Three grade 3 pieces to promote independence and creativity

So much of our job is telling players what to do and how to do it. It's so easy for us to get stuck on the podium, dictating to students every element of what and how to play. It feels good - we say something and the sound improves! Yay! But this method is actually really inefficient. What if the students could be making their own judgements about the music, adjusting in the moment and, essentially, rehearsing themselves? Sound impossible and idyllic? It's not.

When we give over responsibility to the students for shaping and creating the music, amazing things happen. Pieces with aleatory, soundscape and improvisation empower players, allowing them to make their own decisions about how the music will go.


Conducting these pieces can be quite challenging, as we have to give up some of our own control and leadership over the musical outcome. Be prepared to let go of your preconceived ideas and let the students make mistakes. It's essential to their learning and experimentation.


If you're brave enough to take on these works you'll be rewarded with a band that has opinions about the music, wants to make it better, gets excited about making music together, and wants to do right by the composer.

What if the students could be making their own judgements about the music, adjusting in the moment and, essentially, rehearsing themselves?

I Am (1992) Andrew Boysen Jr.

Grade 4 | 7:00

This work is mostly tonal and written in standard notation, with a central 'senza misura' section depicting the foggy morning that precipitated a car crash. As far as aleatoric music goes, this is fairly straight ahead and a good introduction to this compositional technique. Each section plays repeated cells of musical material individually at their own tempo. Throughout each section (lasting 4-8 seconds) the intensity and texture becomes more dense and the dynamic builds.

The main decisions players have to make are how they will grow the dynamic, what tempo is correct for their motif and how they will contribute to the texture.

This piece is based on a poem and has great cross-curricular potential. Read more about that here.

Of Dark Lords & Ancient Kings (1995) Roland Barrett

Grade 3 | 6:00

This piece includes a 30-35 second aleatoric section that builds from a single flute to a chaotic cacophony. Players are responsible for determining articulation, tempo, entrances, dynamic growth and how the texture will intensify. The rest of the piece is in standard notation. Students really like the varying energy of this piece and the varied harmonic language.


Letter from Sado(2014) Jodie Blackshaw

Grade 3 | ~7:00

This highly creative work opens and closes with a soundscape, inspired by a Haiku poem. Students are presented with the same musical material both times, yet the first has to sound like 'A wild, stormy sea' and the latter like 'Heaven's River - the Milky Way'. To achieve this contrast, players have to work together to make decisions about orchestration, texture, tone colour, tempo and dynamics. There is also a section that involves waves of whispered speech, underneath a clarinet duet, that can (and should be) student led.

Don't be freaked out by the score layout where students are divided into colour teams (eg. Clarinet Yellow, Clarinet Red) instead of the traditional Clarinet 1 and 2. It's designed so these mixed-instrument teams can rehearse themselves independently before coming back as a full band (in normal seating).

The score has lengthy, useful material on how to rehearse this piece. Checking out a copy of the score(&free online resources) of Jodie's Grade 1-2 work Belah, Sun Womanis highly recommended as there are lots of other teaching strategies that would work well with this piece.

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Three grade 3 pieces to promote independence and creativity

So much of our job is telling players what to do and how to do it. It's so easy for us to get stuck on the podium, dictating to students every element of what and how to play. It feels good - we say something and the sound improves! Yay! But this method is actually really inefficient. What if the students could be making their own judgements about the music, adjusting in the moment and, essentially, rehearsing themselves? Sound impossible and idyllic? It's not.

Read More