Adaptable, Compatible, and Flexible No Longer Musical Curse Words
Updated: Jun 30
Flexible instrumentation has been around for a LONG time (60’s-70’s). In fact, it has been around so long, that it has developed its own stigmas in our industry. In the Modern music room, it can be a monumentally powerful resource, but in the current climate of COVID-19 it might be a game changer.
Dispelling some negative ideas
Missing a key instrument or some strength in a section can be a common frustration. Wanting to give students the experience of a wonderful piece of music but not being able to because you are missing a bass line can be infuriating, and frankly not fair to the students.
There is a worry that changing the instrumentation will change the sound and color of the orchestration. IT WILL. But, you are a teacher, and music is anything but absolute. If a composer takes the time to write a flex version of a piece you like. You can rest assured that they are ok with it sounding a little different than the original.
If you are worried about flex versions being less educational or of a lesser quality because of the use of non-idiomatic lines check out publisher guidelines. All of the flex works will still follow the same guidelines that have been developed by publishers to take “range, idiomatic playing, grade level considerations” in to account.
Social Distancing: These works “WILL WORK” when you don’t know who will be in your classroom when. As directors we like to plan things out, but this public health crisis is going to most likely see a lot of our babies in the room when we didn’t expect. If you have a Tuba/Oboe and French Horn show up to class you will need something for them to play. Why not reinforce ensemble skills now for when we come back together in force?
Reinforcing ensemble techniques and habits through chamber works is a great tool for the modern classroom. Ensemble books with flexible instrumentation make that even easier. You can use them for duets/trios/quartets and small chamber groups. As well as full ensemble play that helps students ease in to chamber playing.
As a teacher I used flex duets to play with my students in the morning before class. This allowed me to model good technique and reinforce tuning and listening one on one, or in a small group setting.
In middle school a lot of our students play in band because of their friends. But this can lead to instrument burn-out or kids wanting to switch to play with their friends. Now you can supplement these students with music that they can play with friends even in far-away and unlike sections.
Cost Effective: Not only are most of these book series flexible, they are also quite affordable. For example, for $14.99 the Adaptable Duet series comes with 29 works. These two-line works can be used as duets, small ensembles (especially while adding the auxiliary percussion) or used for full ensemble. That’s just $0.50/tune.
After reading a lot about “new” techniques online regarding flexible instrumentation for musical ensembles, I thought it important to add a little history to the end of this blog. Composers and Publishers have been developing great flex techniques for decades. These aren’t new, and have been a great resource for small ensembles. Now is the time to ask your colleagues from those groups where the “gems” are.
Major publishing companies have developed templates for flexible instrumentation. These are for individual works in a concert setting.
1. “Build-a-Band” – C.L. Barnhouse
2. “Flex-Band” – Hal Leonard
3. “Flexible Band Performance Series” – Carl Fischer
4. “Flexcel” – Excelcia Music Publishing
5. “Flexible Band Series” – Eighth Note Publications
***There are also Self-publishing composers developing their own flex templates you should check out. I also encourage you to check out the Institute for Composer Diversity database and explore works there. If you see something that you would love to see “Flex”, contact those composers and ask them to consider it or consider commissioning them to do so.
Also, check out the Creative Repertoire Initiative: https://www.creativerepertoire.com.
Other resources (non large ensemble works) are more widely available. These are usually in the form of Book Collections:
Flex instrumentation for Wind Instruments
Flex instrumentation for String Instruments
A wind instrument book series of flexible trios.
Any combination of wind instrument.
Fully flexible wind/percussion & string series
Can be used as base book, or with added percussion mixed to be a small ensemble or used as FULL Band/Orchestra methods. Arrangements and Original works.
Percussion book is also stand alone and includes all melody lines for mallets as well as common instruments found in the classroom. (Clave, Triangle, Tambourine, Snare Drum, Bass Drum etc...)
Wind, String and Mallet Percussion instruments
Wide range of styles and grade levels 1-3
A beginning method flex series with 3 lines. Melody/Harmony/Bass
Mixable with all instruments in the concert band
Can be expanded to full ensemble.
Mixable with wind instrument combination
There are MANY MANY others that have been out for years, so don’t consider this list exhaustive.