What I learned from… my Year 9s this week about ‘one extra step’ in learning to write a melody

Melody is one of the aspects of music that is so familiar to our students, but from the coursework I see, it also causes the greatest problems in GCSE composition. If the melody isn’t purposeful or controlled, it’s not going to be improved by adding other things to it.

I’ve recently moved to the free Sibelius Mobile edition, which does everything we need it to without costing anything. Having explored it for a while, this term we’ve rolled it out to all 240 year 9 students. Composing is a long process, so if the students have a tool to be contiually exploring, listening and creating, it will be easier for them to be encouraged – it doesn’t matter where they are!

If you want to try this app, there are a couple of things to note. There is no autosave as on other apps – you have to remember to tap the arrow in the top left corner and press save from time to time and before closing the app. Also, to maximise space on the screen, the controls and menus are well hidden. Here’s a video I made to help you to get started in Sibelius Mobile. The video has an English commentary, but with auto translated subtitles available in many lanaguages, including Ukrainian, which is used a lot in my school now.

Anyway, What I learned from… my year 9s is they needed just one extra step to feel confident this week. The task was for them to ‘write an original 4-bar balanced melody to clearly establish their choice of key and to make the music sound unfinished in the middle and finished at the end’. As with all new apps and pieces of software, I always create time in the classroom for ‘exploring without an agenda’. That was last week, so this time I modelled my thought process to composing this short melody. The first two classeses I taught really struggled, despite significant step-by-step scaffolding.

One student then said to me they completely understood what they were trying to do, but didn’t have the confidence to deliver it using the software – so I added one further step. Having explained the process, I asked them to copy my exact melody into their new software. For some this took a long time, demonstrating the impossibility of asking them to compose and input notes. Very few needed help and all were proud that they had entered the notes accurately and could hear it being played, just as mine was. They may not have made the compositional decisions (yet), but they felt a sense of success and achievement. As they continued on to write their own music, there was less panic in the room and the students began to develop their own melodies with confidence.

It’s strange as so many of our key stage 3 tasks involve students trying to match something that is modelled at the front of the class. This ‘one extra step’ could easily be adapted to help students compose more confidently at GCSE.

Here’s a link for the Sibelius Mobile app for iPad and iPhone

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