how to write for beginning band


That's my music on the stands!

Tonight (and tomorrow, and the next day) the sixth grade kiddos at Mason Intermediate School under the direction of Micah Ewing will be world-premiering my piece "Last Stage to Red Rock."

I'm kind of excited. The kiddos are excited.

(One kid thought my piece sounds evil.)

But HEY, I finished the piece. And I wrote a piece that was both challenging and fun to play.

So, obviously I'm now an expert on writing Grade 1 band music (no, no I'm not), so I will give you some tips.

First, eat something.


Second, here are some guidelines the director gave me.


  • The performance duration could not be longer than 2'30". That's because their embouchures and attention spans would run out. Seriously.

  • There were ranges that I had to stick to. (Long story short, the kiddos could play an octave at best.)

  • The meter can only be common time.

  • Rhythmic values can only include whole notes, dotted half notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes (only in pairs). This also applies to rests.

  • Eighth notes or rests should be composed in multiples of two (no isolated eighth notes or or synchopated eighth note rhythms) that are either repeated pitches

  • The keys of B-flat major/G minor and E-flat major/C minor may be used. Modes within these key signatures are also acceptable.

When I was done writing the piece, I sent the school a PDF of my score and parts. Then I was asked to provide my Sibelius score so the director could upload it into SmartMusic.


I learned that SmartMusic is an interactive application that helps students practice their music at home. They can play along and the program uses a pitch tracking device that can tell the kids if they're playing the correct notes. This also logs their practice time.

Welcome to the twenty-first century.


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