In the spirit of Music in Our Schools month, I would like to reflect some more on how music can build community, this time through composition. With MCAS (Massachusetts’s high stakes test) next week, I think it is necessary to give my students a balance of testing with play. We WILL go outside and run around more than usual, but I also have something fun, creative and collaborative planned – composing some blues!

Well, yes, I could ask them to write the “testing blues”, but that would be the wrong way to focus their energy! Instead, we will write the Erosion Blues as a culminating activity to our unit on Land and Water.

COLLABORATION – My fourth graders will already have a basic understanding of the blues from what they learn in their music class. They learn and play the 12 bar blues. In fact when I wrote this form on the board yesterday, they clearly remembered it and were ready for a refresher. This kind of integrated project is one that I always strive to implement – one that is true to the integrity of the art form and to the curriculum I am teaching. It also provides a time for real collaboration between myself and the music teacher. She has given them a basis of knowledge in the structure of the blues and I’m going to bring other content to the table. Together, the students will synthesize two important areas of study.

CREATIVITY WITHIN A STRUCTURE – The blues has a relatively easy form for writing lyrics: AAB. For each verse there are three lines of lyrics. The first line is (A), then (A) repeats itself, and the last line is different (B). Once students know this basic form, they can really get creative. I will assign a group of students a specific topic in erosion (water erosion, ice erosion, wind erosion, other vocab terms to use) and let them compose.

COMMUNITY – This type of project, where students create together will surely add to the sense of community. With each verse, students will be collaborating as they show what they know about erosion. The part I am looking forward to is hearing how it will all come out in the end. Each group will perform their verse, creating one unified song through the structure of the blues. And for some added greatness, some students will be able to play the 12 bar blues on Orff instruments from the music room.

This musical experience of composing a piece of music is something I’ve been looking forward to doing with my students. (This year I have a particularly musical class.) It is my hope that I’ll be able to post a performance online. More to come!