Conducting Your Way through the 2014 Music Standards

Conducting Your Way through the 2014 Music Standards

Are you teaching your students concepts that will enable them to be independent musicians for the rest of their lives?

By NAfME Member Sarah Labovitz


2014 Music Standards

The new 2014 Music Standards are a great resource for those striving to be educators who teach music comprehensively through performance in a large ensemble. Written for music educators, by music educators, these standards encourage students to do, think, feel, and understand music through the Three Artistic Processes of Creating, Performing, and Responding. Built for ultimate flexibility, these standards are presented in a grade by grade sequence from PK through 8 and in different strands with proficiency divisions at the secondary level. More information about the 2014 Music Standards can be found by clicking here.


Model Cornerstone Assessments

Employing these standards in a traditional large ensemble can seem like a daunting task. Teaching students how to be independent musicians instead of just teaching them to be concert ready may require a new outlook on unit and lesson planning. To aid in this shift, Model Cornerstone Assessments (MCA) have been released in conjunction with the standards. These MCAs contain complete units that can be used to teach holistically using the 2014 Music Standards. More information about the Music Model Cornerstone Assessments can be found here.




Incorporating the Standards into Your Large Ensemble

For those who want to incorporate the 2014 Music Standards into their large ensembles but cannot currently devote the time it would take to fully implement a MCA, there are other ways. Below are a few ways to get your large ensemble students Creating, Performing, and Responding!



  • Choose Repertoire Incorporating Aleatoric Sections/ Improvisation

Many large ensemble pieces contain small sections that allow students to choose what they want to play within a certain set of composer guidelines. Instead of just telling students to follow the instructions, spend some rehearsal time discussing the effect the composer is after and having students experiment with different ideas. Let them play as sections or individuals for each other and evaluate the quality of their work.

  • Improvise or Compose within Scale Study

When introducing or reinforcing scales, add an improvisation/ composition component. Have students play or write a melody using the scale in order to strengthen the concept from a different angle. If students have staff paper or a note book in their music folder, they can write out their melody and then switch papers with other students to evaluate or play.


band director
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  • Let Students Help Determine the Program

Talk with students about what makes a high quality piece of music and then give them a voice in music selection. Pick two pieces that meet the objectives for the concert cycle and sight read them both. Spend a bit of time getting to know the pieces for their musical merit and talking with the students about how to select appropriate repertoire. Poll the class as to what they want to play and why from a musical perspective.

  • Record Rehearsals/ Concerts and Have Students Evaluate the Recording

Make an audio recording of a rehearsal or performance. Have students listen and list things that they have improved upon during the concert cycle and also things that they need to keep working on. Compile everyone’s notes to share with the ensemble or have the students talk in sections about the changes that need to occur.



  • Talk About Feelings

Play various genres of music for students and, in addition to asking about what they are hearing, ask them how it makes them feel or if they like it or not. Follow up by asking what aspects of the music makes them feel that way. This can be done through discussion or by individual written response.

  • Have Students Contribute to the Interpretation of What They are Playing

Listen to various recordings of the pieces the ensemble is playing or a recording of the ensemble playing a section of a piece in various ways. Discuss or write down which aspects of each recording they like best from an interpretive stand point. Experiment with interpretive ideas from the ensemble and discuss what works and why.


Even though some of the above activities do not directly involve students playing their instruments, all of the above activities contribute to the total musicianship of the student. While these suggestions may take some time away from woodshedding a particular piece during a concert cycle, they will yield results that help students become thoughtful consumers and producers of music well into the future.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”- Lao Tzu

If you are interested in more ideas on how to incorporate the new 2014 Music Standards into your large ensemble classroom, come to my session, “Conducting Your Way through the National Core Arts Standards,” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference in Grapevine, TX, in November!



About the author:

Sarah Labovitz

Sarah Labovitz is currently the Associate Director of Bands at Arkansas State University. She directs the Symphonic Winds, teaches instrumental music education and conducting, and supervises student teachers. Prior to her appointment at A-State, Dr. Labovitz served as the Assistant Director of Bands at Washburn University. She has a BME from Bowling Green State University, a MME from Indiana University and a DMA in Wind Conducting from the University of Kansas.

Dr. Labovitz is an active guest conductor and clinician, as well as a contributing author to the Teaching Music through Performance in Band series. Her public school experience includes serving as Director of Bands at Athens High School in Athens, OH, and Director of Instrumental Music at Admiral King High School in Lorain, OH. She currently resides in Jonesboro, AR, with her husband and her two rescue labs Rosie and Sadie.


Sarah Labovitz presented at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference. Register today for the 2018 NAfME National Conference


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