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
We see 425 band students every day and have very few discipline issues or distractions during class. Below are six music classroom management strategies we use in our program.
Teach, Model, and Reteach Routines
Explain and show students how you expect them to do EVERYTHING. Include even the easiest behaviors: entering the room, where to build instruments, where to store cases, how to set up the music stand as a workstation for the class period (pencil, tuner, warm-ups, music). Insist that routines are done correctly every time and it will become habit for you and the students.
Use Nonverbal Signals
A simple arm raised by a teacher indicates all students need to raise their hands and become silent. Nothing proceeds until the room is silent. This sounds too simple but it works. When used consistently and diligently it quiets a noisy room of 80 sixth grade brass players in about 10 seconds. We have gotten to the point that students will initiate the arm raise when they hear talking among the students. Develop your own plan and use it every rehearsal every day.
Keep Rules Simple
Our classroom rule is “Act in a way which does not create problems for others.”
We follow that up with our posted Rehearsal Expectations:
Set up the room with aisles for you to be able to roam the room. Get off of the podium and move throughout the ensemble. Proximity does wonders for student behavior and allows you to see the rehearsal from their perspective.
Keep the room clean and organized. Have the room set with the correct number of chairs and stands. Have a spot for everything: extra music, pencils, tuners, lost and found, etc. Use binders for student materials to eliminate lost music. Put a pencil pouch in each binder to hold reeds, oil, tuners and pencils. Put the daily plan on the board so students know what to set up for when they enter the room.
Play More, Talk Less
Students are in band to play their instrument. The more they play the more they will like it. Many student errors can be fixed through slow repetition of small sections. Do not be afraid to repeat something a dozen times if needed. Your kids are tough, they can do it. When stopping to make corrections use three short phrases to include: who, where, what. For example: trumpets, measure 43, staccato notes-put space between. It is also very effective to model the correction on your instrument or by singing. Every stop should be 30 seconds maximum.
No matter how tired or frustrated you might become, calmly insist that there is only one way to do things in your classroom: the right way. What you accept is what you will get. Firm expectations and a loving attitude toward the students will create a comfortable and secure environment for you and your students. The whole point of music classroom management is to develop a system that removes distractions and logistics and allows students to focus on the task at hand-music.
Being a part of a student’s first year of music instruction is equal parts awesome 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 as well as 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 taught explicitly how to demonstrate these characteristics. A high level of expectations must be consistently tied to the development of a process, grit and work ethic. Not only must every student (and 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. 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 but it is critical in training students in the correct way 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. Clearly teachers have differences in tips and tricks they use for these concepts but a student will not exceed the standard that a teacher sets. 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, then 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 a 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 a considerable amount of 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 it is time to start reading use a large screen or whiteboard to project music. When students begin to read music the majority of confusion comes from not knowing how to track across the music at the correct rate. Showing the students music symbols in one place on the board and making sure that each child is looking at the correct 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 very small 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 will make putting together the entire piece/exercise much easier.
5. Quality Literature
Keep things simple. Literature selections should provide a beautiful melody or tune, give every instrument fairly 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 a variety of genres and styles. Develop a set of core repertoire that you can rotate and know will work well with your first year students.
Every new piece of music is annotated by students before we begin working. Students have a study sheet for each piece of music. One side is this checklist. The other side has space for vocabulary, symbols and class notes.
Try it with your group for one piece and see if the reading and rehearsal is improved!