Performance and composition for non-melodic percussion

Students will develop 21st century skills of collaboration, communication and creativity through simple rhythmic compositions and group performance.


  • 4.1 performs in a range of musical styles demonstrating an understanding of musical concepts.
  • 4.2 performs music using different forms of notation and different types of technology across a broad range of musical styles.
  • 4.3 performs music demonstrating solo and/or ensemble awareness.
  • 4.4 demonstrates an understanding of musical concepts through exploring, experimenting, improvising, organising, arranging and composing.
  • 4.5 notates compositions using traditional and/or non-traditional notation.
  • 4.9 demonstrates musical literacy through the use of notation, terminology and the reading and interpreting of scores used in the music selected for study.


4 - 5 lessons.


Group performance and composition on non-melodic percussion instruments.


Using available non-melodic percussion instruments, students will learn to perform rhythmic ostinatos (repeated patterns), following a score in groups of like instruments. They will then compose and notate their rhythmic ostinatos to perform in small groups containing different instruments. Instruments may include triangle, cabassa, tambourine, claves, bongos, egg shaker or body percussion such as clapping, thigh-slapping or stamping.


All activities require students to demonstrate their learning and are all assessment for learning activities.

Students will demonstrate:

  • ensemble awareness: the ability to maintain a steady tempo and perform a rhythmic ostinato.
  • the ability to compose and notate their own 2 bar rhythmic ostinato.
  • collaboration and communication with peers.
  • performance and audience etiquette.

Teaching and learning activities

Display a rhythmic ostinato score for available non-melodic percussion instruments at the front of the room for all students to see. Write the score in order from softest instrument to loudest. Samples percussion scores are available for download (PDF 4.39 MB).

Place like instruments in horizontal rows in front of the score (on the floor if possible), with softer instruments at the front. For example:

  • row 1 = egg shaker
  • row 2 = claves
  • row 3 = triangle
  • row 4 = cabassa
  • row 5 = tambourine
  • row 6 = bongos

Students will:

  • learn each ostinato one at a time, by clapping the rhythms. If there is difficulty learning the rhythms, invent silly sayings or words where the syllables match the rhythm. This makes it easier for students to remember the rhythm. Examples of this have been provided in the sample rhythm sayings handout (PDF 4.69 MB).
  • play and hold the instruments using the correct technique. Go through each ostinato with its matching rhythm on the score.
  • perform ostinatos as a class ensemble. Count students in so they know the tempo then direct them to start either one row at a time, several rows at once or everyone at once. Once students begin to play their ostinato, they continue until directed to stop. Varying when students begin, and end can allow for changes in texture and dynamics to be highlighted.
  • swap rows (instruments/ostinatos) to perform all ostinatos on all instruments.

Using the same score as the class percussion activity, students can be placed into small groups around the room to engage in student-directed performance of the ostinatos.

Students will:

  • individually notate their own 2 bar rhythmic ostinatos. Each bar should be different, and the two bars should end with a repeat sign.
  • learn and practise (clapping or playing a non-melodic percussion instrument) their composition.

In groups of various non-melodic percussion instruments, students will:

  • practise their individually composed ostinatos together
  • discuss the order of instruments playing (especially regarding their dynamics) and how the piece will start and end
  • perform their pieces for the rest of the class.

Remind students how to behave when watching a performance and how performers are to acknowledge their audience.

Performances can be filmed for self and peer reflection and for assessment purposes.

Students will:

  • understand note values and their groupings for composition
  • follow a beat and given tempo (speed)
  • read and interpret musical scores
  • break words into syllables to match rhythmic patterns
  • metalanguage:
    • ostinato - a repeated pattern
    • texture - layers of sound.



Students could:

  • create complex ostinatos that include syncopation with rests and or ties
  • compose a rhythmic ostinato score for 2 or more instruments.

Life skills


  • LS 2 vocalise, sings or plays an instrument
  • LS 3 vocalises, sings or plays an instrument as part of a group
  • LS 5 experiments in organising musical sounds.

Students could:

  • use untuned percussion instruments to keep the beat of the music
  • play an individual part within a musical piece
  • reproduce a sound at determined intervals when playing in a group
  • compose (but not notate) an ostinato for performance in a group.


Formative feedback

Observation of group collaboration and teacher monitoring of notation.

Summative feedback

This unit can culminate in the assessment of the notation and final performance.


Please note:

Syllabus outcomes and content descriptors from Music 7–10 Syllabus (2003) © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017.

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