Being a part of a student's first year of music instruction is a tremendous responsibility and constant inspiration. Based on our combined experience, here are our top tips for making the year as rewarding as possible – for your students and yourself!
The beginning determines the end and what you expect is what you will get from your students. Young students are capable of a very high level of performance and professionalism if they are explicitly taught how to demonstrate these characteristics. A high level of expectations must be consistently tied to developing a process, grit, and work ethic. Not only must every student (and the teacher) believe they can achieve a high level of success, but they must understand and believe that they can also work hard enough to make it happen when something is new or tricky.
Explain and show students how you expect every classroom routine to be executed. Model the correct way to perform even the most mundane tasks; opening cases, how to hold the instrument when carrying it, resting position for instruments while playing, etc. Have students demonstrate the correct way to perform routines until they are performed without reminders. Then, when they slip or forget, go back to square one.
Consistently holding students to the daily routines and the behavior expectations you establish can be exhausting and sometimes frustrating. Still, it is critical to train students correctly to be a musician and part of your ensemble.
3. Playing Position, Hand Positions, and Embouchure
Correct posture, body position, hand position, and embouchure are non-negotiable. There is one way to do things: the right way. Teachers have different tips and tricks for these concepts, but a student will not exceed a teacher's standard. Model these concepts with your own set of instruments. Even if you are not strong on every secondary instrument, a beginning band teacher should be capable of modeling the correct position, embouchure, and tone on each instrument. If you cannot, it is time to get busy and improve.
Modeling and playing along with students every day provides them with an exemplary model and builds their concept of skill and tone. When students become fatigued or resistant, explain the analogy of a sports trainer or coach. A trainer will push an athlete to do more work and reps than they would do alone. A coach will repeat a drill or skill until it is part of muscle memory and skill set. You are their coach and trainer. Most young students have been on an athletic team and will understand this immediately.
4. Music Reading
After spending considerable time doing call-and-response exercises to establish tone production, articulation, rhythm, and pulse, introduce music reading. We give students approximately 15 hours of instruction before we begin reading music.
Once you start reading, use a large screen or whiteboard to project music. When students begin to read music, most of the confusion comes from not knowing how to track the music at the correct rate. Showing the students music symbols in one place on the board and ensuring that each child looks at the proper place in the music makes the process move quickly.
After spending several hours of instruction using a screen for their music, we begin to use music books on their stands, and we refer back and forth between the two sources. If students are having difficulty with the material, we will direct them to look at the screen to review the note types, names, fingerings, etc., and will play several times before they return to looking at their books or music.
We also rehearse each piece or exercise in tiny chunks, often measure by measure. If a measure does not sound good, DO NOT MOVE ON; repeat until students reach your set level of mastery. This process will make putting together the entire piece/exercise much more accessible.
5. Quality Literature
Keep things simple. Literature selections should provide a beautiful melody or tune, give every instrument relatively equal playing opportunities, and enable you to teach the characteristics of musicianship and ensemble. Set aside the "cool" pieces until students are technically and developmentally ready. The stress of chasing notes and rhythms sucks the fun and excitement out of performances for kids and teachers. The Queenwood "Red Book" series is one example that meets all of these requirements, is well crafted, and provides ample selections in various genres and styles. Develop a core repertoire that you can rotate and know will work well with your first-year students.