Music at School


Area of Study 2

Tubular Bells Variations

Year 9 pupils have been making variations of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. Looking at timbre and structure, pupils were given the notes to use and asked to experiment with different sounds and textures.

Below are three variations from one class and pupils have been asked to comment on the sounds that have been used in each, whether they are a good choice and if so (or not) why not. Finally they have been asked to comment on whether the piece works as a variation of Tubular Bells

Year 10 Abstract Music

This term Year 10 GCE Music pupils have been looking at modern classical music like Minimalism and Electronic Music. To prepare for writing a minimalist piece of music they have completed a research based task that looks at the life and works of one modern composer. They have also began to develop some harmonic ideas. To help with this latter task they have been exploring harmony and timbre by writing a short Abstract piece of music using Propellerhead’s Reason 7. Here is their work with each pupil commenting on two of the pieces and making music comparisons between them.


Writing a minimalist piece of Music – Philip Glass Style

There are lots of different ways to start writing a piece of minimalist music: you could start with a melodic idea, a chord progression, a bass line or a rhythmic idea. Which ever way to decide to start, the important thing is to know the style of the music you are writing in. A good research project based around a composer is a good way to do that. Your project should not only consider the life and influences of the composer but more importantly the musical features. This not only involves lots of research, but also lots and lots of listening. IN this short post I’ll help you write a piece of music based on the music of minimalist composer, Philip Glass.

Having completed my research I’ve discovered that Philip Glass is known for writing melodically beautiful and simple music. The pieces of music that I listened to where:

  • “The Truman Show” – film score
  • Glassworks
  • Metamorphosis 1-5
  • Koyaanisqatsi

What I discovered from listening to the above pieces of music is that his music contains four or five chords, in a repeating sequence. Each chord contains an anchor note (a note that is common in all of the chords). So, I choose to base my chord sequence around the note A and improvised on a piano to come up with these five chords: (which all contain the note A)

  D, C6, Bm7, Bbmaj7, Am7

Philip Glass take the chords he uses and applies a technique called diminution to sequentially half the note values (i.e. from semi-breves to minims to crotchets to quavers). This will happen over several bars and may include (particularly when it gets to the quavers) arpeggio patterns or alberti bass patterns.

Philip Glass melodies are tonal (they belong to the same key and chords as used) and are fairly uncomplicated. Setting my chords going in a loop I can improvise a simple melody, choosing notes from the chords as a starting point.

Finally, rubato is added to give the piece a fluid feel.

The value of experimental music

Year 9 students this term have been studying the experimental music of the 20th century, and in particular the music of John Cage like this performance of 4’33”:

A performance would normally be made up of organised sounds. These sounds are referred to as crotchets or minims, “A” or C sharp”, loud or quiet. In 4’33” the sounds are less organised and what we normally refer to as “ambient” or “background” sounds become the very sounds of the performance.

What is the value of such music (if it can even be described as “music”)?

Philip Glass comparison

Here are two pieces of music. One is by world famous minimalist and film composer Philip Glass and the other is a composition from a pupil. It is clear that the pupil piece is based on some of the ideas of augmentation and diminution that are found in the Glass piece.

Philip Glass: Metamorphosis 1

Pupil Piece:

Listen to both of these pieces and make specific comments about how the pupil has used harmony, dynamics and rhythm. Then, give the pupil two very specific, small, achievable targets to help them get to an A* grade.

Minimalist Development

This piece of music is being written in a minimalist style. Make comments about the music to help it get a B grade. Use the Edexcel mark scheme and what you know of Steve Reich’s music to guide your advice.

Minimalist Composers

In America: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, La Monte Young

In Europe: Louis Andriessen, Michael Nyman, Henryk Górecki, Arvo Pärt


The term “cyclic” refers to musical structure. It is where a composer will use sections of music and repeat them over and over again (like a cycle) before moving to the next section. It is common in Gamelan and Indian Music.


The term “ostinato” actually means “stubborn”. It is a musical device that can be either rhythmic or melodic and doesn’t go away. Typically an ostinato will stay the same even though chords are changing underneath it. The ostinato at the beginning of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” lasts for nearly 5 minutes without change.

Blog at

Up ↑