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Composition Activity

Join composer Adam Zahller for a journey Inside the Composer’s Mind. First, you’ll learn about isorhythm, a compositional technique involving repeating rhythm and pitch patterns, and then you’ll have the chance to write your own music using this compositional technique.

Adam has created his video with younger students (around 3rd grade) in mind, but older students are welcome to watch too. If you are an older student, or if you’re a parent or teacher working with someone with a higher level of music literacy, stick around to the end of the video, and Adam will share ideas for how to apply the principle of isorhythm in more advanced ways.

0:00 - Introduction to Isorhythm Learn the basics of isorhythm from Adam and check out his listening guide to explore how other composers have used this musical principle over the years.

3:57 - Composing with Voice Find a piece of grid paper and start writing out your own musical patterns. Use Grid Paper One if you would like to create a short, simple pattern; Grid Paper Two if you would like to create a longer, more complex pattern; or draw your own grid.

Adam writes his melody using solfege. If you’d like to use solfege too, learn the basics with our Introduction to Solfege handout and see how solfege lines up with different types of musical scales using our Solfege Charts.

8:07 - Composing with Percussion Find items around your house to use when creating your own unique composition.

12:04 - Other Considerations Keep exploring isorhythm with longer patterns, dynamics, and more.

13:05 - End Note for More Advanced Students Learn about technology that can help you compose, including notation software (e.g., Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore) and digital audio workstations (e.g., GarageBand, Logic, Ableton Live).


Adam Zahller (b. 1988) is a composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Minneapolis. He holds an MA in music composition from the University of Minnesota, where he studied under James Dillon. He frequently performs and composes under the auspices of the 113 Composers Collective, for which he sits on the advisory board.

The American Composers Forum envisions a world where living music creators are celebrated as essential to human culture. Their mission is to support and advocate for individuals and groups creating music today by demonstrating the vitality and relevance of their art.

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  • This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
    This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
  • Official Airline of the Minnesota Orchestra
    Official Airline of the Minnesota Orchestra