Sequence Song (Composition Activity)

One of the most basic compositional techniques is a sequence. It happens when composers use a basic idea and then they repeat it starting on a different note. Beethoven uses it here:

Beethoven Sequence

The carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” uses it here:

Angels sequence

This week my students used it to compose their own songs.

What You Need:

  • A copy of this worksheet for writing out their song. Print one out for each student.
  • A pencil
  • A method of choosing start notes for each sequence (optional)
    • I used a toy catapult to lob small balls at different targets. It was a big hit, but anything will work. Dice, bits of paper to draw from a bag, shuffled cards, anything.
    • Alternatively, you could just tell the kids what notes to use. Or have them choose themselves. That’s easier, but less fun. I gave my students this option instead of the catapult. None of them took me up on it. As one student said, “When in doubt, always go with the medieval weaponry.”

Setup:

  • None. (Unless you have chosen an elaborate method of choosing start notes.)

How to Compose:

  • Explain what a sequence is. I used the examples at the top of this post.
  • Start by writing their name up top as the composer. They can also give it a title, but my students all preferred to save that for last, after they’d heard their song.
  • Starting on C, compose two measures in 4/4 time. Write it down on the first staff on the worksheet.
    • Older students could write it out themselves, but I found it saved a lot of time if I just did it for them.
    • Some students need a fair bit of help thinking through the timing so that they end up with eight total beats.
    • I did not allow black notes, and I encouraged most students to stay within a five-note pattern. It just makes the next steps simpler.
    • I did insist the first note had to be a C to establish the key in our ears. Technically, this is not required, but again, we were trying to make it work for them. The theme does not have to end on C.
  • Make sure the student can play back the main theme. If they’re unsure, they should do it several times.
  • Choose the starting note for the first sequence using whatever method you’ve chosen.
    • If you’re choosing for the student here are some common chord progressions from C:
      • C-C-F-G-C
      • C-A-F-G-C
  • Write the starting note on the blank line for Sequence 1 and have the student play their main idea having moved their hand so that their first finger is on the new starting note.
    • There is space on the worksheet to write out all the notes. I usually didn’t bother. The students can do it without that.
    • Depending on the melody, the note we moved to, and the ear of the student, some students objected to the way it sounds in the new key. If they did, I made some suggestions for slight modifications to make it sound better. The theme sounding minor is not a bad thing. It actually adds to the interest of the piece. But if they are starting on F, they may want a B-flat instead of a B. Or if they’re starting on E, they may want an F-sharp instead of an F. We played that by ear. With the older students, we talked through why those notes sounded wrong to them.
  • Play the song so far.
  • Repeat those steps for the next set of sequences, until you have filled the page.
  • The final sequence should be a repeat of the main theme in C. If the melody does not end on C, add a whole note C at the end to finish it off.
  • To finish it off, we played the whole song with me improvising an accompaniment below their melody. All of my students were very pleased with how it sounded once we had an accompaniment, and they had very little trouble coming up with titles once they’d heard the whole thing.

Sequence Song

 

 

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