Tossing a pile of instruments in front of students and asking them to compose is an appropriate challenge. Students closely listen to the timbre of each instrument and then make effective compositional decisions. In other words, students have to use their musical skill set in an unfamiliar context. That's a good thing for a lot of reasons.
The metal collection shown was put together at a thrift store for about $30. It includes tin cans, frying pans, pipes, a wok, the broiler pan for a toaster oven, a trash can lid, and a tissue box cover amongst other things. There is also a commercial shaker, ribbon crasher, and African gankogui bell, but you don't have invest in those percussion instruments, I just happened to already have them lying around.
How To Teach It
Random Instrument Composition (15-20 minutes) Note: once students get the hang of this procedure it only takes 5-10 minutes.
By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
- Compose and perform a 3 person groove on metal instruments
- Explain the reasoning behind their musical decisions (usually about rhythm and timbre)
- Teacher tells students: "It's your job to create a groove that sounds musical. That means it can't be random noise. It must have a steady beat and be organized in some way."
- Students select instruments and split into groups of 3 (2 is too boring, 4 makes group dynamics too complicated)
- Students get 3 minutes to work on rhythms using body percussion. No instruments yet.
- Students then transition to using instruments for 3 minutes.
- Teacher tells students: "You have 3 minute to rehearse your piece. Make sure you know how to start the groove." (If this gets too noisy, have one or two groups use instruments and everybody else use body percussion again. Then rotate who gets to use instruments.)
- Students then take turns performing for the class
When I first started teaching composition like this, I felt like it was chaos and that I was abdicating control of my class. I also felt like I should be giving super rigid instructions for composition. But giving away some power actually makes students more productive and increases motivation. If students get stumped, they'll come back with the question "How are we supposed to do this?!" Which is great since you can respond "on demand" to students which is much more effective than me lecturing on "how to compose" at the beginning of the lesson.
Also keep in mind you'll hear a lot of grooves that are offbeat, disorganized, or just plain boring. In The Bucket Book I explain how to avoid unmusical results and how to teach students to thoughtfully organize their compositions.
You can extend this lesson by combining the individual student grooves into a massive groove. This doesn't always work, but when it does, it's very cool. Below is an example: