With Move Up Day happening this week, students all moved up to the year they will be coming back into in September to get a feel for what it will be like. Year 9 students were able to go to some of their option choices including music. We jumped straight into the musical action with a composing challenge: compose a song (a verse or chorus) from scratch including a chord pattern, melody, bass line and beat. Impressively, here’s the collaborative result which took just under an hour to create:
Year 9 have been learning about Rap, not only its history but also the technical ins and outs – the flow, delivery, enunciation and style. After spending some time listening to classics such as Grandmaster Flash and Puff Daddy, they set about writing their own rap from scratch, starting with devising their own lyrics. Subjects varied from Communism and Feminism to Trump and rabbits… – you can never tell where inspiration will strike! They then had to compose a backing track and rap their lyrics over this. The whole process showed them that rap is a lot more complicated than it might appear. Here are some examples of their work:
So far this term Year 8 have been looking at the concept of structure in music and how composers of all genres and styles give a shape to their work. We have focused most recently on ternary form, otherwise known as ABA form, where there is a middle section which provides a contrast with the outer A sections. Most memorably for Year 8 ternary form can be likened to a jammy dodger biscuit with its contrasting filling sandwiched between two biscuits and of course, in the name of hands on learning, we had to sample a few of these just to be sure!
Here is piece in ternary form which two students composed and performed live to the class:
Year 9’s skirmish with experimental music continues as they explore music concrete. This took off with the invention and development of recording techniques in the 1950s which opened a whole new world to composers, a world which we 21st century-ites take for granted. Music concrete takes raw sounds and then manipulates and combines them into a musical composition.
The students’ first task was to collect a bank of sound samples using the Sampler in GarageBand. They then had to work out how they wanted to manipulate and combine them to create a piece of music. A lot of imaginative work went into this and you can hear some of the results of their labours below:
This piece combines samples and pre-composed loops – spot the topical content of one of their samples!
This is an imaginative remake of a song by The White Stripes in which the students use samples of their voices to realise the parts:
This, at times quite terrifying, piece uses a mixture of vocal samples and sounds recorded from around the school:
Year 9’s entree this term into the world of experimental music is well underway. They have been listening to various pieces which challenge their assumptions about what music is, how it is created and where is is performed, including Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet (for conventional string quartet, except that each player is sitting in a helicopter which takes off and flies around). Their composing brief was to create a piece of music without using any conventional instruments and with the focus being on rhythm, texture, timbre and structure.
Here are some of their creations:
Year 9 have been taking an in-depth look at rap and discovering how complicated it actually is to pull off one that really works. There are several important factors that need to be taken into consideration, including:
- the backing and how it interacts with the text
- the vocal delivery enunciation
- the flow – understanding the rhythms and rhymes in the text
The students have worked hard on this and you can here come of the fruits of their labours. The first one uses as its text Puck’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the students said they were inspired by the example of MC Hammer that we listened to in class. The second uses a poem by Maya Angelou, ‘Life doesn’t frighten me at all’.
Next term Year 9 will be taking a look at rap and trying their hand at writing their own. By way of an introduction they have spent the last few lessons examining the relationship between words and music and the impact that the latter can have on atmosphere and meaning. Their brief was to choose one of two extracts from Macbeth and come up with music to accompany the reading of the extract that would set the scene, track the text and enhance the atmosphere. Interestingly, all except one group chose to use a predominantly string sound for their music and the general consensus was that it conveyed an appropriately dark mood.
You can listen to three examples of their work here. Two were composed on GarageBand and one was performed live on the piano.
What is the connection between a musical structure called ternary form and a jammy dodger? Well, the latter is made up of a crunchy biscuit, a layer of sticky jam, followed by another crunchy biscuit and this three-part structure with a contrasting middle section is exactly what ternary form is all about – A B A. Whilst the jammy dodger is clearly an entity, a whole biscuit which needs each of the three parts to make it the way it is, it can be more of a challenge to achieve this musically, making sure that the three sections of a ternary form composition do actually hang together as a whole.
Year 8 rose to the challenge admirably and you can listen to a couple of their ternary form compositions below:
Year 9’s focus in music for the first half of this term has been the Blues, its history, development, influence, and, of course, the music. They have listened to traditional Blues played and sung by Robert Johnson as well as more contemporary Blues performed by Jools Holland and have looked at the structure of the Blues. The Beatles ‘It’s Your Birthday’ even got a look in as an example of Blues influenced pop music.
Here are a couple of examples of the students own Blues inspired compositions. The first is performed live and the second was composed on GarageBand:
Year 9 have spent the last couple of weeks looking at improvisation and learning how, although on the one hand it is a case of ‘composing on the hoof’, it also takes place within certain parameters, especially if a group of musicians is involved. There is usually a structure or framework and often a chord sequence or a scale which forms the basis of the improvisation. The students were given a chord pattern to learn, over which they then experimented with improvising a melody using the notes from the chords .
Here’s what two of the students created in the form of a piano duet: