In QCA ICT Unit 3B, the expectation for most pupils is to use a music program to develop and refine a composition. Some children will have progressed at least to creating a sequence of musical phrases on the computer, while others will have succeeded in adapting their composition for performance.
The idea of "phrases" linked to pictures immediately suggests Compose World, a long-established BBC / Acorn program which has been improved in the Windows version. Many teachers will remember seeing this screen:
The named pictures are simply labels - they do not describe the sounds in any way. Here, icons have been dragged onto the grid to create a sequence. 'Play' has been clicked, and the playback has just begun.
The learning outcome of Unit 3B is "to organise and reorganise sounds by manipulating appropriate icons". Development of ICT skills and awareness is only a secondary aim of Compose World. The prime aim is in developing children's listening skills, and in giving them opportunities to apply musical judgement in manipulating timbre, tempo and musical form to create a composition - irrespective of whether they can play an instrument or read stave notation.
There's really no need to limit children to trees, teapots and tinny piano sounds. Compose World Junior contains seventy tune files, covering a range of musical styles. Many feature more than one instrument, and the instrumentation may be changed.
The Kent ICT project report on Compose World in a Reception class shows in more detail how tunes may be created and changed. The teacher introduced the program to extend children's ICT skills, but she soon became aware of how even the youngest children could talk about their musical preferences.
Strictly speaking, you do not select a "phrase" in Compose World. A phrase may be a longer series of notes. In music, a phrase is complete in itself, having shape and making "sense". Motif is probably a better word for the melodic or rhythmic fragments associated with each icon. A phrase may be created from two or more motifs which fit together well. The tune or melody (like a complete sentence in English) is formed from two or more phrases which complement and balance each other.
Compositions may be saved as MIDI files. Provided the software can handle MIDI files, children's tunes may be featured in multimedia presentations. Textease and Clicker 5 have this facility. Your PC must be enabled to play MIDI - click here for advice.
Composed World 2 kict/is available for Windows only. It has many additional features, such as printing in conventional notation and arranging more than one track. Compose World Junior is a betterkict/ starting point for most non-specialist teachers and pupils, but you may quickly want to progress!
Here's a simple melody created from the grid Fruity. Most melodies are greatly improved by including some repetition. Many classical, popular and traditional tunes have forms based on repeated phrases, such as ABAC or AABA.
In 'composing' even at this very simple level, it's vital to listen carefully to the motifs, individually and in combination. Why do the cherries give a better ending than the grapes? Try replacing the lemon with the banana. I'm not happy with the pear - what could go in its place?
In Fruity, children may select one of the motifs and play repeatedly on their percussion instruments. Three of the motifs in fact have the same rhythm. Do any other motifs share the same rhythm - although the notes are different?
The beat is a steady 1 - 2 - 3 -1 - 2 - 3... Perform on instruments as the tune is played on the computer. There is a Loop button for continuous play:
Now, ask the children to play without the computer. Begin with the pineapple, pear and cherry rhythm - it's a crotchet beat in triple time. One by one, bring in the more complex rhythms.
The ability to maintain a rhythm against a consistently steady pulse is vitally important in music performance. QCA Unit 4 for Music (Years 1 / 2) aims to develop "children's ability to recognise the difference between pulse and rhythm and to perform with a sense of pulse".
Compose World Juniorkict/ has folders of tune files, some of which have a particular purpose. In the Play folder, Along has catchy rhythms and harmonies which invite singing or playing along. The first three motifs are basic building blocks to get the tune going. The others each contain two full bars, and this time they really are phrases! The genre is very familiar, and easy to arrange into a composition.
In the Moods folder, Dreams gives an extended choice of motifs. There are 5 instruments, chosen for their soothing, sustained timbre. If you change these, or vary the tempo, you can totally alter the mood of the piece.
Achieving a good balance between the instruments requires careful listening. Some are louder or more penetrating, and can dominate. Which parts do you want to come to the fore?
QCA Music Unit 18 (Years 5/6) includes this activity: "Create an ostinato (i.e. repeating) pattern using a sequencer to suggest a space vehicle travelling through deep space. Experiment with tempo controls and different sounds." Dreams or Midnight could be used. Rocket in the Story folder is another possibility, if it is greatly slowed down. Children may find others.
In the Learn folder, Beat enables children to lay out a rhythm track to which they may add their own performance. There are also grids with simple chords, to accompany children's playing or singing.
Children's compositions may be stored in two ways: as Compose World grids and as MIDI files. The latter may be played in other software, as part of a multimedia presentation, for example. MIDI files saved on disk may also be transferred to a sequencer or keyboard which has a floppy disk drive. Click here for advice on playing MIDI files in other Windows applications.