A Plan for Selecting Performance Repertoire

Bruce Pearson Conducting

When a student joins a band program, he or she expects to learn to play an instrument and perform in a large ensemble. The band curriculum should be comprehensive and address many intermediary outcomes, providing the framework to ensure meaningful musical experiences through instrumental performance.

Selecting performance repertoire is one of the band director’s greatest responsibilities and most critical tasks. To be most effective, repertoire should:

  1. Coordinate with components of the curriculum plan
  2. Account for the students’ technical and musical maturity
  3. Be high quality literature, worthy of study
  4. Meet concert programming needs

Each of these criteria influences students’ musical experience, attitude, and level of participation. Ultimately, it is the course of study combined with a congruous, correlated repertoire that will inspire a lifelong love of music (even if they no longer play their instrument) and enable them to describe what they hear in terms of melody, harmony, rhythm, intonation, dynamics, timbre, texture, form, historical period, and style.

When considering technical and musical maturity, note that a meaningful musical experience involves more than playing the right notes at the right time. Select music at a level of difficulty that will enable students to develop technique, as well as musical literacy and understanding. Find the balance between challenging students and providing an attainable goal. Everyone wants to be successful.

To optimize your students’ musical experience, select performance repertoire that is of highest quality and worthy of study. There are numerous sources for recommended musical repertoire including, among others, state contest and festival lists, “Teaching Music Through Performance in Band” (published by G.I.A.), and recommendations by master teachers and colleagues.

Finally, when selecting repertoire think of the concert programming. In addition to high quality literature, the most successful concerts provide variety and showcase the developing talents of the ensemble and individual players.

The following program format will enable students to make the most of their next performance:


Establish a positive atmosphere and aura of confidence with an energetic piece that is not too difficult, such as a march.

Major Work

Display music of the highest quality. The selection should hold technical demands for all sections and students.

Quiet Piece

Contrast the rhythmic activity, volume, dissonance, and texture of the major work. Display the development of students’ sensitivity and musicianship.

Feature or Pop Tune

Showcase an entire section, perhaps one whose other parts have been less challenging or one that is particularly strong. Avoid trivial arrangements. Look for an enjoyable piece that can be used to teach specific objectives.


Finish with a powerful up-beat selection – a piece that students can play confidently. Make sure both students and audience leave with a positive feeling about the concert, as well as the music program in general.

Everyone enjoys a band concert that shows the students’ accomplishments and provides a window into the band’s rehearsals. Remember that concerts afford music educators/ band directors a golden opportunity to share their classroom activities with parents and the community.

[Excerpts taken from: Pearson, Bruce and Nowlin, Ryan. Teaching Band With Excellence. San Diego: Neil A. Kjos Music Company, 2011.]


Dr. Bruce Pearson is an internationally recognized music educator, author, composer, clinician and conductor. His newest band method, Tradition of Excellence, offers the most advanced interactive curriculum that is second-to-none. His best-selling band method, Standard of Excellence, has provided a solid foundation for scores of music education programs around the world. His extensive correlated repertoire has helped music educators expand their programs to reinforce learning through performance.

Additionally, Bruce Pearson personally imparts his 30+ years of experience to music educators through no-cost clinics designed to improve, invigorate and enhance music programs. View his website for a full bio and visit Neil A. Kjos Company to see a list of retailers offering Bruce’s books and sheet music.

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