27 Nov 2013

The “Christmas Gets A Makeover” Composition Workbook

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Teachers are getting more creative these days-  which is why I wanted to create an activity book like this that lets teachers use their own ideas to mold the activities in whichever way best suites their students’ needs.That being said, here’s what I had in mind when I created it:Students who have never composed before often get extremely overwhelmed if you give them too much freedom to write, and too many options to choose from. Ah, the paradox of choice!

But sometimes the most timid beginner composers grow into the most creative ones once you break down the barriers for them and just get them started with an idea.  And who doesn’t get excited about Christmas music?!?
I tell my students to re-write a Christmas song, keeping the rhythm the same, but changing all of the notes to new ones that they choose. This is great for so many reasons.

First, it takes one component out of the equation. Composing rhythms AND notes together can be tricky for a composer with little experience. You can always flip this around for students who need rhythmic experience and have them keep the notes and change rhythm instead.

Second, it can serve as a great example of how easily you can change the mood and tonality of a piece. I love getting back versions of Jingle Bells that now sound like Halloween horror stories because students shifted them from major to minor!

Third, and most importantly, it helps mold their understanding of motif, and how important structure is to composition. How many teachers have found themselves overwhelmed by teaching composition because they themselves had very little comp training? As a result it’s difficult to know where to begin helping students when they turn in clumps of notes on a page that have clearly been chosen at random when they were prompted to “write something!”

In my experience, students who started composing with this activity tend to give more structure to their subsequent compositions, molding their ideas into phrases instead of single notes.

Each piece in this book is laid out over two pages. The original melody is written out on the first page. Young students who have not yet studied harmony and chords can work with only this page to write their piece on the corresponding blank staves below.  The measures have been laid out so that each blank one lines up clearly with the original.

Students with more experience can first harmonize the melody based on the use of I, IV, V, and the occasional ii or vi chords used in most of these pieces. Later, using page two, they can decide to either change these chords to fit the new melody of their piece, or to keep the chords and write their new melody around them.

Despite the fact that these originals are seasonal, this book can be used almost year round.  I always have tons of students begging for Christmas music way earlier than I’m ready for it, so it’s perfect for them to get a head start!It’s also great to use in January when the little ones are sad to see Christmas go and would be so excited to drag the season out a little longer with this activity.  Not to mention, the pieces no longer sound like Christmas songs when the kids are done with them, so they can serve as recital pieces anytime!

When all is said and done, teachers know their students best. So have fun using this book in whatever way is best for you and your students!
Please comment on this post to let me know how you used the activities and how it worked for you. Feedback is welcomed and encouraged!

I’m working on the shopping cart capabilities for this site but for now both of my holiday workbooks can be purchased on Teachers Pay Teachers:


p.s. Looking for other music holiday activities?  Check out my other book:  All I Want For Christmas is Ear Training- Aural Note Recognition and Notation Practice

About the Author

Amber Staffa is a performing arts graduate of Rowan University. She holds a BA in Subject Matter Teaching for K-12, and a BM in Instrumental Music Education with a Piano Concentration, and is currently licensed in the state of NJ.

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