I think one of the most empowering things we can do as music educators is to encourage students to create their own music. This experience can be very satisfying to students as they get to create, and play, their own music. Creating does not have to be a huge four part chorale-it can start as simple as creating a one measure beat pattern, or a four note melody. Using those experiences as the building blocks can then encourage more advanced creating, which is exactly what we are doing in beginning band.
During the first week of playing, students were creating melodies using the first notes that we learned (if you remember, or scroll down, we started learning notes via a number system). We did a little bit of this each day-no rhythms really attached. Then the next week, when we started exploring rhythms, we created rhythms together-clapping and counting and adding one note-this was all done on the white board in the room (that is about as high-tech as we get in this particular classroom). Then students created their own four measure melody, utilizing various rhythms and notes (still not on a five line-four space staff). We shared our melodies as a class, again on the white board and students offered comments and suggestions. It was a great learning experience!
Fast forward to the past two weeks, we have been working on transitioning to learning the notes on the staff. As a way to demonstrate their learning, students are creating an 8 measure melody, on the staff, with rhythms and notes that we have learned. Additionally, they will be playing their creation for me as part of their *play check* (this is when I listen to them individually and is a chance for us to check in, correct some habits and just a bit of one-on-one time that we normally don't get during the week. SO, the students are creating their own play-check, but also demonstrating their ability to synthesize what we have learned. When asking the students about what they liked about creating, one student, a particularly vocal student expressed "I like the fact that I get to play something that I wrote. It is pretty average, but I wrote it."
Not only is this a way for students to demonstrate what they have learned, it allows them to personalize the experience. We discussed what makes something melodic (a variety of intervals) and rhythmically interesting. The creations are really impressive! I would encourage any educator, beginning to high school, and beyond, to consider this activity in their classes. Again, it doesn't have to be a huge "composition" but a little goes a long way. And you never know, you may spark an interest beyond playing an instrument in some of your students.
There are several books that I often turn to for creating inspiration. The first one is Maude Hickey's "Music Outside the Lines: Ideas for Composing in K-12 Music Classrooms" (2012, Oxford University Press). If there was one book to buy, this would be it! I would also recommend Lucy Green's "Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy" (2008, Routledge) and Jackie Wiggins' "Teaching for Musical Understanding, 3rd Ed" (2015, Oxford University Press). All of these books have informed my teaching practice as well as assessment practice.