What the lesson is about
This is a practical activity to help pupils understand the essence of minimalist music. It works well for the Edexcel GCSE specifications, but can be adapted for other groups. It also provides pupils with key words and definitions.
- To learn the main principles of minimalism and demonstrate them.
- To be able to describe the main principles of minimalism: drone, repetition and phasing.
- To describe and understand how these are demonstrated.
- To learn key words and their definitions.
Ask pupils to answer this question in pairs: "Is it possible to create a piece of music that will sound different every time it is performed? If so, how?"
Discuss their answers. Explain the keywords "minimalism" and "aleatoric" (where some element of the composition is left to the determination of its performer(s)) and explain that they are about to take part in an aleatoric, minimalist performance.
Divide the class into four equal groups. Give each group different instruments, ensuring that one group has instruments that are capable of a sustained sound. Explain that each group will perform in turn and allow them time to practise.
Start the performance with the group that has the instruments that can sustain a sound - the drone group - and then a second that makes a repetitive noise, followed by the other two groups.
Record the performance and listen to it afterwards. Could the pupils identify the first group as the "drone" group? Hopefully they will also have identified the "repetition" group and the final two as the "phasing" group.
Next suggest that the pupils try a phasing activity. Establish a regular pulse with all pupils playing a motif based on four notes: A, C, D and E. Pupils start playing in turn, with each starting on the next note. So the first pupil would play the motif as normal and when they get back to the start the second pupil will start, this time on a C. Again record the performance and listen back to the work.
What to watch out for
Because this genre of music is based heavily on individual interpretation, try to ensure that pupils don't get too carried away with their musical performances and work in teams.
Where to find it
For a PowerPoint resource and a detailed lesson plan, go to www.tes.co.ukminimalism-performance
Find recordings and videos of aleatoric and minimalist performances on YouTube.
American experimental composer John Cage's "Music of Changes" (1951) is a good example of what he calls indeterminancy in music, so could make a good reference point.
TOP MUSIC RESOURCES - www.tes.co.uk
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A detailed revision booklet for the OCR GCSE, but also applicable to other exam boards - GCSE-music-revision
A guide to the basics of sound recording and editing, through to adding MP3 tags and podcasting, suitable for teachers and pupils alike - audacity-user-guide.