My students have been working on a Cartoon Motive Contest for the past 4 weeks.  You may have noticed the beautiful student artwork on these previous posts: Cartoon Character Entries and Cartoon Motive Contest: Winners.  I hope these posts have piqued your interest because I am finding that this project has been extraordinarly successful in getting students involved in composing, drawing, creating, notating, and simply in engaging them in a new way in piano lessons!

Yesterday, I posted the musical motives that my students have composed to go with the winning artwork.  I will be selecting a “People’s Choice” award for the student who gets the most votes from readers of this blog, so please cast your vote in the comments section of this blog post to help encourage these students!

Here are some details about how we did this project: 


I first sent out this Letter to Parents explaining the contest and the ways that it could help their children musically.  I then gave each student an assignment to draw 2 cartoon characters.  I sent them this Cartoon Character Contest Guidelines to get them started. 

Choosing the winning motive

At the first group lesson, each student brought 2 cartoon characters that they had drawn along with a short description.  At the group lesson, we laid out the entries on a table, and students chose their top 2 favorite cartoon characters.  They were instructed to pick the one that they felt would be the best character for which to write music, but they were not allowed to vote for their own character.  NOTE:  One thing I learned in having the students vote was that 2 characters per student was a bit much.  Voting might have been easier if each student had only entered 1 character into the contest.   

Composing the Motives

I then asked each student to compose a short motive for each character.  At the group lesson, we talked about what motives were, listened to famous motives (Beethoven’s Fifth, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, etc.), and analyzed how composers used their motives throughout their piece.  We discussed repetition, inversion, sequencing, etc.  We analyzed some easy pieces that each of the student’s had played so that they could easily see as well as hear how the composer turned a small motive into a large piece of music. 

Students who had not composed anything before seemed particularly surprised that composing a piece might be easier than they thought given the fact that most of the pieces we studied had only 1 main theme and 1 secondary theme!  This opened the door of possibilities for these students and gave them confidence about composing.

In the weeks that followed, students would bring in their composed motives and play them for me.  Some students were extremely pleased with their idea, so they were asked to notate them.  I assisted them when necessary and I was particularly pleased when I was able to teach new concepts to students while we worked on notation.  Requiring them to notate the motive also helped them see how little details like staccatos, legatos, etc. can make a huge difference in the “personality” of the motive.

For students who were not pleased with their motive, I asked them what they did and did not like about it.  I will be sharing some examples of these conversations at a later date so that you can see how you might help your own students problem solve and come up with ideas that they like.

Finalizing and Recording the Motives

The week before our last group lesson, I recorded each student’s motive and converted them to mp3 files so that I could post them on this blog. Of course, this step is not absolutely necessary…students could play their own motive at the group lesson in which the best motive is chosen.  But recording them allows for some anonymity in voting.


At the group lesson, I numbered and played each of the pre-recorded motives and students chose their favorite.  Again, students were not allowed to vote for their own (students had to write their name at the top so that I could be sure they did not vote for their own).  The motive with the most votes won and soon I will be showcasing this motive on the blog for all to hear and see! 

Your Assistance Please?

But first…I wanted to not only have a “Student’s Choice” award, but also a “People’s Choice” award.  On Tuesday, I posted each of the motives and now I need your help in voting!  Will you please visit the Cartoon Motive Contest Vote and cast your vote for your favorite motive for each picture?  Your participation helps encourage my students, other students, and other teachers that their composing efforts are important and exciting for others to see!  I appreciate your support in this effort and hope you have fun voting!