Expert composers and performers

This scheme of work explores how an expert performer – in this case a professional saxophonist, but could be the music teacher, a peripatetic teacher or an advanced pupil – can be used in the classroom as a stimulus for learners to create individual pieces for them. It also gives food for thought on teachers’ questioning styles.

The scheme of work was originally created for pupils in Year 10.

The scheme of work was created by composer David Horne with teacher Nick Heppel at King Edward VI School, Birmingham.

Scheme of Work

Key Question

How can Composers and Performers be best used as a resource in the classroom?

Aims of this project/scheme?

  • To inspire pupils’ composing through inquisitive explorations of specific instruments[1].
  • To encourage pupils to create their own compositional challenges and pathways, question what they aim to achieve while composing and continually evaluate their success while doing so.
  • That both teachers and pupils should gain confidence throughout this project, promoting transferable skills through devising their own future projects with different instruments or (mixed) groups of instruments.

Key outcomes

  • Develop creative thinking and compositional skills.
  • Can the instrument inspire particular musical ideas while composing?
  • Build on previous knowledge of performance and composition.
  • Experience, extend and develop creative approaches to composing as well as building their own skills to create original pieces of music.


[1] This could include voices, though for the purposes of this project it would be recommended that text was not used, or formed a subsidiary component (e.g. Alleluia settings, certain Classical Indian forms, etc.) Performers should be of a professional standard, drawn from the performing professions, although where appropriate they may be peripatetic instrumental teachers or higher-level conservatoire/university pupils. The piano/keyboard is not an ideal instrument for this project.



Lesson 1

Introduction from composer: how does a piece begin? Is there only one way?

Small group workshops with learners discussing their ideas and ‘translating’ some of them into musical ‘themes’.

Composer plays through each short theme on piano/keyboard, encouraging discussion of the theme’s ‘character’ with the whole class and suggesting various ideas for development.


Topic and Purpose

Lesson one exploring how Composers and Performers best be used as a resource in the classroom?


To successfully sing or perform a great deal of practice is required. But, how does a composer practise? This session will explore various compositional starting points, teaching that any particular idea is not intrinsically successful, but that the development of that idea is valuable and that much can be gained from this process.


Explore different means of committing ideas to paper and developing them.

Learners will listen to and give feedback to each other.

Using notation, learners will create music for the performer to play .


The generation of ideas.

The development of these ideas through notation and performance.

Lesson 2

Introduction to the instrument by composer and performer.

Questions by pupils to the performer.

Performer working with learners on short ideas they have written (from session 1).


Topic and Purpose

Getting to know the performer and their instrument.


To introduce the performer and their instrument to the class. Discussions might include: pitch range, dynamic range, timbre, special effects, aspects (including genres) of music that are idiomatic for the instrument, examples of musical ideas which would be idiomatic for the instrument, those that would not.


Learners are offered the opportunity to ask the performer questions and engage with them in order to develop their piece.


It is intended that the pupils absorb and are inspired by the sound of the instrument and its capabilities.

Encouraging pupils to take notes on the instrument’s range (both pitch and dynamic) in addition to any ‘special effects’ will be useful material for subsequent lessons.

Lesson 3

Tailoring ideas towards the instrument and what it can ‘do’.

Thinking about dynamics, phrasing and articulation as musical arguments, not as ‘icing on the cake’.

Creating contrast in a piece of music and thinking about structure.


Topic and Purpose

How to make musical ideas ‘fit’ to the instrument, and can the instrument inspire your ideas?


To reflect on their musical experiences and continue to explore and expand their notated compositions.


Through discussion and self-reflection learners will develop their work.

Engagement with peers and self-reflection are critical for the development of their piece.


For learners to think about the structure of a piece and critically evaluate their work in light of experiences.

Lesson 4

Responding effectively to performance of the composition in order to build towards effective completion of the work.

Considering the most effective means within the specific work (i.e. not generically) of conveying their intentions to the performer.


Topic and Purpose

How do we know when a piece is finished and how can the performance of a work enhance the composition itself?

How can we convey our intentions meaningfully to the performer(s)?


For learners to finalise their compositions through working with composer and performer, asking how their notation can garner the best possible results.


Through discussing their compositional aims with performer and composer, they will build confidence and be afforded the opportunity to hear their work develop shape.


To think independently about what they want to hear in their composition, and to learn the best strategies for conveying their ideas to a performer

Lesson 5

Responding to performance of the complete work, evaluating the success of the work’s structure, notation and idiomatic instrumental writing, which could also entail ‘purposely’ awkward writing.

Evaluating the work of other learners, particular as means of sharing good practice and inspiring further ideas.


Topic and Purpose

Completed compositions will be performed with composer and performer encouraging learners to reflect on the effectiveness of each work. The learners will be asked to investigate the extent to which the instrument might have inspired ideas, and if there are any similarities between the compositions.


Learners will evaluate the success of their compositions, both as musical works and as idiomatically written compositions.
How could these ideas benefit future compositions?


Through discussion and self-reflection learners will reflect on the success of their own work but also that of their peers.

What do they learn from hearing their fellow learners’ compositions? Are there effective ideas that they could incorporate into future pieces?


Learners will judge the success of their own work and discern qualities in that of their fellow learners’ work as a means of inspiring further ideas. They will consider the benefits of working with a live performer, and through working with a composer learn that there are many different avenues to creating a successful composition.