Guitar in the outdoors

Nature and Composers Learning Unit

Each student team receives a packet to collect colors, sounds and water samples and capture them on video. Each discipline then uses the data for “inspiration” on a particular project back in the classroom. The music theory class uses their experience to compose a piece of music based on the “water” encounter.

Title III Technology Literacy Challenge Grant

Learning Unit

Overview | Content Knowledge | Essential Questions | Connection To Standards | Initiating Activity | Learning Experiences | Culminating Performance | Pre-Requisite Skills | Modifications | Schedule/Time Plan | Technology Use

LU Title: Nature and ComposersAuthor(s): Kathy Hubbard
Grade Level:Commencement 9-12School :Madrid Waddington Central School
Topic/Subject Area:Music TheoryAddress: PO Box 67, Madrid, New York, 13660


During the school year, the music, art and science took a field trip together to a nearby river to gather data. Each student team, (comprised of each discipline) received a packet to collect colors, sounds and water samples and capture them on video, audio, and /or camcorder.

Each discipline then used the data for “inspiration” on a particular project back in the classroom. The music theory class used their experience to compose a piece of music based on the “water” encounter. This composition assignment occurred at the end of a one semester theory class.

Content Knowledge

Declarative (student will know):

  • Basic music information for good musical composition
  • Proper rhythmic notation, time signatures
  • Proper melodic notation, key signatures and tonality
  • What a melodic contour is and how phrasing in music occurs
  • What cadences are
  • Some analysis techniques as to all the above

Procedural (student will be able to):

  • Write music with standard notation
  • Analyze music as to tonality, “good” phrasing, melodic contour, repetition and interest, sequencing and cadences
  • Critically listen and analyze their music to accomplish all the above
  • Become proficient on Cakewalk Pro Audio Composition computer program

Essential Questions

How does (how has) nature and the environment influence composers?

Connections to Learning Standards

List Standard # and Key Idea #: Write out related Performance Indicator(s) or Benchmark(s)

Standard #1-Creating, performing and Participating in the Arts– Students will actively engage in the processes that constitute creation and performance

  • Compose for wind, strings, percussion, vocal, keyboard, or electronic media that demonstrates an understanding and application of the musical elements and music related technology
  • Compose pieces using computers and music writing programs
  • Monitor and adjust compositional techniques, identifying strengths and areas for improvement

Standard #3– Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art- Students will respond critically to works of music 

  • Through listening, analyze and evaluate their own compositions and suggest improvements

Initiating Activity

 Was a field trip to a nearby water way in order to collect data. The students brought along a packet that included the agenda for the planned day. The groups of students were comprised of science, art and music disciplines but each area was specifically told to collect certain data that would pertain to their meaningful use task. The music students were given cameras; film and digital as well as a camcorder. The day was planned to keep the students as busy as possible allowing minimal free time. It started with a drawing exercise initiated by the art teacher. The goal of the day was to “bombard” the students with stimuli from the river so they would be inspired to create something after they were back in the classroom.

The day before students were prepared as to what the day would include. Upon arrival at the sight, a small talk was given by a DEC officer about the history and surround of the area and things that the students should be aware of as far as conservation matters, wilderness areas and outdoor deportment, etc. The hike in was done with specific observation tasks: i.e. search and find and record with camera or drawing pad some natural item which represents each color on the color wheel. The opening activity upon arrival into the river area was a drawing lesson, which took about 20-30 minutes. The kids next took time to record via cameras and/or recorders, sights and sounds around the river. The science students led in the water testing experiment. After lunch a writing exercise was done in their journals that asked the kids to verbally explain the day using words from their discipline (or just write!) All the work was done in a designed folder that contained room for all the written and drawing work. This was done specifically in order to do two things: 1- encourage the students to write, write and write…….not just “say” things out loud and 2. to be able to collect everything from the students in one packet and save it for future reference,

The music students were told that upon their return they would be composing a piece of music that reflected the river and their experiences there. They would be able to draw on their notes, their journals, and the video camera shots they took. They also had a compact disc that was burned by a local radio station who accompanied us with a digital audio recorder to record sounds upon request. These “river sounds” could be incorporated into their music if desired.

Learning Experiences

In chronological order including acquisition experiences and extending/refining experiences for all stated declarative and procedural knowledge.

  1. Brief writing reflection exercise on the day to the river. Collection of all material from the students for review.
  2. Listening to other composer’s program music which was written or inspired directly from nature in general and water in particular. A graphic organizer will be given to fill out, listing “things” that they see when listening. (COMPARING, CLASSIFYING)
  3. Analyzing how that composer got the feeling or mood or sound of the water into the composition through discussion of…..(ABSTRACTING) Another graphic organizer, this time listing the musical elements and devices heard which the composer used to depict water.
  4. Discussing the specific musical elements that the composer used in order to successfully write their music. (INDUCTIVE REASONING, ABSTRACTING)
  5. Learning the theory curricula in order to do what those composers did. (At this point, without writing the entire course of study of music theory, I am stymied as to what more I could or should say. The extend refine activities will be as diverse as short fast tests on key signatures, rhythmic activities, to writing shorter pieces of music that speak to a specific criteria and will assess that particular criteria. This will also speak to individualizing the unit with students of different music skills and background… much does each student know. (The great equalizer will be the computer program, which was used to actually write the composition.)
  6. Introduction to the Cakewalk Program in a lab tutorial session so students were somewhat familiar with the program. This was done by copying a piece of their own hand written music on to the computer.


  • A rough draft of composition will be started. The rough work will be done by hand or on the computer program. The actual directions will be; to write a piece of music, using the computer program, which reflects some aspect of the trip and the body of water. The pictures that were taken, the sounds recorded, or the writing done in the journals may be used for inspiration. (ANALYZING ERRORS)
  • Class time will be given to initially start the compositions and to assure that the students are familiar with the computer program. (ANALYZING ERRORS)
  • The final composition will be put on a timeline for a due date. I feel this is important because of the individualized aspect of this assignment. Each student works alone, at a computer, using the teacher only as a coach, so deadlines are important and must be published and met.

Culminating Experience

Include rubric(s)

Write a piece of music that reflects “good” music writing skills as learned and also somehow reflects the power of or the influence of the river. Use the experience that we had on our field trip or other inspirational river/water memories. Realize that composers have created certain specific moods or pictures with their music throughout history, and music, being a visceral art can and should evoke emotions and pictures. Students can write their rough draft of their music in standard longhand (paper/pencil) mode but they were encouraged to write it on and with a computer. The Cakewalk program that they are using allows them to write compositions that are well beyond their playing skills because they can hear what they write and react to it. The composition can then become much more involved than the actual playing skills of the students would allow. (A caveat) This approach in no way should be the only one used by a “compleat” music student, but should only enhance and supplement performance skills and live performance.

The composition will be graded with these criteria and this scoring system 

TimelinessAssignment handed in on timeAssignment one day lateAssignment two days lateAssignment three or more days late 
Musical elements    
TonalityHas specific key, with correct key signature with accidentals used correctlyUses specific key, and key signature, but the music does not stay within the tonality of the key structureUses no specific key or tonality and the music does not correctly use accidentalsUses no specific key or tonality and piece totally reflects this
Melodic contour and phrasingMelodies are structured correctly with a definite contour that incorporates a high point and clear cadenceMelodies are structured correctly but are lacking high points and clear cadencesRecognizable melodies but not well written because of no contour or cadencesNo contour on melodies, in fact no recognizable melodies
RhythmsTime signature was chosen and All the rhythms are written correctly (within one or two errors) following chosen time signatureMore than 10% of measures are written rhythmically incorrectMore than 25% of measures are written rhythmically incorrectNo time signature and many (more than 50% of measures are written incorrectly
Repetition and SequenceMelodic repetition and sequence is obviously used in the melodic structureWith conversation with the composer, the repetition and sequencing is heardEven after conversation, the melodic repetition and sequencing is not heardNo repetition or sequencing is used

Prerequisite Skills

Music reading and writing of basic melodic and rhythmic figures. Performance experience in an organization. Skills on specific instrument to a NYSSMA grade level of three. A strong interest in music.


 Individualized plans per need of the student.

Unit Schedule / Time Plan

The theory class is presently taught as a one-semester half credit class. The prep to the trip to the river took one class period. The launch activity was done early in the fall to accommodate our weather and the culminating activity done during the 12th to 14th week of classes. The prep to the trip to the river took one class period. This is why it was necessary to “hard copy” the material gathered during the trip, especially the visuals and the writing exercise. We collected the entire work product from the students and kept it until the classes were ready to continue the project so it would not be lost.

The time spent between the launch and the writing of the composition was used to continue to teach the class of music theory. The class met every day for 42 minutes for one semester.

This particular project was written during class time initially, keeping on a timeline and then the students were instructed to continue the writing as a homework project (in our lab or at home if they have the program). It took about four class periods and then another week of student time. I felt that a deadline was an important criteria of the rubric because of the extent of the assignment and the length of time it took the students to complete. An opportunity was then given for revisions if necessary and if the desire was there. Obviously, not all the students embraced the project equally or to the level desired.

Technology Use

As reported, the students were encouraged to use the computer program CAKEWALK PRO AUDIO 8. This program was made available in a lab situation as well as on home computers. During the intervening 10-12 weeks from the launch to the actual writing, the students used the CAKEWALK program for basic exercises, mostly transcribing their “hand” work on to the software in an attempt to learn the program.

Further reading: How to Write a Lesson Plan: 7 Steps