Activity to Guide
and Imaginative Thinking Skills
Type of Activity:
About 30 minutes.
In a discussion of music and imagination, students will brainstorm about how songs and melodies can be interpreted to fit one's personal viewpoint. Then they will complete a quickwrite inspired by a song.
Paper and pen or pencil. Dictionaries if available.
Play music as students are entering the classroom. Any selection will do.
1. Discuss how music occupies only the ears, leaving the imagination free to wander — unlike movies or the Internet. Remind students that the closest equivalents to music are art and literature, which occupy only the eyes.
Because of these sensory realities, we as readers, viewers, and listeners are free to make connections and interpret whatever we're reading, seeing, or hearing in any way we choose. And no matter what the author may have intended when he or she created a work of literature, a painting or sculpture, or a piece of music, what really makes it significant is the personal connection, the way in which the reader, viewer and listener experiences and interprets another's act of creation.
2. Next, ask students to brainstorm a list of their favorite songs, favorite lines from songs, lines from songs that tend to get stuck in their heads easily, etc.
3. After a couple of minutes of creative brainstorming, ask students to "riff" on a piece of music. By "riff," we mean a clever or inventive commentary, especially one that is improvised on the fly. Remind students of the free-form nature of this exercise.
They are to choose a song from their list, write a narrative inspired by it, and provide an explanation of their choice.
They are free to choose whatever music they want, even if it isn't a song they necessarily love.
They are free to interpret the song in any way they see fit, even if it is a lyric-less song that reminds them of something or suggests a story that is far from what the songwriter or composer may have intended.
They are free to riff on any part of the song they choose, whether it be the song as a whole, a lyric from the song, the title, the musical arrangement, etc.
4. Allow students to write for at least 15-20 minutes without interruption. Then ask if anyone would like to share what they have written, including the song they chose and/or why they chose it. Allow time for students to share their riffs with one another.
This quickwrite assignment uses music as a means to invite and inspire students to write. Ever since I discovered Matthew Miele's Lit Riffs, the concept of looking to songs for literary inspiration has intrigued me. It makes perfect sense. If literature can inspire so much great music, then why can't the reverse be true? Music naturally lends itself perfectly as the ultimate writing prompt. The simple act of listening to a song, even one without lyrics, can easily trigger a narrative or an imaginary video in the mind, sparking the imagination to create and interpret freely. Music is universal. It does not discriminate. It is accessible and engaging for all. Music reaches beyond the head and into the heart in amazing ways — and there is no better place, I am convinced, to find something worth writing about than in the rhythms, melodies, lyrics, and riffs of music.
Have students develop their narratives into polished pieces, complete with the author's explanation of the connection between their song choice and the piece it inspired them to write.
NOTE: Lit Riffs is written for an adult audience and does contain some rather explicit material. With this quickwrite, I am not promoting the book itself, but rather the concept of the genre it represents.
Miele, M., ed. (2004). Lit Riffs. New York: Simon & Shuster.
Printer Friendly Lesson Plan:
CLICK the Mercury Records logo below for a printer friendly version of the Lit Riffs Lesson Plan.
E D I T O R ' S N O T E :
Reese Neal is currently pursuing his master's degree in Secondary Education at the University of Arkansas. He teaches junior high English in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and plans to continue doing so upon completion of his degree. Mr. Neal is also a singer and songwriter who records and performs locally in his spare time. To contact Reese, please e-mail him at email@example.com
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