Mandala (DIY Sound Makers) Composing at Home (Children) >

Compose a 60 second piece of music inspired by A Dust in Time by composer Huang Ruo.

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This composing activity is inspired by A Dust in Time by Huang Ruo, a Chinese composer based in New York. A Dust in Time was composed for strings and is a response to the 2020 Covid 19 Lockdown. It was given its online world premiere as part of the Beijing Music Festival in autumn 2020. 

huang ruo

Huang Ruo said this about his piece:

'This special piece is created for the people affected by the pandemic, giving them a piece of music to reflect, to express, to heal, to find internal peace, strength, and hope.'

The piece is inspired by Tibetan sand mandalas. These are circular patterns, sometimes enclosed in a square, made with coloured sand, created by Tibetan Buddhist monks to aid meditation. The piece is 60 minutes long, symbolising the circle and cycle of the hour. Mandala means circle in Sanskrit.

Watch below to learn about sand mandalas, what their meaning is and how they are created then ritually destroyed.

For a PRINTABLE version of this resources CLICK HERE

Now Listen to an excerpt from A Dust in Time by Huang Ruo:

A Dust in Time is like a sand mandala in that the music expands(grows) from a central point outward and then contracts(shrinks) and returns back to the centre. This symbolises the life cycle and the journey from nothing (emptiness) to something (fullness) and then back to nothing.

A Dust in Time is also a passacaglia, a musical form in 3/4 time (3 beats in a bar) where a melody is continuously varied (changed) by small degrees as the piece progresses. In A Dust in Time this is achieved by gradually adding new notes into the melodic lines over a repeating bass line (a basso continuo) which loops around and around like the circle of the mandala.

Creating your own mandala:

If you would like to create your own mandala, you can buy kits from herehere or here. You could also create a mandala out of leaves, berries cones and nuts or just look on the internet for mandala patterns to colour here

mandala 3

On the next page we will compose music inspired by mandalas.


In this activity you are going to compose and notate (write down) your own mandala inspired music over the same chord sequence that Huang Ruo used in A Dust in Time and think about what for you, would symbolise hope and light in music. We will keep our music to 60 seconds not 60 minutes!

mandala 3

Preparation activities:

In A Dust in Time, Huang Ruo uses the D minor scale to construct his musical ideas. Instead of pitches you will be using different sound makers that you find around your house. Find 5 different sound makers that it is easy to make rhythm patterns on. You should be able to play rhythms which involve all your sounds without having to put one down and pick up another. 

A Dust in Time is a passacaglia.  A passacaglia is musical form in 3/4 time i.e. there are 3 beats in a bar. Below are some 3/4 rhythms. The words underneath are to help you learn the rhythms. Practice playing them on your different sound makers. Can you make up any different 3/4 rhythms that are not here? Download the rhythms HERE

A dust in time rhythm sheet web version

In the audio track below you will hear the word rhythm followed by the rhythm played on the violin. After this there is two bars for you to practice the rhythm before the next rhythm can be heard:

Improvising 3/4 rhythms using your sound makers:

Choose your first sound. This will also be your final sound. Starting and finishing on the same sound creates and completes the musical circle. 

Now improvise 3/4 rhythms on your 1st sound - you can use the backing track to play along with if you like. Then, do the same again but, this time after a while, add a 2nd sound into your 3/4 patterns. Repeat, and, always starting with your 1st sound, gradually add your 3rd, 4th and 5th sound.

Composing a notated piece:

Your first sound is the centre of your mandala. As you add sounds, as in the activity above, you are expanding away from the centre and when you take away sounds, you are returning to the centre. This is like the monks creating the mandala by starting at the centre then moving outwards before sweeping the sand back into the centre.

It is also a kind of musical palindrome like A Dust in Time. A palindrome is something which is the same when read forwards and backwards e.g. kayak is a palindromic word and 02/11/20 is a palindromic date.

You are now going to compose and notate a 20-bar rhythmic piece in 3/4 by adding and taking away sounds as in the improvisation activity above. You can use different colours, lines or shapes to indicate which sound should be played. You can use this downloadable sheet HERE to notate your piece on. 

Below is an example using 4 sound makers which uses colour and line to indicate which sound maker to play. Notice how new sounds are added and taken away:

Mandala example with rhythms

As you compose and notate your melody, think about how you could convey hope and light in your music.  Maybe think about dynamics (how loud or quiet). Try to find ways of making small changes to the ideas you have chosen to give the sense of growing out from the centre point and back again instead of inventing new ideas as you add new sounds. 

When you have finished, you can play it along with the backing track if you would like to.