Reflection on Scaffolding Composition For Students

Image result for music score glasses

The Task

In this task, I created an iBook, as a resource to guide students through a set of composition activities. The resource is aimed at students in Years 9-10.

Access the iBook here.

Choices, and Starting the Process

When I first started considering alternatives for a model for a Composition Scaffolding resource, multiple ideas entered my head. As with any learning resource, the first step is to consider:

“What is most needed?”

Recognising the connection between music and identify (Barrett & Veblen, 2012), I wanted to choose a style that would be meaningful for the students. I also wanted to choose one in which they would have the most likely chance of being able to perform their ideas on live instruments, as this can be a powerful learning experience.

I also wanted to choose a style in which students can succeed, and in which the skills are of a nature that students can begin to confidently develop mastery of these skills (Lawrence, 1978). For a class of Year 9-10 music students, it is highly unlikely that any more than a handful might have studied classical harmony. Some students may not even be able to read music fluently. In consideration of this, and the need imposed by the Board of Studies to create a score, I decided not to choose any styles that require extensive harmony training, as I did not want to demonstrate a false, simplified process of composition. I preferred rather to give the greatest opportunities for students to use their own creativity, in an authentic environment with as few barriers as possible. As a result, this resource gives simple ideas and scaffolds, leaving much room for the student to experiment.

I considered looking into the modern Art music direction, but in the end chose to look at the folk-rock music of the Corrs, as this would be more familiar for many students, and provides a fairly set structure upon which to scaffold ideas. I have also been incredibly inspired by Lucy Green’s research into how students can learn through informal learning, and the use of popular music as a resource, and was keen to make use of some of her ideas (Green, 2002). Freedman’s Teaching Music Through Composition: A Curriculm Using Technology (2013) also inspired me to use a pop style, encouraging the use of resources such as GarageBand. The book helped me to recognise the enormous value of the technology that our students have at their fingertips, and the important opportunities for creativity that this can provide, particularly for students who lack necessary skills on live instruments.

Working With “Hurt Before”

I chose to work with “Hurt Before” as it provides a good example for teaching the various parts of a pop song, layering each in gently. The repetitive melodic lines also help to simplify the task for students. While students are able to become familiar with the usual band instruments, the Folk-style elements of the song encourage the use of other acoustic instruments, involving opportunities for students to incorporate their own skills.

Creating the Resource

I began by listening frequently to “Hurt Before” as well as other pieces by the Corrs, to get an idea of their style. I also did some further research on the band, through various documentaries and news clippings. I quickly realised that there were multiple ways of scaffolding this type of composition. For a while, I was very hesitant to impose my idea of a suitable scaffold upon students, since song writing is such an individual process, in which inspiration can come in many forms. As mentioned by Andrea in the documentary of In Blue (2012), there is no one method or approach. Having read through several approaches used by Freedman (2013), I decided to begin my scaffold with chords, as these are simple to structure, and give an easy platform upon which to experiment and improvise. I encouraged singing as early as possible, recognising the natural connection between singing and creativity, as a means to create melodies (Paynter, 1992). As I worked through each step of the process myself to check the suitability, I made resources and video tutorials to guide students. However, I constantly tried to emphasise the importance of students’ own experimentation and creativity.

Click here to see a draft of the original outline

Problems Encountered

I faced several problems in creating this resource. One particular concern was how to cater for students of such differing abilities. I have tried to meet this concern by leaving much room open for creativity, and providing optional extra activities. Students also have the option to skip over videos if they are confident with the content. Another concern was how to ensure students are actively engaged in creative activities. Having recently returned from a 3rd Year University Practicum, working with high school students, I have noticed that even the confident “musicians” who can read music are still often very daunted by the idea of creating an original composition, whatever the genre. I have tried to meet this need by creating baby steps within each chapter, providing examples and helpful resources wherever possible. Another issue was how to teach students to create a score, particularly students who have limited reading skills. While I mainly used the score option in GarageBand to assist with this, I recognise that the task could be quite challenging for some students.

Where I Would Go Next

Once students have completed this course, I would encourage them to show their work, through recording and presenting the audio, talking about the process, or performing live. These are all important aspects of the learning process, in which students can feel pride in their work, and inspire their peers. I would also use this resource as a stepping-stone towards more difficult composition models.



Barrett, J. R., & Veblen, K. K. (2012). Meaningful connections in a comprehensive approach to the music curriculum. In G. McPherson (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Music Education (pp. 361-380). doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199730810.013.0022

Freedman, B. (2013). Teaching music through composition: A curriculum using technology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Green, L. (2002). How popular musicians learn: A way ahead for music education. Burlington, VT;Aldershot, Hants;: Ashgate.

Lawrence, I. (1978). Composers and the nature of music education. London: Scolar Press.

Paynter, J. (1992). Sound & structure. New York;Cambridge [England];: Cambridge University Press.

The Corrs (2012, August 11). The Corrs – In Blue documentary [Video file]. Retrieved from