scaffolded our learned appropriately over the last 5 years?

It is something I've always wanted to do with students, but in the golden age of Sibelius and Finale, composing was reserved for the few with the money and the skills. Now, web-based programs such as Noteflight have made it possible for anyone to compose easily.  Programs like Noteflight make it easy for students to experiment, make connections quickly, listen, and revise work without too much risk.

We will see - and I will let you know.  If you have used Noteflight (or similar programs) in upper elementary, please let me know what worked (or didn't work) for you.


  1. I am going to be trying this soon with 5th graders. How did things turn out? Did you give them any sort of parameters? Thanks!

  2. Saw you on twitter. I just finished NoteFlight last week and the students seemed to really enjoy it. I'm doing it 3 times this year hoping the last composition can be measured against the first to show growth and understanding. This is my first year at another school, in another district so I didn't know what scaffolding had taken place. I'm looking forward to doing this frequently. I appreciate what you said about it and hope to hear about you finish this project! Thanks for sharing. Bruce