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Try this Creative Composition Activity

Ignite creativity with this lesson, which teaches composing and arranging as well as sight reading. 

Ignite creativity in your musical classroom with a new activity.

I developed this lesson for teaching composing and arranging while also giving students an opportunity to work on sight reading. Download the worksheets below and try this activity in your classroom. This activity will spark imagination and, as an added bonus, it’s aligned with the National Core Arts Standards.

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  • Download the activity sheets. There are three sheets depending on the level of your students.
    • Level One: Eighth and Quarter Notes and Rests
    • Level Two: Eighth, Quarter and 16th Notes and Rests
    • Level Three: Eighth, Quarter, Triplet and 16th Notes and Rests
  • Each sheet is split into 12 musical snippets. Pick a sheet and print (or write out) the music examples. Cut out each musical example to create 12 separate snippets.
  • Put the cut-up snippets into a paper bag. You can also lay them out on a desk or table with the notation facing down (similar to the game Memory).
  • Pull one piece of paper out of the bag (or turn it over) and place it face up on a table or music stand. Continue until you have six snippets.
  • Count and clap through the arrangement of rhythms. [NOTE: There are over 479 million combinations!]
  • Place the snippets back in the bag (or face down on the table), mix them up and repeat the process.

Watch this video to see how this activity works!


There are many creative applications for this activity. I have successfully used this process with my percussion students. Here are some suggestions to use this activity for in-person and virtual teaching.

  • Play scales with the resulting rhythms.
  • Use breakout rooms and have students perform their arrangements for each other.
  • Teachers can create an arrangement, take a photo with their smartphone, screen-share and then ask students to perform for the entire class.
  • Have four students each create a 4-measure arrangement. Then have them perform this four-part arrangement for the class. They can also record their arrangement on an app like Acapella and share with their friends and families.
  • Using a 4- or 8-measure arrangement, have students perform it as a round.
  • Use these rhythms as the basis for composition. Students can use a major scale and write a melody using the rhythms that were created by this exercise.

This activity is not limited to rhythms. You can create short melodic snippets and use the same process. If you are teaching a percussion class, use the 40 Percussive Arts Society International Drum Rudiments, cut out various rudiments and put them together into a composition. These are just a few suggestions that I have come up with. If there are other applications, please email me and I will add them to the list above with the appropriate credit.


These worksheets were created using Dorico. If you are new to Dorico, download a free 30-day trial and check out the worksheet handout in the Quick Start Guide.

If you would like the Dorico template for the level 1 creative composition activity, please email me. By using this template, you can change the rhythms and add melodic notation. This is a great activity for the “Creating” standard in the National Core Arts Standards  — the possibilities are endless. Get out there and create!

Please send me your worksheets, and I will add them below.

Educator-Generated Worksheets


Steve Graves, band director at Lexington Junior High School in the Anaheim Union High School District, created 3-note melodies using my Dorico template (please email me if you would like the template).

Worksheets are available for all transposing instruments and can easily be performed with a mixed instrumentation. These activity sheets work in the same way as the creative composition sheets (see the “Activity” and “Application” sections above.)

If you have questions about this 3-note melody activity, connect with Graves on Facebook or email.

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