The Rest is Silence:  John Cage’s 4’33”


Objective:                    Students will learn about John Cage and use his approach towards silence in music. 

                                                They will use this information to evaluate multiple performances of 4’33”.


Standards:                   Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.


Materials:                    Pencil

                                        Venn diagrams (teacher or student created)

                                        Any instrument available to students

                                        Biography of John Cage and audio sample of 4’33”


1.             Announce to students that they will be listening to a famous classical composition.  Do not give them any more detail than that. 


2.             Play the audio sample of 4’33” from the above link, or perform a short section of the work on the piano or any other instrument.  Be sure to indicate the end by applauding or by taking a bow/curtsey.


3.             Ask students what they thought of the piece.  Use answers such as, “I didn’t hear anything,” or “You didn’t play,” as an opportunity to have them discuss the sounds in the room as the silent piece was being played.  Can those sounds be considered music?  Why or why not?  What makes a sound musical?


4.             Pass out student biography of John Cage.  Have students take turn reading the biography out loud.


5.             After reading the end section on 4’33”, ask students questions such as why they think the piano lid opens and closes during the piece, what might be more difficult about performing the piece than one might think, and what sounds might occur in different performance venues (a park, a gymnasium, a fancy concert hall).


6.             Ask for student volunteers to perform a section of 4’33” on whatever instrument he/she wishes.  Make sure the students have a way of indicating the beginning and end of the piece (for example, picking a drum up and setting it down, or putting a bar on the Orff xylophones and taking it off again).  Have two or three students perform the piece.  Have students compare the sounds they heard during each on a Venn diagram, such as the announcements, hallway activity, outdoor activity, sneezing, etc.  Which was the loudest “silent” performance?  Which had the most interesting things happening in the background?


Assessment:               Students will intelligently debate the role of silence in music.

                                        Students will actively identify variations in the three performances.