Differentiation causes a unit pivot.

In the past, our middle school was structured in such a way that I typically had between 16 – 21 students each year for music class. The majority of them did not play an instrument so I always ran a beginner band programme.  However, one year I ended up with only 4 students, all of whom were already highlight proficient on instruments. If the purpose of the unit was to act as an equaliser to get all students ready for the now-defunct grade 10 moderation, then what would I do with 4 kids who can already play their instruments very well? I went to a colleague in the science department for advice.

First, my colleague asked me what the main, core purpose of the unit was. That’s easy – Identities and Relationships, focusing on health. How to learn an instrument in a safe manner. Really, a springboard into them learning how to learn. Couldn’t they still do that? He reasoned. But I questioned the summative assessment, and that’s when Luiz led me to a fantastic idea – Couldn’t they do a one-man band featuring their main instrument and their newly learnt instrument, and show how they are aware of playing positions, breathing exercises, etc., on both? 

We talked through the task sheet using the smartboard, and then I typed up our notes and included the assessment criteria.

I have now run multiple instances of this unit and it’s always very successful. In fact, this  has actually created more highly-challenging goals than ever I could imagine. I had a student last year who performed an entire band score using 15 instruments as part of her one-person band. 


Grade 9 : Beginner Band Creative Cycle
Our bodies change, for better or for worse, when we start playing instruments.
Global Context: An Inquiry into identities and relationships (health)
Related Concepts: Role, Play & Composition
Factual Question: How does playing an instrument affect the human body?
Conceptual Question: Why are proper playing positions integral to my health and well-being?
Debatable Question: How can some pain be beneficial?

75% of your mark – written – process journal (A, C, & D) – 25% of your mark – practical – performing (B)
Your book is super important!

Your Task
    You have been studying how to play an instrument in a healthy way. You have been doing breathing exercises and ensuring that you maintain good posture and hand positions. Now demonstrate what you learned in a practical application – put together an ensemble using your new instrument. This task must be video-recorded so that your posture and hand positions are evident.   

For an example of this task, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsrolRORJT4

Planning Your Creative Cycle

Di: Inspiration

  • From what you know about the new instrument you learned, what type of music would suit it best? In which musical direction / inspiration could you take a personal interpretation? Do you want to use Band-in-a-Box or GarageBand to add extra sounds?
  • construct meaning and transfer learning to new settings

Cii: Brainstorming & Mind-Mapping

  • evidence / proof of taking a long time to think of what piece to do; don’t simply pick the first piece you can think of, but rather do a really detailed search of many different possibilities
  • Go find sheet music for both of your chosen instruments; decide whether you need sheet music for extra instruments
  • You are only allowed to add extra instruments once you are finished and only if they are finished or not involved (a.k.a. please don’t pull other musicians away from their own projects.)
  • demonstrate a range and depth of creative-thinking behaviours

Ci: Making a Plan

  • What piece did you pick?
  • Which instruments are you going to play?
  • Which instrument is playing the melody line?
  • ‘personal interpretation’ is what you want the piece to sound like. Remember à If your performance sounds exactly like the original, then you haven’t used your creativity to come up with a personal interpretation.
  • develop a feasible, clear, imaginative and coherent artistic intention

Practicing Your Creative Cycle

Bi: Can you play your ‘beginner’ instrument? (SmartMusic)
–    Can you play the new piece you have chosen?
Bii: Can you apply your skills in an ensemble?

  • Practicing
  • Make sure you are on SeeSaw; Miss Keus will take constant, regular videos and images of you
  • Take progress videos on your own
  • demonstrate the acquisition and development of the skills and techniques of the art form studied

ciii – Reflections showing that you were problem solving in creative and interesting ways

  • evidence of using creative thinking (see creative thinking behaviours list from your process journal)
  • demonstrate a range and depth of creative-thinking behaviours
  • demonstrate the exploration of ideas to shape artistic intention through to a point of realization.

dii – Feedback from teacher, friends, family, and peers. Also, give feedback to others.

  • feedback is helpful, kind and specific. It helps you to improve.
    •           That was so bad.
      •           Your personal interpretation isn’t evident and your timing is off. Try using a
  • create an artistic response that intends to reflect or impact on the world around them
  • critique the artwork of self and others.

Polishing & Performing Your Creative Cycle


  • Decide which instrument is your ‘scratch track.’ (Try to make your melody line be your scratch track.)
  • Record yourself using GarageBand * You don’t need headphones. BUT it would be wise to record using headphones and a metronome. This will allow you to use GarageBand or Band-in-a-Box at a later stage should you decide to go a different direction mid-creative cycle.
  • When you are ready to record the real performance for real, borrow Miss Keus’ DP recorder and record using a microphone and an XLR cable. Record yourself using your iSight camera as well.
  • Use iMovie or Final Cut to put together your video. Export it as a video file and then import it into GarageBand and/or Logic Pro to ensure that the sound / music is high quality.
  • demonstrate the application of skills and techniques to create, perform and/or present art.

Evaluating Your Creative Cycle

At the very end…
diii – Final evaluation and play your video in the school assembly

  • critique the artwork of self and others.