Another Simple Game That Kids Love Three Card Composition

I came up with this composition game for my students a couple weeks back and thought I would share it with all as part of my “Simple Games” series of blog entries. It takes about 15 minutes to complete and I use it as the very first activity of the lesson. The idea behind it is to get students thinking about composition from a visual point of view as well as an aural one. And to explore how compositions can be manipulated to create new sounds without altering the notes.

Here is what you need for the game:

1.Hal Leonard’s All-Purpose (Dry Erase) Music Flashcards. Available @ Amazon for $11.95. Here is a link-

2.Two dry erase markers. (preferably different colors)

Step one is to deal three flashcards to your student and yourself. They are 8.5 X 11 so are fun and easy to write on. Then choose a clef to compose in and I usually take that opportunity to do a quick practice drawing of the clef. I’ll have the students watch me do one and then they will tackle 5 on their own. Erase the card and draw the clef of choice, for this blog I will choose treble clef. I will then assign a signature, 4/4 and have the student draw theirs.

At this point I begin with the parameters (rules) of the game. For beginning students I dictate that they may only use quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes. I may then review the # of beats in each and will flip my card over to reveal a collection of 5 “math problems” using the prescribed note values. (Just simple addition equations where the student has to fill in the total # of beats.) I find review of the basics to be essential so even if it’s “easy” for the student, it is not wasted time in my book.

The next “rule” covers the range of the composition. For our treble clef piece, I allow the students to write no lower than middle C and no higher than D a ninth above. This parameter keeps the piece in a controlled hand position, i.e.. no shifting needed. You could really dictate any range as long as (for beginning students) it does not require a hand position shift. The reasoning is that I don’t want my students to switch focus from the composition to the execution. This game is really about creating and composing, not fingering and execution.

The next “rule” is that on each card I like to dictate that they must use a certain combination of note values. It usually follows this order:
Card #1: only quarter notes
Card #2: quarter notes and half notes
Card #3: a whole note

And the final “rule” is that I ask the students to start on treble G. This is just so that it will start on the first finger in the right hand and fingerings will then become less of an issue. The student (and you on your three cards) then compose a melody card by card. Often a reminder of how many beats are found in a 4/4 bar is required. As well, sometimes the student needs to review the math game from earlier to be reminded of how many or few notes can fit in a bar. Sometimes I have students that want to hear a middle C or treble G before writing. That is fine, though what I don’t allow them to do is sit at the piano and compose. We are sitting on the studio floor and “hearing” the melody in our inner ear while we write.

Once the students and I have completed all three cards, the fun really begins. I take one card at a time and put it on the music stand. The student now sits at the piano, plays and hears her composition card #1. We then add two cards together and then all three cards. Once we have discovered what the piece sounds like, we start to change the order to discover if there is in fact a “better” order for the cards (or mini musical ideas.) Sometimes I’ll add one or two of my cards to the mix or the student may decide that one of her cards needs to be changed. Exploring the compositional possibilities is what it’s all about. I find that the game is a wonderful way for students to write a piece of music but still easily and quickly change it. They begin to hear the creativity in both composing and arranging while all the while reinforcing many musical fundamentals (note identifying, hand position, rhythm, time/key signatures, phrasing). Have fun and let me know what kind of variations on this game you come up with.

Another Simple Game That Kids Love-Three Card Composition