Reinforce the Writing Process through Musical Creation

What better way to explore the writing process than with music?!  Musical creation, or composition, is nearly identical to the writing process that we teach our students.  Just look:

Composing Writing
Prewriting Students brainstorm sounds/melodies for their composition. Students brainstorm ideas/topics  for their writing.
Rough Draft Students get their ideas down. Students get their ideas down.
Revision Students ask: What do I want to improve? Students ask: What do I want to improve?
Editing Students make final corrections using a checklist. Students make final corrections using a checklist.
Publishing Students make a final score and perform the piece for an audience. Students make a final draft (book or otherwise) and read their piece to an audience.

Just explaining these connections between writing and composing to your students isn’t enough, though.  Going through the actual process of composing can be used to explore and reinforce the writing process.  Sometimes students need a new motivation to see things from another perspective and what better way than to change things up a bit and have them go through the same process with a different outcome?  A piece of music!

The following is an activity you can use to go about showing the writing process through the creation of music.  The ideas here are for students who are not necessarily music students and therefore, may not be inclined to making a traditional melodic piece of music.  The following is how to make a Sound Symphony.

Prewriting:

As a whole group or in small groups, have students brainstorm sounds that they hear.

In the prewriting stage, it is also important to discuss audience and purpose.  This will help them as they brainstorm.  For example is this to be performed for their peers, for the principal or for their parents?  Also, why are they composing it?  Is it to try something different, to express their personal likes or dislikes or is it to help illustrate a concept from another unit? You can always go a step further in your integration and pull from the other areas of your curriculum.  For example, have the students create music that will go with a science unit such as the water cycle or a social studies unit such as building communities?

Here are some ideas on how to focus your students if this is to be a personal composition:

  • What are your favorite sounds?
  • What are your least favorite sounds?
  • Where do you hear these sounds?
  • Describe these sounds.

Here are some ideas on how you can focus your students’ musical creation in relation to other areas of the curriculum.

Science focuses:

  • What does rain sound like?
  • What does a storm sound like?
  • What do certain animals sound like?
  • What does the lifecycle of the butterfly sound like?
  • What does a growing plant sound like?

Social Studies focuses:

  • What does a certain holiday sound like?
  • What did Columbus’s voyage to America sound like?
  • What did the Revolutionary War sound like?

Rough Draft:

Once students are ready with some ideas, have them get their ideas down.  For a Sound Symphony students need to follow a format, just as they would if they were writing a paragraph, letter or narrative.  A Sound Symphony’s format is easily structured into a table and must be accompanied by a key.

Part 1 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ………………. x x x x x x x x ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Part 2 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ …….. ………..x x x x x x x x ……….

Key:

~ ~ = rub hands together

….. = tap fingers on the top of your desk

x x  = clapping

At first, you may want to have students write only a one part composition.  More advanced students can write a composition for two or more parts that will play simultaneously.  Students may use instruments or themselves to make the sounds.

Revision:

Just as with writing, your students will think their first draft of their composition is fine, but don’t let them!  Encourage students to revise by asking them such questions as:

  • How can you improve your composition?
  • What can you add to it?
  • How can you make it more interesting?
  • Is your ending as good as it can be?
  • Does it make sense to other people?

Editing:

In the comparison chart, I suggest that there can be an editing checklist just as there may already be one for writing in your classroom.  Here are some things I suggest be on an editing checklist for a composition such as a Sound Symphony.

  • Name
  • Date
  • Title
  • Key with all symbols in the composition
  • All words are spelled correctly
  • Capital letters are in the right spots
  • Neatness

Publishing:

Once the composition has been revised and edited, it is time to publish it.  First, students should make a final copy.  This final copy can be done in pen or in color, can be mounted on construction paper or put into a book format.

The second part of publishing a composition is performing it!  Students may be able to perform it alone, but they also may need the help of a couple friends if the composition has two or more parts.  If this is the case, make sure they have had some practice time before they perform it for the class.

Just as with finished writing pieces, make a relatively big deal with sharing students’ compositions.  You may set aside time for all students to perform for each other or another audience, you may set aside a little bit of time each day for a week or you may even want to audio or video tape their performances.

Other extensions to the project may include:

  • Conducting their Sound Symphony as people in the class perform it
  • Making copies of the composition for the class and performing as a whole class
  • Drawing what you hear from others’ Sound Symphony and making that the setting for your next story

Once you have gone through this process with your students, make it available to them again and again by giving them the supplies they would need in a writing or music center.  Practicing this process is good for their continued success in all kinds of writing!

If you like this idea, please let me know!  Enjoy your time connecting music and literacy. 🙂  It can truly be motivating to students of all ages!

~EMP

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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com. She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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9 Comments

  1. This great — I love the connection between music and writing.
    Thanks
    Kevin

    • Deb says:

      Ditto! Thank you for providing the steps in the process, as that is so helpful. You mentioned having the whole group perform the composed piece, and that made me think of a possible extension. When you are working with the children and having them think of the “sounds”, maybe the children could us things around the classroom to make those sounds. Simple things like ripping and folding paper (or newspaper) make different sounds. The orchestra could use their “found” ways to make the different sounds. It’d give another way for the whole group to participate! Thanks for the ideas Elizabeth!

  2. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for helping others see the transdisciplinary nature in this concept of creating something through a process. Great ideas to help students see the connection between creating in music and reading. Thanks for share such wonderful ideas! I will be sure to pass this on to the teachers at my school!

    @jessievaz12

  3. Susan Riley says:

    We do this all the time – it has SUCH huge benefits! In fact, my fifth graders are just now finishing up their group songs. They created a chord sequence, added rhyming sentences that matched the sequence, worked as a group at playing and singing it together, recorded it on garageband, edited their pieces digitally and have just “produced” their singles. They learn so much musically, but also in regards to writing with voice, flow, grammar and more. Thanks for highlighting this great technique!

  4. Jen says:

    Hi! Thanks for sharing this lesson. I like the pre-writing questions a whole lot. I could easily adapt this for high school. I LOVE music, and it has always been a friend of mine wherever I go–reggae, hip hop, piano, pop, alternative, rock, acoustic rock, and so on. I love it all. Yet, I ironically cannot carry a tune or play an instrument. I am okay with that. I think I could still ask my students to compose songs and respond to music without being a rock star. As an English teacher, I am a writer at heart, after all. 🙂

  5. Mary Ann says:

    Thank you for showing how other disciplines relate to literacy, not only writing but with story development I would love to try this with some of my younger students to really make the point about BME. This opens so many possibilities for writing.

  6. Jen says:

    Ha, ha, ha! I have checked out this article before! Does this mean I have no memory or that I was drawn to it a second time for a reason? 🙂 Thank you, once again, for the ideas: connecting musical composition to the writing process.

  7. Deb Hewey says:

    Linking music to the writing process is a new connection for me and I’m highly intrigued! Following the same protocol for a good piece of writing, yet in a very different project seems like it would make a great brain connection. A child “stuck” in his writing could be reminded of how he did that when writing his song. And just as a student might produce a piece of writing about an event, it would be exciting to produce a piece of music to go with it. I’m thinking of our fourth graders learning about immigration and what sounds might have been heard on an old ship crossing the ocean and successfully arriving at Ellis Island. I’ll have to try this!

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