Alexis C. Lamb


When I was a sixth- through twelfth-grade band director in Illinois, I was continually searching for ways to bring composition and improvisation into our classroom. As a composer myself, it was important to incorporate compositional activities into my lessons in addition to engaging with music through performance, getting the students more involved with the music they were studying and rehearsing for concerts. As a result, I developed a composition curriculum for my large ensembles with the goal of going beyond the classroom and performing a collectively-composed work for our community. The curriculum allowed for a fluid and natural expansion from individual composing to small group performance, discussion, and voting, and then to large ensemble performance, discussion, voting, and workshopping. This procedure applied to every musical building block we focused on for the project, including rhythm, harmony, melody, countermelody, form, and orchestration. Students were naturally engaged in discussion about topics such as melodic contour, harmonic development, rhythmic variation, and structure, but they were also asked to consider what it means to be a composer, all while creating a new composition as a collective team. The resulting work was a composition and performance rooted in collaboration, respect, and theoretical understanding of musical structures. This article discusses the curriculum in greater detail, including its relationship to state and national standards, background knowledge and class climate, approaches to each musical building block, and how to differentiate this curriculum to meet the needs and abilities of your ensemble.