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Words of Wisdom for the New School Band Director

By Steffen Parker on February 03, 2021 hst Print

Armed with your college degree that includes one or two successful stints as a student teacher, you are now ready to be a school band director. While you will need the technical information gleaned from your course work to select programming, fix stuck mouthpieces, replace pads and demonstrate fingerings, here’s what your Philosophy in Music Education degree left out:

  • Set expectations for your class during the first day; the big picture will take care of itself. Don’t worry about your first concert, contest or even Friday. Explain your expectations on the very first day including seating, instrument access and storage, behavior, cellphones, music, etc. Reinforce those expectations on the second day and by the end of the week, that is the way your class will be functioning.
  • Use and learn their names. If students have assigned seating (as in an ensemble), have a seating chart on your stand and use it. If not, have students put their names on a sheet of paper and fold over their stand or desk so you can see their name. Call on every student in the class at least once during every period, if nothing more than to have them reinforce an answer another student provided.
  • Smile once they get it. Being too friendly to start with likely means not meeting your classroom expectations. Regardless of what you say, what you allow is what you get. But do smile once they get in the right routine and match your vision.
  • Move your feet. Don’t anchor yourself to the podium or the front of the room (or worse, one spot in front of the board). Move around, ask questions of students while standing nearby, move to listen to a section better. And gesture with your open hand, not one finger.
  • Start with music you know. Select music for your ensembles that you know well and have performed it or conducted it in the past. Use your comfort with the pieces to help your students find the connections that you already understand. Remember what it should sound like and slowly move your group toward what you hear in your head. Even if you find that your ensemble can play it well with just a few rehearsals, it will tell you something about their skill level.
  • Share your own musical skills. Play your instrument for your students and do so often. Play with them in lessons, demonstrate musical lines in your program to them in rehearsal, warm up with them before class. Let your students see that you are a musician as well.
  • Program for the Three Es: Educational, Enjoyment, Entertainment. You should select your programs so that you can educate your students during rehearsal. Your music is your textbook. Use it to develop and expand their knowledge of key signatures, time signatures, musical era and styles, composers. Make sure your music is educational to your students, but also enjoyable to rehearse and perform. And finally, consider the entertainment value of each piece and how well it would be received by your audiences. Nothing inspires students and keeps them preparing and performing music more than to have their supporters enjoy their music and tell them about it well after the last note.
  • Music for the Next Concert; Music for the Last Concert. Don’t get into the habit of programming just for the next gig. Include music in their folders now for a future concert beyond the next performance. Consider putting a piece, possibly a larger work, in the folder in October that you know they can perform by May and rehearse it once a week until March so that it is no longer beyond their abilities.
  • Make the Connection. Consider programming music that connects to your student’s other disciplines – music inspired by literature or art or historical events. There are plenty of pieces that match the books they are reading in English or the artwork they are studying or an event they know of or are studying. If possible, program a series of pieces to mark a significant year for a composer (Beethoven’s 250th for example).

The students come to your class because of the music, but they stay because of you and how you make them feel connected – connected to their talents, connected to each other, connected to the music.

Setting your class up from the start for success, providing them the tools to improve on a daily basis, and making the music matter will make it work for them, their supporters and for you. The goal for all students in any music class is to be a little better today than they were yesterday.