Composing and improvising in the classroom!

"The creative dream"


How do pupils work when they are composing? What do they actually do?

What skills, attitudes and understanding do we need to develop in pupils to improve their composing?

How do we plan progression across those skills?

What is the most appropriate pedagogy to achieve the above?


"The process of composing, rather than a judgement on the quality of pupils' composition, is one of the key strands for learning about music..."

"... there need to be planned outlets for at least a proportion of the work produced."

"Use notation only as an aid to remembering or communicating, rather than as a stimulus."

"Lengthy evaluation sessions at the end of lessons are rarely as effective as a musical closure to a lesson in terms of increasing motivation and intuitive learning."

"Provide pupils with work booklets for each whole unit of work with all projects and extensions in to allow them to work at their own pace. These could also include assessment tasks and self assessment sheets and be the record which pupils can take home of their work ... the cost is worth it for the motivation and confidence it promotes." (Suggestions as to how one ensures that the booklet is not 'mislaid' from time to time, will be gratefully received!)

"There is considerable evidence of coasting in group work ... some teachers experiment with a 'mixed economy approach' where some small groups work on parallel issues using different equipment while some work individually at a computer. Although the planning demands are great, this can produce good results."

"All pupils get excited by the keyboard; it's accepted as the modern instrument to play. If we don't use the cultural influences that children have had before they come to us we are bound to be counterproductive and we will lose them." (This of course is one of the key messages of the Arts Effectiveness research referred to elsewhere in this Musiced website.)

The above random extracts are from a booklet published by the National Association of Music Education. Directly relevant to the teaching of any schools' music curriculum worthy of the name, the advice and guidance was born of a practical research project carried out by Bath Spa University in a mix of urban and rural secondary schools.

In the booklet you will find help with:

the processes and skills involved in the composing process

planning, progression, assessment, materials and tasks for the composing curriculum

strategies for managing creative work in the classroom

use of sound sources, including voice, keyboard, computers, percussion and other instrumental skills

resource management, including technical support, accommodation, class size and lesson frequency

Case studies from project schools provide models of effective teaching of composing. Yet they do not gloss over the problems, many of which you will be familiar with.

Don't be put off by the reference to secondary schools; there is practical help and advice here for years four, five and six as well.

The booklet subsumes composing and improvising in the one term 'composing'. (Teachers looking for tips on jazz improvisation in or out of the classroom are recommended also to refer to the Jazz Improvisation feature on this website)

We warmly recommend this booklet, which costs £4. Order it by email to

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