Driving Question

How do we independently learn and perform a piece of music?

How do I build musical independence while understanding the importance of an ensemble?

Students select and prepare a chamber piece in a small ensemble group (2-6 members).

During daily small ensemble rehearsals, students will: 1) with director guidance, select an appropriate piece for performance; 2) identify musical problems to be addressed; 3) utilize various practice strategies to address problems in music; 4) make musical decisions regarding interpretation; 5) continually assess and peer critique; and 6) access contextual listening examples and teacher guidance to inform performance decisions.

Student ensembles perform for class, with the opportunity to perform at outside venues (Solo & Ensemble Festival) in front of adjudicators.

For Students:

High school

Unit Title:

Creating a Small Ensemble Performance


Approx 4 weeks


Choir, Band, Orchestra

Unit Launch

Students are introduced to the task – they will develop musicianship as they engage in all elements of the performance cycle, specifically in the context of a small ensemble. Their work will culminate in public performances, for their class and potentially at a local solo/ensemble festival.

The following slides and documents introduce the process:

Day 1:

Ensemble Unit General

Performance Cycle

Day 2:

Small Group Rehearsals

Practice strategies

Midpoint Check

Multiple checks are built into the unit structure, including journal entries, peer and self-assessments, and frequent instructor check-ins with each group. A daily unit plan is below:


Day 1

Small Group Rehearsal Power Point (see Unit Launch for file)



Day 2


Practice Strategies (see Unit Launch for file)

Day 3

Assign ensembles and piece

15 min. rehearsal

Day 4

15-20 min. rehearsal


Day 5

Introduce  Small Ensemble Journal – Small Ensemble Unit – Journal

Fill in Rehearsal Log – (in journal)

1st entry

Day 6

Rehearsal – Check in with director


Day 7

Rehearsal – begin research and background on piece/composer

Day 8


Review Practice Strategies (see Unit Launch for file)


Day 9


Contextual Listening


Day 10


Journal Entry #2

Day 11


Continue research re: historical context



Day 12

Rehearsal – Check in with director

Day 13


2nd Contextual Listening

Day 14


Address musical/technical challenges – review practice strategies to address challenges

Day 15


Journal Entry #3

Day 16

Review Performance Assessment – Small Ensemble Performance Assessment

Day 17


Prepare for class performance

Day 18

Class Performances

Day 19

Class Performances

Day 20

Peer Assessment – Ensemble Peer Assessment 1

Self-Assessment and Reflection – Small Ensemble Unit 2 Reflection and Assessment


Culminating Experience

Student ensembles perform for the class and may perform in a public performance (Solo & Ensemble Festival) for an adjudicator.

Differentiation (e.g. Special Education, English Language Learners)

Students are assessed on their performance, and complete peer and self-assessments using the materials below (also linked in the unit calendar under “Materials”).

Small Ensemble Performance Assessment

Ensemble Peer Assessment 1

Small Ensemble Unit 2 Reflection and Assessment

Teacher Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit:

Carol: One of the aspects of this unit I really enjoy is that it provides an opportunity for students to work in a smaller musical environment.  Generally, our music/Choir classes are large ensembles and we spend the majority of our rehearsal time with the entire ensemble.  This unit allows students to work within a small group of musicians which helps them realize their leadership skills, both musically and otherwise, and their areas of weakness, such as being able to maintain their part independently or to work through complex rhythms without an instructor.  I find it also encourages those quieter students to risk more and to become less dependent on others.

Here’s what I’m still working on making better about this unit:

Carol: I am continuing to work on developing rubrics for assessment that more accurately reflect each students work, the groups collaborative work and the end product/goal.

Student Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit:


Here’s how this unit could help me learn more effectively:

Authentic Problem

Learning music independently and collaborating with other musicians are tasks repeatedly encountered by professional musicians.

Authentic Assessment

Class performance and possible adjudication by a professional musician.

Student Voice

Students make decisions about rehearsal strategies and processes, and about interpretive choices in their music.


Listening examples, teacher guidance, college students as coaches, and professional or student accompanists provide expertise.

Culturally Responsive Instruction

Students draw from previous experience and musical exposure to inform their musical decisions.


Students work together to make all decisions relative to their performance and rehearsal strategies, from choice of piece to rehearsal roles.

Academic Discourse

Students use music vocabulary (terminology) to interact and rehearse music.

Washington State K-12 Learning Standards in Music. http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/learningstandards.aspx

Students are expected to:

1.1 Understand and apply music concepts and vocabulary. 1.2 Develop music skills and techniques. 1.3 Understand and apply music genres and styles of various artists, cultures, and times. 1.4 Understand and apply audience conventions in a variety of arts settings and performances for music.

2.1 Apply a creative process to music. (Identify, explore, gather, interpret, use, implement, reflect, refine, and present/perform) 2.2 Apply a performance process to music. (Identify, select, analyze, interpret, rehearse, adjust, refine, present, produce, reflect, and self-evaluate) 2.3 Apply a responding process to a music performance and/or presentation. (Engage, describe, analyze, interpret, and evaluate)

3.1 Use music to express feelings and present ideas. 3.2 Use music to communicate for a specific purpose. 3.3 Develop personal aesthetic criteria to communicate artistic choices in music.

4.1 Demonstrate and analyze the connections among the arts disciplines. 4.2 Demonstrate and analyze the connections among the arts and between the arts and other content areas. 4.3 Understand how the arts impact and reflect personal choices throughout life. 4.4 Understand how the arts influence and reflect cultures/civilization, place, and time. 4.5 Understand how arts knowledge and skills are used in the world of work, including careers in the arts.

About the Authors

Carol Whitworth

Mark Wilbert

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.