A school district in the area where I live is planning to change from a traditional 5th grade pull- out beginner program to a 6th grade beginner start. A friend shared that the band teachers in this neighboring district are very upset and are resisting the change.
This got me thinking. What is the resistance? Do they not like the plan? Do they not like change? Are they afraid of losing teaching positions? I am sure each has their own reasons for wishing to stay with a 5th grade start but it led me to think of student success or failure in the traditional schedule.
I should preface the rest of this post by saying that I have taught traditional 5th grade pull-out beginners and with a daily 6th grade start and I overwhelmingly support a 6th grade start if it is done correctly. I will never be convinced that seeing a 5th grader two times (60 min per week) each week in small groups is better practice than seeing a 6th grader every day (205 minutes per week) in large homogeneous or instrument-family classes. I am strongly bias in support of a daily beginner band class with like instruments.
A primary reason for my support is the higher rate of retention and consistent student success we are able to achieve with daily instruction. The traditional beginner schedule does work for some students. When a student is on their own to practice and learn 5 out of 7 days they can be successful. But how?
What kind of student is usually successful in a traditional beginner two pullouts per week program?
The child who...
has a place to practice at home.
is encouraged to practice at home-even required to by parents.
has a home routine that supports homework and practice with designated work times.
is provided private lessons.
has a parent who provides supplies and materials.
has a parent who reminds them to bring their instrument to school or may even bring it to school if forgotten.
The successful child...
has a parent who values music education and understands the time and energy it takes to become a skilled musician.
has good school attendance and is present on the days there are band lessons.
is asked to play for family members and friends at home to show the skills they are developing. has a parent who attends performances and helps their child be there on time and ready to go.
So what is the picture of an unsuccessful child in a traditional beginner program?
The unsuccessful child...
does not have a place to practice.
is not encouraged or not allowed to practice at home. They may live in an apartment. They may have a parent who works a night shift.
has no homework or practice routine at home. They may have to watch younger siblings. They may have to prepare dinner or do other household tasks.
does not have private lessons.
does not have the correct supplies and materials.
has a parent who doesn't value music education or band.
misses school and misses band lesson days.
has a parent who doesn't attend concerts and does not help the child attend.
These roadblocks to at-home practice and preparation keep students from developing basic skills for success. And so these children drop band after their first year. These children need music. These children need band in their lives. When a student does not practice at home it does not always mean that they do not care or do not love music. There are things going on in student's lives and living environments which we know nothing about. Students who have little to no support at home deserve the opportunity to be as successful as a students in a supported environment.
It is clear that when students do the majority of their playing and learning at home, success often hinges upon the amount of support the child receives. There are exceptions, of course, but it would not be a stretch to guess that many band directors grew up in an environment with several of the "successful student" characteristics. When this is the case, we often impose our version of reality on our students. We see their experience based upon our own experience. We determine a system, schedule, policies and learning environment based on our own middle class privilege. Two years ago I had no idea what white or middle class privilege was. Now, the more I examine many of our teaching practices and norms I find it everywhere.
It is challenging to learn to play an instrument but the difficulty should not be because of a student's home environment. Please take time to reflect. Is a child's socio-economic status or living condition preventing them from reaching success in your program? I just ask that we all take a look and do what we can to remove those roadblocks for our students.
SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN HONOR BAND CLINICIAN (10 tips for a successful honor band experience)* by our band friend Randall Standridge
This article is GOLD!~RJM
*Some of these are pieces of advice I received from master clinicians over the years, and some I learned the hard way. I has served as the conductor for over 50 honor bands at all levels, and these are my best tips. Please feel free to add yours or discuss below and share!
1. PICK GOOD MUSIC: I would say 90% of the success of your clinic will be music selection. Make sure the music will engage the students AND keep them busy. Do NOT pick pieces that exclude large numbers of percussionists (see #3 below). Make sure your music has a good variety of styles and creates a sense of shape through the concert. Not only should each piece create a sense of climax, but the overall shape of the concert should as well. Here are a few good examples of concert structures:
A. Fast Opener, Short, Exciting
C. Climactic piece, Dramatic, Programmatic, Premieres*,
D. Light Piece, March, Pop Tune, Finale
A. Fast Opener, Short, Exciting
B. Quirky, Charming, Folk Dance, Innovative, Experimental
D. Climactic piece, Dramatic, Programatic, Premieres*,
E. Light Piece, March, Pop Tune, Finale
Obviously, you can vary as you see fit, but these have proven successful for me.
2. PICK APPROPRIATE MUSIC DIFFICULTY AND HAVE BACKUPS ON BOTH ENDS. If you want a short season in hell, pick music that is either way too difficult or way too easy for the ensemble. Bored or frustrated performers are NOT having a good experience. Be sure, when selecting music, to ask the hosts for repertoire lists from previous years. Talk to conductors who have worked that honor band before. Submit potential repertoire lists and get the hosts reaction. Put at least one piece harder than you think they can handle in the folder, and put at least TWO pieces easier than you think they can handle in there as well. This way, you are ready for anything. Also, select music appropriately in regards to the rehearsal time you will be given
3. BE CONSIDERATE OF THE PERCUSSIONISTS. Students work hard to be selected for honor bands; this includes percussionists. Do NOT select music that excludes them. While every piece doesn’t have to be a percussion feature, it should be engaging. If you absolutely MUST program O Magnum Mysterium, Sleep, or October, confer with the host ahead of time and see if there will be percussion staff available to take the percussion out into sectionals. Also, be sure that every percussionist is playing on every single piece. In my opinion, an honor band experience is about the performers, not just the music. If you are playing a march or an older work, double up parts so that all performers are engaged at all times. Give the professionals the oboe parts to perform on melons. Do something.
4. MANAGE YOUR REHEARSAL TIME. Be sure to have a general plan and make sure you can get to all of the music you intend to get to AND to prepare it for the concert. Give students breaks. Even when fixing small problems, try to engage as many students as possible. Yes, you might need to fix that clarinet moment, but can you have everybody else playing and still hear it so they’re not just sitting there? Your students will thank you for it.
5. BE REALISTIC ABOUT EXPECTATIONS GIVEN THE TIME/TALENT YOU HAVE. Always keep in mind that this is an honor band, not something that is going to be judged at a festival. Some honor bands can last three days, and I have conducted some that only have four hours of rehearsal. Here are a couple of basic guidelines for overall plans for Honor Band rehearsal strategies:
A. Reading session: read through all or portions of the works to assess the group’s abilities. After your first session, make a decision about what you think the program will be
B. Workshop. Work the pieces you have decided on. Work them one at a time, and allow time for students to build familiarity with the work and to understand its structure, flow, and transitions. Except for extremely technical moments/works, rehearse at the actual tempo you want to perform. Performers WILL internalize this, and changing it later will be difficult. That last statement goes TRIPLE for middle school honor bands. Work out problem areas, articulations, dynamics, etc. lastly, make sure that you do enough repetitions for the students to internalize the piece. Do not underestimate the role that muscle memory plays in the success of a performance.
C. Final Touches/Dress rehearsal. Review the pieces and especially review any transitions or tempo changes. Be sure to practice any stage presence items such as standing or sitting at appropriate moments, recognizing soloist, or any special type of physical thing that you want the students to do. Go over it multiple times.
A. Read/Internalize. With a shorter clinic you are going to have to combine the two parts in the previous section. In regards to selecting repertoire. shorter clinics demand that you make decisions more quickly and have a better idea before the clinic even begins of the actual ability level. If you are reading a piece and the students are not getting it within the first 10 minutes, boot it. If something seems too easy, congratulations, it is something you will probably be able to put together in four hours or less. Focus on one piece at a time and give the students the chance to learn it and internalize it. Do not skip around a lot as this will just create confusion.
B. Final Touches/Dress rehearsal. Review the pieces and especially review any transitions or tempo changes. Be sure to practice any stage presence items such as standing or sitting at appropriate moments, recognizing soloist, or any special type of physical thing that you want the students to do. Go over it multiple times.
6. DON’T SPEND TOO MUCH TIME ON WARM UP. There are directors and conductors who will argue with me on this point, but I strongly feel that the students are there to play repertoire and to have a good experience. Yes, we want them to sound good, to play in tune, to play with good tones and balance/blend, and, yes, we do want to do a good warm up. But realize that anytime you spend on this is time you’re taking away from getting to the music. The size of your warm up and the length of it should be relative to the length of the clinic and take into consideration all the goals that you have and the music you have selected. One strategy that I use is to incorporate many of the warm-up and ensemble sound skills that I want the students to achieve into the repertoire itself. Again, this is an honor band, not your home band in which you will have weeks and weeks to work on these concepts.
7. BE AGREEABLE TO YOUR HOSTS. Nobody likes a diva. Roll with the punches. If things are not to your liking, you’re only going to be there for a couple days. Deal with it. You build your reputation as a conductor and clinician one honor band at a time. And people DO talk. However, if your host asks you for input, be honest but tactful. Praise what is done well and offer constructive criticism with solutions for things that could be better.
8. MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE AFTER THE CONCERT. When planning your trip, make sure to allow at least an hour after the concert to talk with students, parents, or directors once the performance has concluded. Some people may want photo opportunities, some people may just want to talk, or whatever. You have to remember that this is a very special occasion for them, and in the age of social media and digital cameras, they want documentation.
9. TRAVEL SMART. If you’re going to do this type of thing a lot, here are some travel tips for you.
A. Get TSA pre checked. You will save hours.
B. Allow way more time than you will need for driving and/or flying. Life happens and it doesn’t always revolve around you. Be ready for anything
C. If you experience any type of delay, keep your hosts informed.
D. If it is a short trip and stay, I recommend trying to get everything onto a carry-on. This will save your host luggage cost and will keep you from having to wait around at the airport for your luggage once you arrive..
E. If you are renting a car, make sure that the reservation is taken care of in advance. Personally, I like HERTZ because I have enrolled in their gold program and I usually just show up at the counter, grab my keys, I am go. It is easy and fast.
F. Always keep your musical necessities with you on the plane. This might be a briefcase or backpack. If your luggage gets lost, you can probably go to a department store and get a new suit or appropriate attire very quickly. This will not be true for your scores, or other paraphernalia.
G. Keep snacks in your backpack or suitcase. Being “Hangry” doesn’t help anyone.
10. A FEW SPECIAL NOTES FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL HONOR BANDS. Repeat this with me. Middle school and high school honor bands are not the same. Middle school and high school honor bands are not the same. Middle school and high school honor bands are not the same.
A. The biggest difference that I tell people is that for a high school honor band, it will mostly be a matter of interpretation, internalizing, and style for the performers. For a middle school band, you need to be ready to really teach. Teach rhytms, meters, dynamics, articulations, etc. Assume they know nothing and be ready to teach everything. With work, you’ll only need half of it.
B. Repetition, repetition, repetition. For this age group, the internalizing of muscle memory for performing at these is even more important. Allow enough time in your rehearsals to repeat phrases and whole pieces and of times with the states feel confident in their performance. This will help keep them from falling apart on stage.
C. Keep tempi and transitions as steady as possible. Yes, as conductors, it is fun to experiment with rhythm and tempo alterations, but for this age group that will create more confusion and uncertainty that it will anything else. For middle school honor bands, I tend to rehearse things at the exact tempo I want to perform them at.
D. Be ready to teach tonal concepts and pedagogical concepts for each instrument. Be ready to introduce the concept of tuning to some of the students, as some of them may not be familiar with. Be aware when you ask students to do something at this age group, they may have never done it before. Be ready to teach it.
I hope you find this list helpful and informative. I really enjoyed my time being a clinician, and I feel like I have learned a lot and I’m still improving all the time. A well prepared, well strategized honor band can be really fun. If you have a bad experience, you probably have nobody but yourself to blame. If it is successful, then you may take credit for that as well.
Peace, Love, and Music.
1. Martin Gardiner of Brown University tracked the criminal records of Rhode Island residents from birth through age 30, and he concluded the more a resident was involved in music, the lower the person’s arrest record. - “Music Linked to Reduced Criminality,” MuSICA Research Notes, Winter 2000.
2. The part of the brain responsible for planning, foresight, and coordination is substantially larger for instrumental musicians than for the general public. - “Music On the Mind,” Newsweek, July 24, 2000.
3. Students who participate in school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs among any group in our society. – H. Con. Res 266, United States Senate, June 13, 2000.
4. In a French study, the use of melodies was shown to stimulate speech recovery in stroke victims. – Neurology, December, 1996.
5. Taking a music elective course is a better indicator that a student will stay in college than high SAT scores or high GPA. – Dr. Denise C. Gardner, Effect of Music Courses On Retention, Georgia Tech, 2000.
6. Ninety-two (92) percent of people who play an instrument say they were glad they learned to do so, according to a 2000 Gallup Poll. – Gallup Poll Shows Strong Support for Putting Music in Every School’s Curriculum, Giles Communications, 2000.
7. In academic situations, students in music programs are less likely to draw unfounded conclusions. – Champions of Change, Federal study, 1999.
8. The scores of elementary instrumental music students on standardized math tests increased with each year they participated in the instrumental program. – “Music Training Helps Underachievers,” Nature, May 26, 1996.
9. Nine out of ten adults and teenagers who play instruments agree that music making brings the family closer together. – Music Making and Our Schools, American Music Conference, 2000.
10. In a 2000 survey, 73 percent of respondents agree that teens who play an instrument are less likely to have discipline problems. – Americans Love Making Music – And Value Music Education More Highly Than Ever, American Music Conference, 2000.
11. Students who can perform complex rhythms can also make faster and more precise corrections in many academic and physical situations, according to the Center for Timing, Coordination, and Motor Skills. – Rhythm seen as key to music’s evolutionary role in human intellectual development, Center for Timing, Coordination, and Motor Skills, 2000.
12. A ten-year study indicates that students who study music achieve higher test scores, regardless of socioeconomic background. – Dr. James Catterall, UCLA.
13. A 1997 study of elementary students in an arts-based program concluded that students’ math test scores rose as their time in arts education classes increased. – “Arts Exposure and Class Performance,” Phi Delta Kappan, October, 1998.
14. First-grade students who had daily music instruction scored higher on creativity tests than a control group without music instruction. – K.L. Wolff, The Effects of General Music Education on the Academic Achievement, Perceptual-Motor Development, Creative Thinking, and School Attendance of First-Grade Children, 1992.
15. In a Scottish study, one group of elementary students received musical training, while the other group received an equal amount of discussion skills training. After six (6) months, the students in the music group achieved a significant increase in reading test scores, while the reading test scores of the discussion skills group did not change. –Sheila Douglas and Peter Willatts, Journal of Research in Reading, 1994.
16. According to a 1991 study, students in schools with arts-focused curriculums reported significantly more positive perceptions about their academic abilities than students in a comparison group. – Pamela Aschbacher and Joan Herman, The Humanitas Program Evaluation, 1991.
17. Students who are rhythmically skilled also tend to better plan, sequence, and coordinate actions in their daily lives. – “Cassidy Column,” TCAMS Professional Resource Center, 2000.
18. In a 1999 Columbia University study, students in the arts are found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident, and better able to express their ideas. These benefits exist across socioeconomic levels. – The Arts Education Partnership, 1999.
19. College admissions officers continue to cite participation in music as an important factor in making admissions decisions. They claim that music participation demonstrates time management, creativity, expression, and open-mindedness. – Carl Hartman, “Arts May Improve Students’ Grades,” The Associated Press, October, 1999.
20. A 2000 Georgia Tech study indicates that a student who participates in at least one college elective music course is 4.5 times more likely to stay in college than the general student population. - Dr. Denise C. Gardner, effects of Music Courses on Retention, Georgia Tech, 2000.
21. On the 1999 SAT, music students continued to outperform their non-arts peers, scoring 61 points higher on the verbal portion and 42 points higher on the math portion of the exam. – Steven M. Demorest and Steven J. Morrison, “Does Music Make You Smarter?,” Music Educators Journal, September, 2000.
22. Students who participate in All-State ensembles consistently score over 200 points higher on the SAT than non-music students. This figure indicates that students can pursue excellence in music while also excelling academically. – Texas Music Educators Association, 1988-1996.
23. Students with good rhythmic performance ability can more easily detect and differentiate between patterns in math, music, science, and the visual arts. – “Rhythm seen as key to a man’s evolutionary development,” TCAMS Professional Resource Center, 2000.
24. Students in arts programs are more likely to try new things, and they can better express their own ideas to friends, teachers, and parents. – Champions of Change, the President’s Council on the Arts and Humanities, 1999.
25. College students majoring in music achieve scores higher than students of all other majors on college reading exams. – Carl Hartman, “Arts May Improve Students’ Grades,” The Associated Press, October, 1999. 2
6. Music students demonstrate less test anxiety and performance anxiety than students who do not study music. – “College-Age Musicians Emotionally Healthier than NonMusician Counterparts,” Houston Chronicle, 1998.
27. The average scores achieved by music students on the 1999 SAT increased every year of musical study. This same trend was found in SAT scores of previous years. – Steven M. Demorest and Steven. J. Morrison, “Does Music Make You Smarter?,” Music Educators Journal, September, 2000.
28. A majority of the engineers and technical designers in Silicon Valley are also practicing musicians. – The Case for Sequential Music Education in the Core Curriculum of the Public Schools, Center for the Arts in the Basic Curriculum, 1997.
29. Nine out of ten people with instrumental music experience are glad that they have learned to play an instrument. – “Music Ed Survey,” Giles Communications, 2000.
30. A group of second grade students in inner-city Los Angeles received piano training twice a week, and they used specialized computer software that related the piano lessons to math concepts. On standardized math tests, fifty (50) percent of the second graders scored as well as fifth grade students in affluent Orange County, California. The scores of the entire second grade group were equal to the scores of the fourth grade students in Orange County. – “Music On the Mind,” Newsweek, July 24, 2000.
31. In a 2000 Gallup Poll, seventy-five (75) percent of respondents believe learning a musical instrument helps students do better in other subjects, such as math and science. – Gallup Poll Shows Strong Support for Putting Music in Every School’s Curriculum, Giles Communications, 2000.
32. Second and third grade students who were taught fractions through musical rhythms scored one hundred (100) percent higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner. – “Rhythm Students Learn Fractions More Easily,” Neurological Research, March 15, 1999.
33. Students involved in arts programs had significantly higher class attendance rates than a comparison group. – Pamela Ascbacher and Joan Herman, The Humanitas Program Evaluation, 1991.
34. Classroom teachers in Rhode Island noted improved behavior and attitudes among a test group of students given intensive art training. – Music Training Helps Underachievers,” Nature, May 26, 1996.
35. More than nine out of ten people believe that schools should offer musical instruction as part of their regular curriculum. – Americans Love Making Music –And Value Music Education More Highly Than Ever, American Music Conference, 2000.
36. Teachers in schools with strong arts programs report greater professional interest, motivation, self-development, and increased innovation in the classroom. – Champions of Change federal study, 1999.
37. States should mandate music education for all students, according to seventy-eight (78) percent of respondents in a 2000 survey. – Attitudes, NAMM (International Music Products Association), 2000.
38. Ninth grade students in a Chicago arts program achieved reading scores that were a full grade level higher than students not in the program. All other variables, including race, gender, and socioeconomic status, were equal in this study. – CAPE Study, President’s Council on the Arts and Humanities, 2000.
39. When faced with a problem to solve, students in music and the arts produce more possible solutions, and their solutions are more creative, according to a nationwide study. – N.M. Weinberger, “Arts Education Enhances ‘Real Life’ Personal Skills,” MuSICA Research Notes, Spring 2000.
40. Researchers at the University of California and the Niigata Brain Research Institute in Japan have found an area of the brain that is activated only when reading musical scores. – “Musical Brain – Special Brain Area Found for Reading Music Scores,” NeuroReport, 1998.
Where/what grade levels and subjects do you teach, and how long have you been teaching?
I currently serve as the Director of Bands at Traughber Junior High School and as the Junior High Band Coordinator for Oswego School District#308. This is my 24th year at Traughber JHS and 26th year teaching. I teach 6th-grade Beginning Band, 7th Grade Intermediate Band, 8th Grade Advanced Band, and Jazz Band.
What is your teaching philosophy/approach when teaching beginning band students
Our number one goal with the beginners is to establish fundamentals; Tone, Control, Counting, Articulation, and Music Literacy. We don't worry about how far we get in the books or difficult literature but we strive for student demonstrated mastery at every step. The equipment set up and embouchure development is critical and we spend a lot of time on how to rotate reeds, care for the mouthpiece, body position, posture, and develop a strong embouchure.
How does this change as they progress through middle school?
We start our students with daily band class in 6th grade at the middle school so we have a very smooth transition into 7th & 8th Grade. We continue to emphasize the fundamentals-every day we do tone, rhythm, articulation and technique exercises with every class. The only thing that changes is the level of literature difficulty and the level of sophistication with which the students are able to perform.
What is the greatest challenge you face as a band director, and how do you confront that challenge?
Students are heavily scheduled. We work hard to make sure our demands of their time are reasonable and worthwhile. Students also spend a lot of time on their devices which has made a difference in their ability to communicate in person. We actually take time in band to work on basic problem-solving steps, non-verbal cues and how to communicate with adults and other students. We are very organized so it will help the kids be better organized and easily find any information they need. We take advantage of the technology they use and do most of our testing online, communicate through a text service and have them load several effective apps on their phones and iPads.
What advice would you give to someone entering their first year as a band director?
Rehearse and program for the band in front of you. Teach the kids where they are, right now. Don't hand out the material you did in high school or college right away-it may not work.
If you find yourself saying, "They should be able to..." in a moment of frustration, stop yourself. If they can't do it, you may have told them but they didn't learn it.
Slow down. Everything. Reduce the tempo and break it down.
Be consistent, persistent and resilient.
Get a good mentor or two. If your mentor is a complainer, get a new one. Watch, listen and take advice from the people who are successful. Isolation is hideous and exhausting.
Evolution, not revolution. Make small changes. Building culture takes time.
What reeds do you recommend for your students and why?
We use the Vandoren Blue line. Our beginning clarinets and saxes start on 2 1/2 and have an ongoing 4 reed rotation. Once they have developed their embouchure at the end of 6th or during 7th we will move the student to a 3. We will sometimes keep the Bari Saxes and Bass Clarinets on 2 1/2 in 7th and 8th grade if they are getting a beautiful, characteristic sound and playing in tune. We try to fit the reed and mouthpiece to the needs of each student. It is definitely not one size fit all. We love these reeds because they are very consistent in quality and last longer than other reeds when we have them on rotation and dry them out every day. Students are able to achieve a characteristic and consistent sound.
Here is an overview of tech we use to make our lives a bit more streamlined and enhance student learning.
We have a classroom set of 25 iPad minis the Traughber Band Boosters purchased for us in 2017 with fundraising money.
Classroom management system that pairs with Google Drive
Sets up as a sophisticated online Student Plan Book
Available to schools or districts that use Google Apps for Education
Excellent for recorded playing assessments
Daily Rehearsal Slide Template with Countdown Timer
Include learning targets and objectives
Long term record of all lessons and shared info
Create surveys, quizzes (self grading), or event registration.
We also use this for Weekly Theory Tests and to collect information for Parent Volunteers.
Results are sent to a spreadsheet.
Group texting app designed for educational use
Keeps phone numbers private
Interactive study sets, flashcards and games
Premade sets available
Game Style learning
Download data and view results
Note Names App
NoteNames+ tackles one of the most serious roadblocks for young musicians: The ability to instantly recognize the names of notes.
The only comprehensive instrument mastery app! Students on every instrument will learn NOTES, FINGERINGS & RHYTHMS through exciting gameplay.
A subscription based rhythm system.
Easy to use on-line music notation program