Welcome to the first in a series of mini-lessons and classroom teaching strategies that will explore various topics related to popular music based on materials from the Berklee PULSE Music Method. We begin our series with an excerpt from BANDED, a Berklee feature-length film created specifically for PULSE that explores the creative and collaborative process of composing original music within an ensemble format. The film chronicles five bands and features several Berklee students and alumni as ensemble members, as well as Berklee faculty as coaches. This mini series of PULSE BANDED Lesson Strategies will examine short clips from the film that focuses on highlighting various ways composition and collaboration can enhance creativity in the classroom. If you'd like to view the full movie, create a PULSE account.

Composing: Start With an Image Using the Minor Pentatonic Scale

The activities used in this Lesson Strategy will engage students in creating music through visual-auditory associations. Students will choose an image, video, or poem (located on the downloadable PDF), and create a simple pentatonic composition that will represent their interpretation of their chosen media. While the jumping off point for this lesson strategy is this excerpt from BANDED, the available time in your curriculum will determine how much you incorporate from the following suggested activities and resources. 
The clip below reflects this month's featured lesson, where Boston-based band Ghost Box Orchestra discusses an idea for a new work based on an image using a simple E minor pentatonic riff. Listen to the full recording to hear how they developed this simple riff into an extended composition called "Desert Lights".
Students will gain an understanding of the relationship between musical and visual expression by creating a minor pentatonic composition for a chosen piece of media.
Materials and Resources:
  • BANDED film clip
  • PULSE pentatonic scale material
  • Silent film clip
  • Image: Creative Commons Image
  • Text: Shel Silverstein – Where the Sidewalk Ends, p.70-71
Classroom/rehearsal room settings:
  • Students working alone or in pairs
  • Students in small groups using classroom instruments
  • Students in a variety of ensemble settings (traditional or jazz band; choral; orchestra; string ensemble; modern band — guitar, piano, bass, drums; etc.)
  • Students using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as GarageBand, GarageBand iOS, Mixcraft, Soundtrap, Soundation, etc.
Instructional Activity Objectives:
    1. This lesson strategy will focus on the minor pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is widely used in many styles of popular music, and can provide students with a simple entry into improvisation and composition. For a review of the pentatonic scale, students can check out this short clip from the PULSE video library and can download PDF material from the PULSE Study Room.

Pentatonic Scales


  • After watching the BANDED film clip of the Ghost Box Orchestra, students will:
    • Analyze the minor pentatonic riff used in Desert Lights as it relates to the E minor pentatonic scale and describe the various ways the ensemble collaborated to develop their composition based on that riff. Listen to and view the E minor pentatonic scale and guitar riff below:

E Minor Pentatonic Scale

Desert Lights Guitar Riff

    • Choose one of the provided media files (image, movie, or text), or a media file provided by the teacher, and describe their musical impression of the visual media (tempo, texture, instrumentation, form, dynamics, etc.). We have provided a sample movie clip and image, located below:
Movie Clip: More is Less
Creative Commons Image
If you'd like to extend this lesson, here are a couple of ideas:
  • Students can compose several 4-8 bar minor pentatonic patterns using a variety of rhythms for their composition
  • Students will compose a piece of music that represents their chosen media. The composition will have a minimum of four parts and will combine their minor pentatonic melodic patterns using additive layering.
    • If possible, students will perform their composition.
For further study of composition on PULSE, check out these materials on the PULSE website (create a PULSE account):
Download the Complete Lesson with Core Arts Standards/Suggested Materials
Download the "Desert Lights" Sheet Music