Notation Project #3: Composing & Creating

Nearly every educational theorist lists creativity as one of the most valuable kinds of learning experiences that students experience. In Benjamin Bloom’s pyramid of higher order thinking skills, creativity remains at the top. Likewise, Bruner, Dewey, & Vygotsky dedicated significant portions of their life’s work towards exploring and teaching creativity. The projects within this module build upon previous skills with music notation software in an effort to promote digital fluency and allow learners to create new educational materials or musical compositions.

Project Options & purposeful constraints

The projects below take on two basic forms. The first is the creation of a teaching resource for a classroom of your choosing using music notation software. The second project is the creation of an original piece of music for an instrumentation of their choosing. These two options allow for learners to choose the path that feels most comfortable and raises their sense of autonomy by adapting to their own interests and motivations.

In both project options specific constraints are introduced. The teaching resource project requires learners to create a document that conforms to one page. This forces learners to narrow their focus and and concentrate their efforts on developing an understanding or facility of a specific concept or skills; a valuable trait in effective teaching. The original composition project calls for specific musical events to take place and constrains the learners to create an engaging piece of music with more more than five notes. Introducing constraints provides the necessary box for learners to think outside of. This notion has been supported by research demonstrating that adding constraints actually improve creativity (Haught-Tromp, 2016) rather than hinder it. Conversely, too many choices has shown to actually work against creativity in certain settings (Iyengar, 2000).

Teaching Resource Project

The primary objective for this assignment is to foster digital fluency in notation and formatting with music notation software. The secondary objective is to provide learners with a “real world” example of how to use music notation software for instructional purposes and foster creativity through student choice.

  • Please include your name (in boxed text) at the top right corner of the page.
  • Describe the type of ensemble you are working with and what you are trying to present / teach. This should take the form of a lesson plan that accompanies the exercise.
  • Please limit it to one page unless you get special permission to go over the one-page limit. This will allow you to narrow the focus of our lesson to one musical concept or skill.
  • Most importantly, be creative. You will get the most out of the assignment if you put your own personal touch on the assignment instead of just making an exercise. Teaching, in and of itself, is an art form.

There are a number of examples of examples of notation projects used in educational settings online. One great resource is Karen Garret’s website, Garret taught for over a quarter century and employed music technology in interesting and engaging ways. On her website, she has provided sample lessons and worksheets that may prove useful when designing a resource of your own. In addition, here are some below:

Customizing & Creating Teaching Resources:

Original Composition Project

Historically, artists and musicians have imposed constraints on themselves to force them to be more creative. Even more commonly, many of our greatest works of art and innovations in science and technology were derived from navigating some kind of challenging situation, whether self-imposed or not:

“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”

– Igor Stravinsky

Project Guidlines:

The purpose of this project is to create a 30-second piece of music, using only five notes and meeting the following guidelines:

  • Be at least 30 seconds in length
  • Have at least 2 melodic voices, one of which must be a counter-melody
  • Contain no more than 5 notes, which should be listed in the subtitle of the work
  • Have a title and the composer’s name (i.e. you)
  • Exported and submitted as a pdf and non-midi sound file

Here is a helpful video demonstrating some compositional techniques that could be useful:

Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.

~Charles Mingus

Extension: Create a soundtrack

Once learners have had an opportunity to create a piece of music with limited musical material, they should have sufficient knowledge of the notation software and compositional techniques to apply elsewhere. One possible avenue is to create a soundtrack for a short film.

The purpose of this project is to leverage the skills gained in music notation softwware and compositional techniques to create a soundtrack to a short film, meeting the following guidelines:

  • Be at least 60 seconds in length (i.e. the length of the film you select)
  • Have more than one melodic voice, one of which must be a countermelody
  • Have at least 4 voices overall
  • Have a title and the composer’s name (i.e. you)
  • Exported and submitted as a pdf of score and parts as well as a movie file (Youtube, Vimeo, .mov, .mp4, etc) with your soundtrack overlaid.

You are free to choose any movie you would like to create your soundtrack. You may also create your own. A simple google search for “one minute short film” should provide numerous options to choose from. Here are some examples of one-minute films that could work well for this kind of project:

The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.

~Pablo Picasso

Removing Audio:

Since many short movies already have audio, you may need to remove it to add your own. This video may help:

Additional Resources:


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