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Experimenting With Music as a Performer


Experimenting as performer is a fascinating concept of the new IBDP Music course. However, it can lead to some confusion.

In order to help my students fully understand the scope and possibilities of this exciting component, I decided to scaffold the approach very carefully, starting off at a very basic level.


We first studied Chaconne and Passacaglia with the relevant analysis and listening examples, as well as studying how chord sequences are used in contemporary music across genres.

Then I gave them the task of playing a 4 chord pattern. Before starting this tasks, students had a brainstorming session of "whatever they could think of"


One of the first questions coming up concerned the difference between experimenting as a creator and experimenting as a performer. We decided that if could perform it alone, or with the help of someone else in our school's theatre, it would be performing. This also meant that it had to be on their instrument of choice as well as according to his/her technical ability.


Being a drummer or singer was a bit tricky for this assignments. However, as I always request of my drummers to also master a melodic instrument (Xylophone, or similar) this was sorted quickly. I am not saying that they were excited about it, but in the end, they saw the benefit of it.

The singers used a looping app on their phone (we are still in semi-lockdown) to be able to create chords. This first, very basic exercise helped the students to think outside the usual limitations and some of the experiments were quite interesting.


Next, we looked at the definitions of the key terminology - e.g. what does TRANSFORMATION really mean and how is manifested in music?

Another very useful exercise was for the students to "grade" interesting experiments I found online. They had to justify their opinion, using the IBDP terminology. Some heated discussions followed this exercise, which also helped to solidify the use of the terminology.


Then it was time to get practical:


N.B. I am fully aware of the fact that the portfolio is done as individual work. However, this was the first week that our DP 1 students were allowed back on campus for two days and I wanted to honour the need of the students to socialise with their friends they missed so much in the past few months.

What was the result?

Here are a few examples:

  • Jingle bells being played in double harmonic minor which led to research into traditional Arabic and Indian music.

  • Lullaby played in a heavy metal style, which led to further research of timbre and the use of settings on the amplifiers.

  • Twinkle, twinkle little star with ornamentation, which led to a class research of non harmonic notes and embellishments. (This was neat as I had this on my "to teach list and this way it seemed very organic and students were very open and interested in a topic that can sometimes be a bit dry)

Some personal reflections:

  • It was a great vehicle to review important theory concepts.

  • It was very useful in starting individual research.

  • My students do so much better in a real class than online.

  • Sometimes students need a significant amount of pushing to think outside the box. They need so much encouragement to truly start "experimenting".

  • My students benefit enormously from "mini assignments". Due to the current situation, they are even more concerned about "doing it right". They are more likely to take risks if the assignment (formative!) is just one of many to come.

  • Students also realised that the polished performances are not as important in this portfolio as the actual experiment. Truly knowing the assessment criteria helps to channel the efforts of the students in the right direction.