Defining Musical Independence in the Large Ensemble Classroom

Brian N. Weidner


Big Ten Academic Alliance Music Education Conference

College Park, MD

October 7, 2016



Musical independence within the large music ensemble has been discussed in many ways, but no studies have investigated empirically how practicing teachers who are dedicated to teaching music independence define the term.

Research Questions

•How do music teachers who focus on musical independence define term?

•How are their definitions translated into their classroom practices?


Methodology & Participants

Multiple case study of 3 high school band directors in NE Illinois public high schools


Dr. Evans-Drake HS Symphonic Band

•28 years teaching

•High SES suburban (1600 students, 150+ in band), Blue Ribbon School

•Symphonic band is 2nd of 3 ensembles.  Well balanced 50 member band of sophomores through seniors.


Ms. Simek—Grenada HS Symphonic Band

•12 years teaching

•Low SES suburban (1950 students, 130+ in band), large minority pop.

•Symphonic band is the only non-beginner ensemble including freshmen through seniors with 120 students


Mr. Carter-Harris HS Concert Band

•7 years teaching

•Rural (600 students, 40 in band)

•Concert band is the 2nd of 2 ensembles of mostly freshmen and sophomores with 14 students, mostly on treble instruments.


All teachers included the development of musical independence in their primary teaching objectives


Data included semi-structured interviews with teachers and student samples, monthly rehearsal observations throughout the 2015-2016 year, and course artifacts.  This presentation is based on preliminary analysis of teacher interviews and rehearsal observations.


Teachers’ actions in developing independence

•Emphasize the student as the active musician in the classroom

•Foster critical thinking about music performance

•Teach music concepts broadly and deeply (as opposed to teaching music pieces)


Activities of the classroom for developing independence

•Curricular student-led activities without teacher intervention (e.g. sectionals, chamber ensembles, student directed pieces)

•Open rehearsal format allowing unsolicited student feedback

•Problem solving directed to students through Socratic questioning

•Modeling of strategies and techniques with guided and independent practice


Philosophical positions of the teacher

Failure is embraced as:

•Awareness of a problem

•The first step toward mastery

•A movement away from comfort zones


Student learning is more important than ensemble execution

Ensemble experiences prepare students for independent musical encounters