Quick Bytes: can we do this in a music class?

Last week, I went to the opening of an exhibition of undergraduate work from the ceramics department. There was a lot of exciting work, but the thing I was most interested in was a collaborative piece exhibited at the entrance to the show.

As you can see below, each person from the exhibit created a different letter, combining an introduction that retains the individuality of each artist to create a piece where the whole also looks wonderful.

Here’s my question: Can an assignment such as this be created in music education? What would it look like? How would it be shared? Can you imagine a way that we could use some of the technology we have experienced so far in this course to create an opportunity for work to be combined and shared in a similar fashion?

This is a very real question on my part, as I don’t know how we could do this… in addition, Ron Kovatch, the professor of the ceramics program who organized the exhibit said that the students had the idea for this piece. What do you think? Please comment…

ceramics-exhibition2.jpg

If you’re curious to see this in more detail, here’s a larger version: ceramics_larger.jpg

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35 Comments on “Quick Bytes: can we do this in a music class?”

  1. Lauren V. Says:

    The only idea I could come up with would be to compose a theme or motive that everyone in the class likes. It could be the “theme song” for a composition concert where everyone plays their top piece from the semester. From this theme, each student can create their own variation of it using Sibelius or Garageband. This way it links everything together, but lets each student contribute in their own way using their own style of composing. It is a little out of the box, but it is the music version of the ceramics project.

  2. cjensen2 Says:

    I think that Lauren’s idea is great. I definitely couldn’t think of anything better than that, so I’ll just piggy-back onto her idea.

  3. jlaw2 Says:

    i also agree with lauren, however i think another way to do it would be just to give a basic outline, like a form key signature and time signature then put it all together in garage band and spend a class discussing how to arrange it.

  4. bhillho2 Says:

    With the similar idea of a comment above, start with a melodic sequence that everyone likes, then what I would add is a silent cartoon of some sort. Looneytoones would be great, and have the students take like 20 – 30 seconds of the cartoon and use the melody they all agreed on and make it fit with the cartoon. With ideas and things constantly happening in children cartoons (bugs bunny, road runner) they would mold it to many different variations. At the end, put it all together and watch the cartoon. They could use any music notation software. If this makes any sense, great.

  5. sgritz2 Says:

    I like the idea of having the teacher set a common key signature, time signature, etc, and have students write their own 4 measure parts or so and then putting it all together. It might not sound the best, but younger kids might get a kick out of it. Also, you could assign a common time and key signature, etc, and then assign each student a different instrument. So one could write a clave part, another a piano melody, etc. This would probably be the most fun in garageband.

  6. Leslie Goldberg Says:

    I think something that could be cool would be to take an actual piece that maybe a band is playing, non-copyrighted, of course, and split it up so that each person in the class has a phrase of music. Then, each student would go into GarageBand and modify their section until it is unique to them. Then put all of the sections back together and play it after or before the performance of that song at a concert, or while people and coming in.

  7. Jacob Gross Says:

    My first thought is to present a story to the students, and then assign a part of the story to each student to set music to. To be a cohesive work the student could agree on a musical theme that is present somehow in every “movement,” or maybe even themes for characters.

  8. Josh Sove Says:

    If there was a central theme, and everyone could each compose a variation. That’s really the only thing I could think of, although it would definitely be interesting to try out. People would have to submit ideas to the teacher, first, though, or everyone might do a swing theme or something.

  9. marielemke Says:

    I agree with the ideas that everyone gave. I also think that the garage band project that we are working on right now kind of falls into this category. We were all given the common variable of the pictures and are all creating our own version of a song to go with that. This would be a good project to do with students.

  10. reclark3 Says:

    You could have each person take two or three measures of a full orchestra score and change five things in that measure. They can change timbre, pitch, rhythm, instrumentation, etc. and at the end, all of the segments will be put back together and played from the beginning as a whole.

  11. meghann_c Says:

    I agree with the ideas so far, and I can’t really think of any other ways to achieve this…there would definitely have to be some kind of stable idea holding every thing together – such as making it a theme and variations thing as Lauren said, otherwise if you just told the students to create anything they wanted without having to follow some kind of guideline none of it would fit together. The thought of having a common key and time signature would work well here, and maybe give each student a time limit to create their music, and somehow fit it all together…

  12. vabaker2 Says:

    I suppose something like this could be applied to music. However the visual would not be as clear as the picture above. If music is composed some sort of graphic or animation should go with it in order to emphasis the composition.

    Like everyone has said above a “theme” is the best comparison in the music world. However maybe already having a theme and having students create variations in order to vamp them together as a whole piece…

  13. danmorrison Says:

    Maybe the teacher could pick a certain place, like a stadium or amusement park, and assign different parts of the place to different students to compose a little theme for the part of the place.

  14. sara_m Says:

    Marie has a good point. Our current project has some of the same qualities about it as this ceramics project. Just as the ceramics students pieced together different artistic ideas to form a larger piece of art, we are piecing together different musical ideas to form a larger piece of music. It could be shared with the public online, or it could be played at the beginning of a music concert. Maybe the students could use garage band to piece together different melodies or recordings and then put on a recital of these mixtures.

  15. jmrush2 Says:

    Theme and Variations perhaps? By assigning a style of variation from a theme to each student, we can all contribute to the whole work, but each section would kind of be our own. Just like the picture you posted, each person picked their own piece that represented part of the whole, and when looking from a distance, you can see something larger.

  16. zgeller2 Says:

    I think this can easily be done in music form specifically composition. With certain parameters each student could compose a piece that is original and then at the end combine everyone’s ideas into a brand new original composition. parameters could include specific harmonic progressions, amounts of measures, textures… etc

  17. CarmC Says:

    I think that this is a really interesting subject. I think that music is something that comes from having an imagination and being creative. the same can be said for ceramic art. I think that combining both of they will cause one another to feed off one another. there might be somethin you never thought about before while looking at the art, but nw that there is music to go with it there can be mulitiple perspectives, and vice versa.

  18. CarmC Says:

    I think that this is a really interesting subject. I think that music is something that comes from having an imagination and being creative. the same can be said for ceramic art. I think that combining both of they will cause one another to feed off one another. there might be somethin you never thought about before while looking at the art, but nw that there is music to go with it there can be mulitiple perspectives, and vice versa.

  19. rmelend2 Says:

    I think a possible project could be taking a work someone has already composed and altering it utilizing Garage Band. Therefore, creating variations on the piece. Instead of just having one variation, it would be interesting to have the student create 3 or 4 variations to thier pieces (each has stark contrasts). It can be shared publically online or performed at a concert.

  20. Erica C Says:

    I do like all of the ideas that were stated above, especially the idea of having each students come up with four measures of their own and collaborating their ideas with a common time and key signature. They will feel as if they have all created something of their own and contributed in a personal way. After coming up with this work, the students could then present it at a school concert!

  21. mraczki2 Says:

    I guess something that can be done is have each student compose a piece that is 3 or 4 bars long. Tell the students that their piece needs to some how describe themselves or describe a ceritan aspect of their personality. Then work togother as a class to find transitions between each piece and and then play the one large piece at the end.

  22. pianostars10487 Says:

    It makes me think of when you and a friend would take a piece of notebook paper, and take turns writing one sentence on it, and then folding it over so that the partner can’t see it. In the end, you have a crazy story that makes no sense, but it’s connects the two people that made it.

    Well, actually, the art was a lot more organized than that. In the end, they all spelled out something. So, musically, maybe if each person had some defined limits (how many measures) it could work.

  23. Rebecca Ryan Says:

    I think the closest thing that could work would be something similar to the story game, where one person writes a sentence and then passes it around a group to have the story finished. If someone starts out by writing a few measures of a melody and the others continue to add, you could end up with a pretty fantastic/weird/awesome piece of music. Students could use Garageband to compose this, employing sibelius as well if need be. It would be a challenge to do, but at the same time, could turn out some interesting results.

  24. jimmcguire Says:

    I might suggest creating an original class composition. Every student would be in charge of bringing something forward, whether it be a rhythmic idea, 3 to 4-measure melody, etc. All of their ideas could be intertwined together to develop an original composition that they would feel both excited and proud to be a part of, which could potentially further the drive, and therefore success, of the students in the class.

  25. Nick L Says:

    As almost everyone has said, such a project would likely involve some parameters for uniformity. That degree of uniformity could be adjusted based on how the teacher wanted to adjust the end result. For example, the stipulation could be as broad as composing something that conveys a certain mood, to as specific as writing to a certain harmony or with a certain background. There would be a whole spectrum of in betweens which would influence how the different pieces would fit together, whether the goal be uniformity or some sort of neat artistic chaos, similar to that of the ceramic work.

  26. dmig2000 Says:

    It seems like the most possible option would be to create a class composition. There would have to be specific guidelines so the parts would fit together. I think that a twentieth century style piece would work the best where the form and harmonic progression wouldn’t really matter as much. For example each student could be responsible for finding an interesting rhythm in the real world like people walking or talking or rain falling, and put it into the class composition.

  27. Jessica C Says:

    Everyone has very good ideas! I would probably give the students a central theme (a topic that could be taught in a different subject…curricular integration!) and give the students about 8 measures to reflect their own ideas into music using GarageBand or a notation software. Then the students could put them all together and see what the combined composition to sound like.

  28. Matt O Says:

    I believe the easiest way to make sure everyone contributes would be to make a loop type composition perhaps with a predetermined main melody and let everyone create their own complementary element which could be used to enhance at least one repetition of the melody.

  29. mladror2 Says:

    I don’t think it is possible for each student to compose a phrase, and then mash them all together. However, different aspects of a piece can be covered by different students. One student can compose a percussion background, another can produce some sort of harmonious background, like an Alberti bass, and another can produce a melody to follow the harmony and percussion backgrounds. Other students can then tweak dynamics, or add little flavors into it, like a vibraslap.

  30. mus243 Matt Says:

    Here’s my take:

    1. Great ideas throughout! It is also apparent that many of you read through other people’s comments, which is the whole point of this blog (that the communication should flow in many directions and we can all learn from each other).
    2. I think that the group composition ideas above could really be interesting, and would either fly or flop based on several aspects (such as, how long might a piece end up being? Can a single song with measures composed retain some aspect of the individual composers, or would it sound like a single piece? Would this be good or bad? Either way, I think it would be fun to try…
    3. I also think that several people hinted at something like this: have one person start a GarageBand composition (or using another program), then pass it off in turn, and have each person listen and add to this. There is a quilt-like quality that could emerge, and this is actually done in the music world (I’ve had pieces that I emailed back and forth to friends, and we collaborated that way). It is also a bit like a remix…
    4. Speaking of that, perhaps a short piece could be remixed, with each student coming up with a remix of a few measures. This was mentioned above, without the term “remix” used. That could be interesting.
    5. Along those lines, and responding to the welcoming aspect of the Ceramics Exhibition piece, perhaps the class could come up with an opening fanfare, and each student could play or sing a note, creating a collaged version?
    6. Michael recommends that we could also collaborate in a vertical way; having different students each tackle different parts that would simultaneously sound such as melody, accompaniment, etc. I like this idea too, and it starts to pull us back toward what we normally do (perform together on different parts, lines, etc.).

    In any case, some kind of creative collaboration, along with a bit of documentation so that the audience can appreciate the project (such as program notes) would be wonderful. I did do a few collaborateve pieces with my students, and they tended to go over well… Nothing as interesting as what was described above, however—that’s for you to do!

  31. kellyfitz Says:

    I think that in a more advanced class, this type of activity would be even harder to do because each person has a more complete picture in their heads. Having beginner students handle one part of composition, such as picking instruments and putting in little rifts of creative ideas could be the way to go. I don’t think that having everyone work on the composition at one time would work because of the differentiation of creativity.

  32. S_Murray Says:

    Im just going to go ahead and go with the current here…

    Yes, its possible, but only if its a compositional production.

  33. Brendan Frank Says:

    Yes. I definitely think that this would be possible to do using music and music technology. I remember reading Jaco Pastorius’ biography in which he described an idea for an album in which Jaco would record the bassline for each song and he would travel around the world to all of the musicians he wanted on the songs. He would record them playing their parts while only listening to the bassline in the song and then after collecting everyone’s recordings, he put all the parts together.

    We could do something similar like this, except we wouldn’t have to physically travel to each musician, we could just e-mail the parts and then put them together after everyone finished recording to achieve a final product, all composed with personal inflection in each part of the song.

  34. geigegirl Says:

    I like the ideas so far. I think it would be an interesting experiment as well to have each student write several measures of music and then work out a way to fit them together. It would be interesting to see if you could fit them somehow, whether by harmonizing each other or the Theme and variations idea that Joe mentioned or by having the different melodies “fade” from one to another each other. I agree with the statements above that our most recent project seemed to be similar to these lines.

  35. Nina E. Says:

    Personally, I think it would be rather difficult to give students a certain number of measures to compose and then mash them all together. Even with some basic guidelines for this type of assignment, the compositions could be as different as night and day.
    In my opinion the most effective introduction for a class would be very similar to what Lauren discussed earlier. It provides enough structure for a classroom setting, yet allows for students to explore and express themselves creatively.


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