5 Must-Dos for the First Week of Class

5 Must-Dos for the First Week of Class

The first days of class can set the tone for the year. With the new school year fast approaching, Stephen Holley, NAfME jazz mentor for September 2011, recommends the following ideas to help you make the first week—and the whole year—the best experience possible:

1. Invite your students to be part of the experience.

Don’t bore or lecture your students by spending the whole first rehearsal going over rules, reading a syllabus, or bringing down the hammer. Use this time to connect/reconnect with the ensemble, listen to possible tunes, and have members introduce themselves. Continue by sight reading, playing some of last year’s charts, having the rhythm section set up a groove, and letting the students improvise over the top. On the first day, you’re still in partial-recruiting mode—in the past, how many students have you had quit/join in the first few days?

Photo: Victoria Chamberlin

2. Give partial ownership of the ensemble to the students.

Have them help choose music that’s been “pre-selected” by you, taking the ensemble’s strengths, weaknesses, instrumentation, and concert schedule, into account. Select some music at the end of the school year so you have time to order and/or arrange music over the summer. Add tunes at the beginning of the year so your new students can be involved as well. Ask the group how they want to improve the band. You’ll be surprised at how astute their suggestions can be!

3. Start on time.

Setting this expectation from the beginning will help your rehearsals run smoothly. I give my students 5 minutes of individual warm up, followed by group warm ups (scales, improv, sight reading, call-and-response, etc.), before we move into rehearsing tunes.

iStockphoto.com | Tzido

4. Make sure your students’ instruments are in working order.

If you don’t feel comfortable playing all of the instruments, bring in a working professional, colleague, or college student to run a sectional, check the instruments, tune the drums, set up the action on the upright, and make any necessary minor adjustments.

5. Do your homework!

Learn the score and the individual parts, be familiar with the different recordings of the tunes, and show up on time—demonstrate what it means to be a professional musician. Can you get away with shooting from the hip from time to time? Sure. Can you do it day after day? Probably not. Your kids will eventually pick up on it, and you risk losing their enthusiasm, respect, and loyalty. And frankly, why would you short-change your professional development as well as your students’ musical experience?


music educatorSteve Holley is the coordinator of the Commercial Music Program at the Kent Denver School in Englewood, CO. Under his leadership, the program’s DownBeat award-winning ensembles have performed at venues in Memphis, New Orleans, New York, and Miami, among others. Steve has performed with artists ranging from Arturo Sandoval to Tia Fuller, from James Williams to Doug Wamble, among many others. Prior to coming to Colorado he lived, performed, and taught in his adopted hometown of Memphis.

Got a suggestion for the first week of class? Share it on Amplify today.  

Jazz Resources

NAfME Jazz Appreciation Month page.

The Jazz Ensemble Companion: A Guide to Outstanding Big Band Arrangements Selected by Some of the Foremost Jazz Educators

Teaching Improv in Your Jazz Ensemble: A Complete Guide for Music Educators

Getting Started with Jazz Band

-originally published August 24, 2011 ©The National Association for Music Education