Rehearsal Mission: AIM-ing for Student Empowerment

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Rehearsal Mission: AIM-ing for Student Empowerment

Richard Mannoia, Advisor, The Academy for Impact through Music (AIM)


The author leads the Firebird Fellows in a movement ritual. Photo: Josep Piñol.

Editor’s Note: The following article is an unusual one for The Ensemble—a detailed lesson plan. We often publish articles that address high-quality teaching, but we rarely include the details of what it looks like, right down to a lesson plan. Author Richard Mannoia created this example to use in an online professional development session about lesson planning for the Firebird Fellows of the Academy for Impact through Music (AIM). It was an interactive lesson; the boxes on the right side of the page were to be filled in to connect the specific activity with the AIM Pillars (learn more about those pillars in this February article by AIM Director Fiona Cunningham). AIM’s Fellowship investigates the ways those specific youth empowerment goals can be developed inside musical activity. Richard’s lesson shows how to think in that way, and one specific way to accomplish it.


This lesson illustrates an approach that uses a single concept to focus a rehearsal and weave each exercise into an overarching goal. And, perhaps more significantly, the lesson uses the AIM’s Five Pillars of Practice as a design framework:

  • Holistic Development (individual relationships & care; physical health; differentiated learning)
  • Intrinsic Motivation (personal relevance; proactivity & responsiveness; perseverance)
  • Unlimited Artistry (musical purpose & context; musical progress; musical assessment)
  • Optimal Agency (expression; empowered choices; experimentation)
  • Community (student interaction; citizenship skills; music as a force for change)

In the plan, these Pillars come to life through the students, who personalize the articulation concept in order to motivate their skill-building and artistic performance.

Individualized creative work is used to deepen and invigorate students’ understanding and application of the articulations, and the social aspects of the lesson provide both community and additional motivation. In addition to being engaging (and hopefully fun), the exercises aim to promote students’ performance quality and empower them as artists who can more deeply understand their repertoire and the composer’s choices that they bring to life through each note they play.

Example Rehearsal Plan—60 minutes  

Repertoire  Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez   Repertoire preparation stage:   Woodwind Sectional #2 
Aim: Students will feel a sense of agency and personal expression through the use of staccato •, marcato ^, and accents >  
Objectives – By the end of this lesson, all students will be able to…   

  • Confidently play a range of articulations. 
  • Make personal connections between articulation choices and their emotional effects.  
  • Gain insight into Márquez’s articulation choices in his Danzón No. 2 and perform them with expression, precision and appropriate style.  
Time  What students are doing  Make Notes – Elements of AIM’s 5 Pillars 
4 min  1. Set Up: Take out instruments. At the same time, discuss with a neighbor the following question displayed on the board: “Where could you find examples of staccato •, marcato ^, and accents > in the natural world?”   

7 min 

2. Warm-Up:  

  • Stretch arms, hands, and bodies, followed by brief breathing exercises. 
  • As a group, play b minor scale 2 octaves.   
  • Have a variety of articulation patterns written on a set of large cards (e.g., > > • • , > > ^ ^, etc.).  
  • Invite volunteers to randomly choose cards to lead the group through the scale using the articulation patterns.    

3 min 


3. Reflect/Assess: As a group, discuss the following: What was challenging, what was satisfying, what do you need help with? Demonstrate tongue position, length, and attack-sustain-release techniques, as necessary. Clarify the difference between the 3 articulations and the related sound production on woodwind instruments.    
5 min  4. Experimenting with character: Now with an intention for their choices, give students or have them choose a musical character word (aggressive, flirtatious, determined, angular, spicy, sneaky, suave, etc.). Individually, students try to play the scale and choose the articulations to express their character word. Have students play their finished idea for a neighbor.    

3 min 


5. Reflect: As a group, discuss: What are you discovering about character and feel and their connection to articulation? What kind of power do you have as a musician to communicate ideas and emotions?    
10 min  6. Creative exercise: Students receive a worksheet containing small sections of Marquez’s Danzón No. 2 (e.g., #150, #258, #264, #278), but articulations are removed. Students experiment with: 

  • assigning articulations to each melody  
  • using articulations to create a range of emotions (e.g., increasing tension, decreasing energy, or providing a contrast or musical surprise)  
3 min  7. Share and reflect:  

  • How did you use articulations to create a range of emotions and character?  
  • How did you create a different sense of style or feel?   
20 min   8. Rehearse Danzón No. 2: Conduct the group through the sections of the score corresponding to the sections covered in the worksheet which focus on the variety of articulations.  

Challenge students to observe the varying articulations and to play them with specificity, unity, and expressivity. Students are invited throughout to give suggestions to emphasize articulations to convey style, character, and mood. Students are encouraged to share their expressive ideas in a variety of ways: demonstrate on instruments, describe verbally, sing, conduct, or move.  

While working, students are encouraged to, one by one, step out of the ensemble and listen from a different place in the room and assess the unified performance of the group.  

5 min  9. Closure: Ask questions such as the following for important aspects of the piece and overall musicianship:  

  • How and why does Márquez use articulation in Danzón? What effect is created when consecutive beats are accented? When accents are more sporadic?  
  • How do the articulations contribute to a dance-like quality?  
  • What do you want to know more about?  
  • What do you need to work on most?  
  • What can I help you with next time?  
  • What can you do to notice these articulations in other music you listen to and in the world around us?  



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