Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Film Score Activity: Using Music to Create Awesome Settings!


I'm a big fan of music in the classroom. A lot of this probably stems from the fact that I'm a music lover. I don't know know bands or song names, but I know what I like, and the fact is that I like most styles of music.

I'm a big believer in the universality of music. Music speaks to everyone in some way; it's a highly relatable medium. I'm always looking for ways to reach all of my students, and I think one of the best ways to do that is through music.

There is often music playing in my classroom, especially while my students are working solo or with partners. During less-than-exciting practice work (like grammar), I play a lot of rock and pop music, high energy pieces where the kids sing along. It's pretty awesome to see a classroom full of students who are 100% engaged, doing skill practice activities, and singing "Jack and Diane." During reading and writing, the music with lyrics goes away, but that doesn't mean that the fun goes away. Though I'm a big fan of classical music, it sometimes puts my students to sleep. I don't use ambient music either, because that will put me to sleep! Instead, I find lyrics-free stations on Pandora. I've got a couple of great stations that have alternative rock music without lyrics. It's high-energy music without the trouble of words.

Besides the everyday use of music in my classroom, though, I have devised several lessons that include music. The one I'm sharing today is the Film Score Activity, which is a lesson in creating realistic settings.

Lord of the Rings music in Radio City Music Hall
Preparing for the Lesson

1. Notes, classroom discussion, and activities about:
  • the three purposes of setting in literature
  • imagery and using sensory details
  • mood
(Need some inspiration? Email me or comment below if you want my PowerPoint presentation!)

2. Compiling the Music
Have you ever heard of Freeplay Music? Best. Website. EVER! (If you need free music without lyrics, that is.) Freeplay Music consists of production music that is perfect for this activity. It is also great for other classroom activities that might include making videos, presentations, soundtracks, etc. I also use it to find good music without lyrics! Go explore Freeplay Music.
For this activity, you want to choose five or so pieces of music that all have a different "feel" or mood. My favorites include:
  • Sir Robin of Locksley (epic/heroic/grand)
  • Explosion (foreboding/intense/sinister)
  • Ease Up (exotic/mysterious)
  • Warriors and Knights (adventure/action/cinematic)
  • Legend of the Piper (driving/urgent)
  • Tango vs. Tangle (simmering/spooky)  *NOTE: without a doubt, someone will think old West or a desert  :)
Download these pieces (the longest possible version is best) to your computer and cue them up for class.

The Lesson

Explain to students that they are going to use their new skills to create realistic settings. Oftentimes, in the making of movies, they apply the music after the scene has been created. Explain to the students that they will be working backwards. The objective is for students to listen to the music, paying careful attention to the mood of the music, and to build a film scene around the music.

My goal was for my students to create realistic settings based on the music, so before beginning we did a quick review of using sensory details to create the mood. I didn't want them to have a plot for the scene, just the setting, but I'm sure this would be awesome as a plot activity too!

I allowed ten minutes per piece of music/setting. I played the music (sometimes twice) and students created what they felt would be appropriate settings/movie scenes for the music, using lots of imagery and sensory details to reflect the mood of the music.

This lesson has been a huge success in my classroom. It's amazing to see what the kids come up with and just how imaginative they are. (I think one of my all-time favorites was the girl who created the grocery store "fight-for-the-last-Thanksgiving-turkey" scene using the music from Sir Robin of Locksley. Hilarious!)

I have a sick sense of humor.

Happy teaching (and writing)!