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  • Writer's pictureMillie

Composition and Sight reading: an all-in-one activity!

After attending a workshop led by Eric Johnson (checkout his website here), I decided to try one of his activities. The results: class compositions AND sight reading for the day! I've included the step by step for the activity below.

Step one: Create a one measure rhythm

I gave each student the task of creating one measure of rhythm. It had to be in 4/4, and they could use any combination of whole, dotted half, half, dotted quarter, quarter, and eighth notes. I also tried this with one of my 6th grade classes and made it more accessible by eliminating dotted quarter and eighth notes as options for them. If you look in the picture at the top of the post, you can see that I drew each rhythm and included how many beats each one gets as a friendly reminder.

Step two: Pick a couple of students to write their rhythms up on the board

On the second staff from the top of my board, I marked out 8 blank measures. As I was walking around helping and checking everyone's work, I asked a couple of students to go write their measure on the board. Once we filled in all 8 measures, we read this as a rhythm example. Taking the time to let students create their own rhythms was interesting. A lot of them were drawing the rhythms right, or had the right idea in their head, but would forget little things like coloring in the note heads for quarter notes, or had trouble remembering which notes used dots.

Step three: Add pitch

This is the exact same rhythm example as the previous picture, but with pitch added. After we clapped the rhythm example, I then had students go back through as a class and add pitch to each note. The rules were:

  • The first and last note could only be Do, Mi, or Sol

  • Each new pitch could be the same note as the one before it (up to 4 times in a row), or the note above/below the previous pitch. That way, everything moved in step-wise motion.

I tried picking students a few different ways. In some classes, I just went in order down the row and had each person tell me the pitch they wanted. In other classes, I let individuals volunteer. Whenever they got confused, they could ask me what their options were, and I told them the pitches they could choose from.

Step four: Sing it!

The video above shows the entire activity with my 7th period class. If you fast forward to the last minute or two, you can see them sight singing it (this class is 7th grade, so I have a mix of beginners and students with one year of experience). This process took about half of my 50 minute class period. I think if we start doing this regularly, I would be able to do it faster. But it was totally worth it because of everything they reviewed and learned. At the end of class, we talked about everything this one little activity addressed, including:

  • rhythm review

  • time signatures

  • composition

  • knowledge of the major scale

  • sight reading

  • note construction

If you try this with your own classes, let me know how it goes! Also, check out Eric Johnson's website, because he has some cool lesson ideas, Promethean board templates and other tricks for the middle school classroom.

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