Music Listening Activity: The Bracket Challenge

music listening bracket challenge

Here’s a project your students can complete while at home that will introduce them to new music literature. This activity addresses the “Responding” national standard by asking students to select, evaluate, and analyze music.


I have to give credit to my two sons for this idea; John, who is a high school band director in Waconia, MN, and Joel, who is the band director in Pierz, MN. Together they came up with the list of songs based upon their own personal likes and pieces that they thought would be interesting to the students. I edited the list slightly to include some of my favorite pieces and some I thought were more geared towards college students.

As we all know, band is a social activity as well as a “class,” and although we can’t have live rehearsals right now, we can still have live interactions with each other. When students submit their choices for the second round, I plan to host break-out sessions via Zoom where groups of students can interact with each other about choosing the set of pieces that will advance to the next round. It is my hope that as we progress to the “final four” that students have collectively chosen pieces to use as program material for the fall. I believe that students can have meaningful and interesting discussions about the pieces and be able to connect with each other during this strangest of times.


Open the Google Doc to access the bracket. Click on a title to see and listen. For each competing pair of songs, choose your favorite to move to the next round. Write a paragraph about each of the Final Four titles and why you chose them, then explain why you chose the “winning” piece (What did you like about the songs? What makes them “good” pieces? What did you not like about the other songs?).

Variations and Extensions

  • Before beginning the project, have students develop their own rubric or criteria that they will use to evaluate each piece.
  • Assign the bracket as a group project. The group will debate and negotiate together to decide which piece moves forward.
  • Pair up students who had different “winners” to discuss what led them to choose the winning piece.
  • Find multiple versions of the “winning” song and analyze the differences in the performances.
  • Extend the activity by having students learn more about the composer or arranger of the winning piece. Students can create a mock Facebook or LinkedIn profile that reflects what they learned about the composer.
  • Use this exercise as a way for you to gauge the interests of your students. Did you notice any patterns in the pieces they chose? Did their choices surprise you?
Glenn Pohland

Dr. Glenn Pohland began teaching at Loras College in 2009, serving as associate professor in the communication and fine arts division. Dr. Pohland conducts the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble and chamber groups. He also teaches courses in music education, orchestration, instrumental techniques, music in the movies, and instrumental conducting. Dr. Pohland received his BA in music education from St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, his MMEd from the University of Minnesota, and his DMA in instrumental music education and conducting from Arizona State University. Prior to his appointment at Loras, Dr. Pohland taught two years at the University of MN and before that spent 24 years as the director of bands in Glencoe, MN. During his time at Glencoe, Dr. Pohland was the recipient of the superintendent’s award for outstanding leadership to the district and was also awarded the ASBDA Stanbury Award for outstanding young band director in the Senior High Division. Dr. Pohland is also the conductor of the newly formed Dubuque Youth Wind Ensemble and the New Horizons Band of Dubuque.

Get the best from SmartMusic

Discover practical music education tips, delivered directly to you!

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By viewing or browsing our site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. More Information