Star Sound Composing at Home (Young Instrumentalists) >

In this activity you will compose new music using the shape and character of star constellations. Inspired by Sternklang by the  composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

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Star Sound

On the 29th August 2020, BCMG is going to perform an extraordinary piece of music by the composer Karlheinz Stockausen called Sternklang in Hanover, Germany. Sternklang literally means 'star sound'.

The piece is composed for 5 groups of 4 musicians and a percussionist, positioned in the middle, who acts as a controller. The piece is designed to be played outdoors in a park on a warm clear night when you can see the stars. Below is a map of how the groups of musicians were arranged for the first performance:

map of musicians sternklang 3

Most of the time the musicians stay in their groups but sometimes musicians leave their group, accompanied by a torch bearer(!), and take some of their musical ideas or notes to one of the other groups!

The music is made up of many small 'musical cells' with lots of instructions when to play which cell. The musicians also play signals to indicate moving from one idea/cell to another. These signals include playing a HIGH or LOW repeating rhythm on one note or one which moves from HIGH to LOW or LOW to HIGH.

Many of the musical ideas in the piece come from the constellations: their shape, their character and even from the vowel sounds of their names. Below are some of the constellations turned into graphic scores by Stockhausen that the musicians use to improvise:

stockhausen constellations

Translated into English they are: Leo = Lion, Leo Minor = Little Lion, Ursa Major = Big Bear, Cygnus = Swan, Delphinus = Dolphin, Cepheus = The King. Have a look at some constellations HERE and try to work out how Stockhausen has created the graphic scores.

In the musicians instructions for performing the piece are phrases like play 'in the rhythm of your smallest particles' and 'in the rhythm of the universe'.

Listen to this performance of Sternklang:


For a PRINTABLE version of this resource CLICK HERE

Send any music you create to

We would like to thank the Stockhausen Foundation for Music for the use of images from the score of Sternklang. This resource is for educational purposes only and is designed to illuminate and otherwise share the great work of the composer/sound designer Karlheinz Stockhausen.  Please support the Stockhausen Foundation for Music by purchasing CDs, DVDs and scores from their website. Thank you also to Sea and Sky for allowing us to use their images. 

Your Turn!

In this activity, we will take just one of Stockhausen's ideas - using constellations to create melodies. Pick a constellation from HERE. Below is the constellation Aquila (Eagle):

aquila eagle

Print out your chosen constellation. Now draw two parallel lines through the constellation as Stockhausen did.  All of the stars should be between, above or below the two lines:

Aquila with lines

You can place the parallel lines at whatever angle you think best. This will help to stop stars appearing to be on top of each other. Now draw out your constellation on a new piece of paper with the lines straight:

stockhausen 2

Now create a melody from the shape of your constellation, following these rules:

  • Read the stars from left to right
  • How high or low on the page a star is tells you how high or low to play your note. 
  • The spacing between the stars gives you the rhythm
  • The size of the star tells you how loud or quiet to play the note. Stockhausen does this in Sternklang.
  • The character of the melody is given by what the constellation represents or their story. For example, Aquila, represents the eagle that carried Zeus’ thunderbolts.

Play your melody a few times and decide what note you want for each star. Write the note name next to the star as well as how loud or quiet you're going to play it. Here is Jenny playing her version of Aquila:

Aquila notes and dynamics

Choose a new constellation and repeat the above steps. You can use any notes you like but you might want to keep 1 or 2 of the same notes throughout. Repeat again until you have 2 - 4 constellations.

Now create some very simple signal music. Like Stockhausen in Sternklang, this could be: a HIGH or LOW rhythm on one note or a pattern that goes from LOW to HIGH or HIGH to LOWDecide what order you will play your constellations and add in your signal to announce that you are moving from one constellation to another.