GUEST FEATURE • by Alison Mathews
including Free Sheet Music and Lesson Activity downloads
With Halloween approaching, it is an excellent time to engage pupils in some creative work and explore the evocative and haunting sounds the piano can make. I’d like to share a short story and resources that may inspire you and your pupils to be creative!
Taking a detour
I found myself at the beginning of term with a pupil who needed a little detour from the usual routine to keep her engaged and supported. An experience I’m sure that teachers will recognise!
There are many reasons pupils sometimes need a different and flexible approach to lessons or greater encouragement. This may be for just a lesson or two, or as in this case, for a longer period of time.
It is so important that we have the skills and resources to be responsive and adaptable. This requires tailoring the lesson content to the specific needs of the particular pupil, which naturally means a good understanding of your pupil, along with a variety of resources to hand to meet those needs.
All things gruesome and spooky
After exploring a few ideas I decided to combine her love of drawing, her enthusiasm for improvisation and interest in all things gruesome and spooky.
It was important that we choose something that would give her the opportunity for self-expression and also for it to be an equal partnership, with gentle guidance only from me.
Initially, she brought along one of her drawings called “Evil and Good”, which provided the inspiration for the first duet.
Her idea was to have the evil part taken by the secondo and the good by the primo, with good vanquishing evil at the end.
I wrote a secondo for her that could be used with an easy 5 finger hand position; A-E, but with some interesting possibilities!
Together we tried out ideas that developed into a simple melody for the primo part. I chose one element of her drawing that I knew would be a good starting point – the fluttering of wings. We also chose to add bell sounds at the beginning.
Creating a soundtrack
Many more ideas followed for the next piece! So many, in fact, that it was decided we should feature a variety of things that could be a soundtrack to a Hallowe’en story.
In the end she picked five motifs – footsteps in the distance; a howling wolf (as she is particularly good at howling!); moaning ghosts; rattling bones and a creaking door.
We took time to explore the piano and discover the sounds she felt described these ideas well, writing them down into a plan. My job was to create some suitably creepy chords over which she could play her effects.
I then realized this could work very well as an activity for many pupils. It’s one that provides a balance between structure and choice, which is so important in improvisation. All of the motifs are notated, along with the teacher’s chords. Pupils can choose the order, the amount of repetitions, dynamics, tempo and articulation of each element and even extend it by creating their own sound effects.
All it needs is imagination, of which children have plenty!
I hope the activity sheet I devised based on my pupil’s ideas will be helpful and inspiring.
It could be used as a full sheet or cut into boxes and shuffled to create an order for the piece. A nice introduction perhaps to aleatoric music, where part of the composition is left to chance, or the performer determines the order or elements of the piece.
You may also like to try her “Evil and Good” duet with pupils, either using her melody or let your pupils create their own. It’s a good way to explore dissonance and consonance and a shift in key with the move from A minor to F major.
Your pupils need only to listen carefully, improvising over the secondo part using a simple hand position to discover which notes clash, which do not, and what they like!
As you can see from the score and recording, there is no need to make things complicated, just have fun!
Evil & Good: Duet Sheet Music [PDF Download]
Halloween Activity Sheet [PDF Download]
Good and Evil Duet:
Alison Mathews is a composer, teacher and classically trained pianist. Her recent publications include Doodles, Treasure Trove, Capturing the Spirit of Christmas and Capturing the Joy of Christmas (follow the links for the Pianodao reviews of all these publications).
Alison’s aim is to write music that engages the imagination and provides opportunities for pupils to develop their musicianship.