Music Teacher's Helper Blog

“My Big Event” Improvisation Game ~ a Fun Way to Teach Form

This is one of the really successful music camp activities  we’ve done this summer. During our   Let’s Get Creative Camp, the students all made music creativity journals.  For basic journals,  you can use school composition notebooks found at the local drug store or school/office supplies store. They have a solid cardboard cover that is easy to cover with varied pieces of scrap booking papers and decorations. I chose to use card stock for the covers, with various lined, blank and music manuscript papers for the insides. I have a binding machine, which makes it easy to put together booklets with whatever filler paper you desire. They can also be taken to a copy store and bound for a small fee. After the journals were completed, the students used them to write and illustrate on of each:

  • Poem
  • Silly Song (lyrics set to melody)
  • Simple Instrumental Composition (for piano, drum or other instruments using standard notation)
  • Lead Sheet (notated melody with chord symbols, like you find in a “fake” book, for a nursery song   or other simple song)
  • Lyric Song Chart (lyrics with chord symbol above to indicate chord changes)
  • and…last but not least…

“My Big Event”  Improvisation Game –

(Learning how to organize music while having fun improvising!)

Here’s  how it went:

1 ~ We started out by writing a title at the top of one of the blank unlined pages in their journal. This title was determined by answering this simple  question, “What favorite thing did you do this  summer?”  Some of my students’ titles were: “Sea World”, “At the Fair” and “The Big Swim Meet”.

2 ~ Next, the students were asked to draw three big circles on their page, and illustrate each, depicting three different scenes from their “Big Adventure”.  I will use “Sea World” as an example (with permission from the creator of this adventure, Elizabeth!) Her scenes included  Killer Whale, With My Family and Riding the Tea Cups. (See below)

3 ~ Following the illustrations, the students then put two descriptive words in or around each circle (for Tea Cups: DIZZY, HAPPY; Whale: BIG, SPLASH).  At this point, it is helpful to guide them in finding contrasting elements to describe so that differences, as well as similarities between scenes may be highlighted in the chosen words. Also, action words are very helpful.

4 ~ Next, the students went to work, taking turns on the piano, hand drum or other instrument to improvise background music for each of their scenes, using the pictures and descriptive words to create a mood and musical ideas for each scene (circle) in their adventure. The improvisations were free form, but  each contained one or two elements to give that scene a characteristic identity, and to hold the music together.

5 ~ Next each student was asked to choose her favorite scene. Explain that this will be the one that they will tend to keep coming back to.  Elizabeth’s favorite event was Killer Whale, so I had her start with the music for Killer Whale, move over to With My Family, go back to Killer Whale, and now to Ride the Tea Cups. Now back to the Killer Whale.

6 ~Next each student improvised their Big Event in whatever order they chose, with the rest of the group guessing afterward the order of the scenes.  This encouraged learning by listening, and it was really rewarding for everyone to see how well they had communicated the events in their playing!

WOW! Just like that, these young musicians had a great  grasp on many of the basic elements of good composition: motif, theme, repetition, contrast, texture and tone painting to name a few. They had also mastered the rondo form (A B A C A…and many variations on that pattern!) At the next week’s lessons, when asked to tell me the form of the assigned music in their books, they enthusiastically answered correctly! This exercise is fun and effective with any level of student. This class consisted of students between the ages of 7 and 14, two having had only seven months of piano lessons!

NOTE: I  got my idea for this activity from  The Three Ring Circus activity in Karen Ziegler’s amazing resource Activity Maestro, (Piacere Music Press). This fun exercise can also be easily taught using Flip for Improvisation (also Piacere Music Press), a tool I created to make improvisation fun and super simple at any level.

Thanks for reading!

P. S. For those of you who follow my Music Teachers Helper blog, and would like a hands-on copy for your studio, I have published all my former articles relating to composition and improvisation into a 23 page book.  Music Creativity in Bloom ~ Dozens of Inspiring Ideas to help you teach Composition and Improvisation, is now available at

About the Author

1 Comment

  1. Suzanne Gonsalves

    This is a great idea. Add some movement and some sets and you’ve got an amazing Orff performance!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.