Creating Original Improvisation Compositions


Lesson Plan 1 – Assessing Attitudes and Perceptions

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In this lesson, concert band students will write an initial short response, discussing their perception and attitude toward both composing and improvising music. Next, students will participate in an improvised composition using an ostinato and three-note choices in a minor key, to “tell a story.” Following the musical activity, students and instructor will discuss the improvisation experience, then students will write another reflection about composing and improvising.

Lesson Plan 2 – Expressive Elements Toolbox

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In this lesson, concert band students will identify expressive elements in music, including articulation, dynamics, phrasing, instrumentation, tempo regularity, and other aspects. Students will summarize the many expressive elements present in musical works that communicate and give power to music, referring to the student-generated list at the front of the room. After this lesson, a graphic image “expression toolbox” will be posted in the room for further reference.

marias aesthetic valuing grid. Here are Maria’s thoughts on what is important in a piece of music, and how she will decide if it is a quality piece.

Marias listening map (click link to view). Here is Maria’s imaginative listening map. As a warm-up activity one day, we listened to Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture.” I asked students to graphically represent the themes, expressive ideas, and various parts of what they heard. The results were varied, but students enjoyed trying to “draw” music.

Expression Tools chart of one band piece we are studying (click to view) Here is a little chart I made for one of the pieces we are learning, to illustrate some of the important musical and expressive elements.

Lesson Plan 3 – Outline the Form

Form helper sheet for one of our pieces Click here to open the teacher-created form worksheet.

Maria’s Form Analysis (Click to view) Students did their best to outline the form of one of our band pieces, as you see here in Maria’s paper. Afterward, each student added a brief statement to share what value the activity held for them personally. No format or worksheet was provided for this activity.

Leticia’s Form Analysis

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In this lesson, concert band students will diagram the form of a musical work, labeling and discussing various parts of the piece. In addition, students will identify expressive elements at transition points between larger sections and discuss their role in delineating the form. Lastly, students will perform the piece in class, with special attention to the form and musical elements.

Lesson Plan 4 – Play the Picture, Game

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In this lesson, concert band students will discuss possible emotions portrayed in pictures from magazines.

View students performing “play a magazine photo”
Volunteers will improvise short melodies to depict the emotions identified by students. The teacher will show a video clip of non-jazz improvised or “experimental” music, leading a class discussion about how music can be generated within limits or improvised to express an idea, emotion, or story — like the “sad story” from Lesson 1.

Suggested video link:

Lesson Plan 5 – Creative Food Day

collage from food day 2-1
From Desktop

Students celebrated our new focus on creativity with “Creative Food Day” on April 16th. Many students found creative twists on old favorites, and everyone enjoyed a treat.

Aesthetic Valuing, Improvisation Concept Terms

improv classroom signs

Click this link to open several interesting classroom signs that illustrate principles for good improvising experiences. In our lesson, students pasted these signs to an orange background paper and chose their “spot on the wall” to put up their sign for others to enjoy.

jesus aesthetic valuing grid (Click to view) Here is a student response regarding what is important to value music, and a chart this student created to rate a listening selection for musical qualities.

Fresno project photos April 20102
This week, students explored and discussed ideas for improvising. In the photo shown are several quotes with improvisational tips, which were passed out to students during class.

Each student read the quote to the class aloud on Monday, with elaboration on the concept given by the teacher.

On Tuesday, all students were given orange background paper to attach with their quote to the front wall of the classroom. Students were again given a creative music activity to explore these terms and concepts and participated in further discussion to check for understanding.

For a better view of the photo, please click on it. Mixed among selected quotes from the week in this photo collage are images of some of the students participating in our creative unit.

Final Project Process

Last week, we celebrated our studies in creativity with “creative food day,” wrapping up several weeks of lessons leading up to this final project. The students seemed excited to bring in various food items — partly because they had to get creative with their treats, and partly because it was, to them, a party.

The lessons include music form, tools for expression (phrasing, dynamics, texture, etc.), improvising, and creativity-generating exercises in class. Students are ready to create an improvisation piece and perform it for their peers. To help students gain confidence and feel more willing to create freely, they are given the opportunity to choose 1-4 partners to work with for the final piece and a list of extra credit options to include in the final product.
Here are the steps leading up to the improvisation piece and performance:

1) At the beginning of class, teacher and students play “Simon” musical game. This is a my turn/your turn direct instruction game. The teacher plays a pitch on an instrument, and students copy it. The teacher next plays the same pitch and adds another pitch. The students echo back the two notes. Teacher and students go back and forth several times, with teacher adding a new pitch to the end of the note set until the “melody” is ten or more notes long. The pitch set used for the game is the concert b-flat scale.

2) Next, teacher selects an advanced student to illustrate an activity to the class. The teacher plays the same 10-note melody used for the “Simon” game above, while the student creates a bass line using notes 1-4-5 of the concert B-flat scale. Teacher and student repeat their patterns together a few times, demonstrating how a short piece can be improvised with a pitch set and a bass part.

3) Finally, students are given the opportunity to work together in groups of 2-5 students to create improvisation pieces. Directions and a requirement list are passed out to students and thoroughly discussed by the teacher. The final piece will require a clear form, a definite set of pitches (ether 3-5 notes or the concert B-flat scale), at least 3 tools for expression, and will be 16+ measures or > 30 seconds long, written using notes/staff paper, diagrams, or creative symbols, and will have contributions from each group member during both the creation and performance processes. Each of these concepts was covered in a previous lesson.

4) Students meet with their choice of students for 20 minutes to try musical ideas, begin outlining their composition, and practice putting the improvisation piece together. At the end of this initial “creation” session, each group turns in a hand-drawn sheet of ideas they plan to use for the piece, including what the form will be, when each player will perform, and more if possible. Student groups are simply given a blank, white paper to draw their piece on, and each student group decides what to write down to help them structure the piece of music.

5) Groups meet during class time 15-20 minutes per day, 4 class days. Each session, groups continue to develop their improvisation pieces, refine their graphic non-traditional music “score” of the song, and prepare for the final performance.


Here is an example piece, “Maria’s Group.” You will see other work by Maria throughout the unit materials.

marias group creative score (Click link to view)

The Final Project: The final project produced through this unit is a student improvisation composition, with a creatively generated alternative score, small group live performances, and written reflections. All items will be assembled into a portfolio for each student prior to final grading of the unit.

Listen to some of our student performances:

Joel’s Group Audio (Click to listen) one tenth grade, two eleventh grade, one twelfth grade/three trumpets and a tuba {Insert:}

Rosellia’s Group Composition (Click to listen) one tenth grade, one eleventh grade, three twelfth grade {insert:}

Daila and Teresa Bell Duet (Click to listen) two beginning ninth grade percussion students {insert:}

Gina’s group audio (Click to listen) three tenth grade students, an improvised work w/lyrics, vocal percussion, clapping, and instrument parts.{Insert:}

Watch some of our group performances:

The video above shows one total beginner (ninth grade) and one intermediate mallet student (eleventh grade) performing an improvised composition together.

This video includes two complete beginner ninth grade boys and one tenth grade intermediate percussionist who has very limited mallet experience, performing an improvised piece.

This video is “Mystical Meadow,” an improvised work created by four ninth grade students.

What did the student-produced materials for “Mystical Meadow” look like?

A copy of their creative score appears here (click this link): mystical meadow creative score

The teacher-graded rubric sheet for Mystical Meadow appears here (click this link): mystical meadow actual grading sheet

Here is the final written reflection of one student from the “Mystical Meadow” group (click this link): cindys personal reflection

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