Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Shaping Soundscapes: ADSR in Ensemble Performance

The basics of envelopes and applying the concepts to musical performance

James Doyle, Erin Finley | Published: May 7th, 2024 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Performing Arts, music
  • Course Course Band, Music
  • Time Frame Time Frame 80-95 Minutes
  • Duration More 2-3 Class Periods


In this lesson for band classes, students will discuss what “attack” and “release” mean in a musical context. Students will participate in a “30-Second Expert” activity in pairs, in which one student reads about ADSR (attack, decay, sustain, and release) envelopes on synths and the other reads about attacks and releases on band instruments. The teacher will clarify knowledge and have students take turns recording samples of attacks and releases. Students will then learn about ADSR envelopes on synthesizers and how to manipulate them. Students will try to manipulate the ADSR to match their original recorded instrument sound. In the end, students will use an “I Used to Think… But Now I Know” activity to reflect on their learning.

Essential Question(s)

How can music production concepts be applied to a traditional ensemble setting?



 Students participate in a group discussion to define “attack” and “release” in music.


Students read articles about ADSR in music production and band, then summarize their learning with a partner.


Students create a recording and sample waveshape using their instrument and the software BandLab for Education.


Students explore an online synthesizer, then replicate their waveshape using an ADSR envelope.


Students reflect on their learning using the I Used to Think… But Now I Know strategy.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Understanding Attacks and Releases in Band handout (attached; one per pair)

  • Understanding ADSR in Music Production handout (attached; one per pair)

  • 30-Second Expert T-Chart handout (attached; one per student)

  • Regular band instruments and supplies

  • Internet-connected devices

  • Headphones

  • Sticky notes (two colors)

  • Pencils


10 Minute(s)

Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the lesson. Begin by introducing the title on slide 2. Review the Essential Question on slide 3, and the Lesson Objective on slide 4. Move to slide 5. Using the instructional strategy Bell Ringers and Exit Tickets, give students two different colored sticky notes. Ask them to answer the questions on the slide, “What does the word attack mean in music?” and “What does the word release mean in music?” Have all students answer “attack” on one color of sticky note and use the other color for “release.” After students have written down their answers, ask them to stick them on the white board. Display slide 6. Using the Justified List instructional strategy, ask students to combine related answers into common terms, writing them in marker on the board so they can be easily read. If there are any answers that seem outside the normal responses, ask if students can defend them. If they cannot, they should be removed. Once students have made a functional list, move to the next step.


15 Minute(s)

Instruct students to break into pairs and provide each pair one copy of the Understanding Attacks and Releases in Band handout (attached), the Understanding ADSR in Music Production handout (attached), and two 30-Second Expert T-Chart handouts (attached). Display slide 8. Introduce students to the 30-Second Expert instructional strategy. Ask students to decide who in their pair will read which article. Instruct students to read their chosen article and summarize it in their T-chart under the “What I know about this topic” column. Allow students 5–7 minutes to read and summarize their article. When they are finished, ask students to decide who in their pair will be the first speaker and who will be the first listener. Move to slide 9. Tell students they will have 30 seconds to relay the information they learned to their partner. Instruct the first speakers to start relaying their information when the timer on the slide starts by saying, “I am the expert on this topic because I know….” Instruct the listeners to reply when the time is up by saying, “According to you…” and repeating back what the speaker said. Then instruct the listeners to copy down what they learned in the “What I learned from my partner” column of their T-chart. Repeat the process with pairs switching roles. After all groups have shared with each other, select a few pairs to share what they learned both from the article and their partner, checking to make sure no other pairs have details that they missed. Have students add any additional details as they are shared.

If you are having students complete the BandLab recordings outside of class, proceed to slide 10 and lead students through the steps to create their recording as found in the BandLab Instructions Teacher’s Note. Instruct students to complete their recording before the next class.


25 Minute(s)


 After completing the Explore activity, or at the beginning of day two, display slide 12. Use the vocabulary and visuals on the slides to help define “attack” and “release.” Then move to slide 13 and define the terms for ADSR. At this point in time, clarify any misconceptions and answer any questions from the students.

If your students completed their BandLab recordings prior to day two, move on to the next step, skipping the hidden slide 14. If they have not, go to slide 14 and lead students through the steps in the BandLab Instructions Teacher’s Note. You may also revisit slide 11 for tips to help students create a good quality recording.  Ask students to break into small groups of no more than four and have them play their recordings for each other. Ask if they notice any difference in attacks and releases between the different instruments.


35 Minute(s)

Move to slide 15. Instruct students to open their internet-connected devices and to navigate to the “Learning Synths Playground” from Ableton. Give students a few minutes to explore the page. Then direct students to slide 16. Play the video Shaping Soundscapes - Learning Synths Playground Tutorial with instructions on how to navigate the page and complete the activity.

When the video ends, display slide 17 and instruct students to use the ADSR to make an attack and release that matches the ADSR of the recording they made on their instrument earlier. When they think they have it, have them record their sound for one quarter note at 60 bpm using the record function. When they have finished, have them submit both their instrument recording and their synth recording via their LMS (learning management system) submissions.

When all students have finished, ask them what they noticed about the envelope shape and their instrument. Ask if they think all instruments have the same shape. Have a few students from different sections share their examples.


10 Minute(s)

Display slide 19. Introduce students to the instructional strategy “I Used to Think… But Now I Know.” Instruct students to respond to the prompts on the slide, “I used to think ADSR was…” and “Now I know ADSR is...” Have them write their answers to the questions on a sticky note. Allow students 2–3 minutes to answer the questions. Instruct students to place their answer on the whiteboard as they leave class as their exit ticket.