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Composing Music Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-MUS0002
Submitted by: Doug Haley
School or Affiliation: Superior Elementary Superior, Colorado Date: October 31, 1996

Grade Level(s): 2, 3, 4, 5


  • Arts/Music


A simple way for students in grades 2-5 to begin exploring composition. Meets the Composing National Music Standard for composing music.
Have you tried the composing lessons described in the most recent Music Educators Journal? I did, and I would highly recommend it!  If you missed the article, the basic process is:


Step 1:

Write a 4/4 rhythm on the board using quarter notes, eighth notes and half notes. Make the rhythm four measures long for grades 2-3, and eight measures long for grades 4-5. Have the students copy the rhythm (including a treble clef, 4/4 signature, and bar lines) on plain white paper.

Step 2:

Give the students a set of pitches to work with. The suggestion for grades 2-3 was C,D,E,G, and A. The suggestion for grades 4-5 was D,E,G,A,B, and high D. Let the students work with pitched instruments to compose and write pitch names underneath the notes on their rhythm page. (I used 5 xylophones, 2 tone bell sets, 2 electronic keyboards, and 1 piano — I marked the pitches on the keyboard instruments with tape — so there were enough instruments; 1 for every 2 students.)

Step 3:

Show the students a helping staff on the board or overhead projector that shows them where the pitches live on the staff. Give them blank music staff paper and let them make their music they wrote look like real music.

Some things I found out that might help you:

  • Do a LOT of modeling. The overhead projector is a great way to show students what you want them to do.
  • Some students will finish MUCH more quickly than others. Have plans for those who finish early. Some things I did were having the students who finished early write lyrics to go with their song, and letting some students input their notes into the Finale computer music composition program for printout and playback.
  • The whole lesson takes approximately two 45 minute class periods for all of the students to complete.
  • Be patient! It’s hard to nicely explain why something is wrong when there are a large number of pitched instruments busily playing at the same time.
  • Look for spaces (hallways, other rooms) where students can take instruments to so the noise and frustration factor is minimized.
  • This is great stuff, and students learn a lot. Give it a try!
  • Assessment:

  • Did students copy the rhythm correctly?
  • Did they use the pitches they were supposed to?
  • Did they successfully transfer the pitch names to the staff?
  • Can they play what they wrote?