Getting the Most Out of Your Band or Orchestra Method

By Dr. Charles T. Menghini, sponsored by Hal Leonard

Dr. Charlie Menghini, President Emeritus of VanderCook College of Music in Chicago and co-author of the Essential Elements Method for Band, shares ten tips to help you get the most out of your band or orchestra method.


Photo: Matt Janson Photography,

Make Decisions

Musicians aspire to be perfectionists. Performers do not want to make a mistake, and teachers do not want to hear one. When it comes to making a decision, the same mentality is present. We know we must make a decision, but we do not want to get it wrong, so we procrastinate or worse yet, never get around to making a decision at all. Teachers must make decisions. Accept the fact that you will get some wrong. Just learn from them and try not to make the same mistake twice.

Make the Method Work for Your Situation 

Every situation is different. Starting grades, class size, length of class, frequency of class sessions per week, homogenous or heterogeneous groupings of instruments, and experience level of the teacher are all factors that impact the situation. Making it through Book One in a year is not a requisite for good teaching. Good teaching requires that you understand and stick to a pace that works best for your students and you.

The Importance of Providing a Model 

Providing students with a professional model of sound helps them establish an audible goal. Teachers’ secondary or tertiary instrument sounds are far from professional quality. Using a method with quality audio and video content, such as Essential Elements, provides students with recordings of professional musicians playing the same lines from the method they are, and helps students conceptualize what their instrument should sound like.

Have Resources Available for Remediation and Enrichment

Students tend to lose interest when they are frustrated or bored. Students get frustrated when they know they are having problems. Students get bored when they feel the class is not moving along as fast as they are. In both cases, having access to worksheets and supplemental material to help the struggling student and challenge the advanced ones will go a long way to maintain their interest.

clarinet | Furtseff

Assign Material You Have Introduced 

Assign material that has been explained and rehearsed in class as homework. Using a method that has an online support program such as Essential Elements Interactive allows you to make the assignment in class and have it available for the student to practice online. Avoid instructing students to go on to new material that has not been previously explained and rehearsed. Reviewing previously learned materials during every class session reinforces learning and helps students develop fluency in their playing.

Method Books and Supplemental Material: There Is a Balance

During the first year, teachers should spend 75–85% of class time working out of the method book and 15–25% with supplemental music. During the second year: 60–75% of class time working out of the method book and 25–40% with supplemental music. Year three: 45–60% of class time working out of the method book and 40–55% with supplemental music. Selecting supplemental music that reinforces material already taught is a key to success.

Assessment Is the Key to Retention 

Assessment is used to measure student learning and teacher effectiveness. The teacher can then assess student recordings of individual assignments verbally or in writing. It is important that intervention occurs at the first sign of a problem. Providing positive, “can do” feedback and giving students worksheets, videos, recordings, or spending some time with them are all excellent ways to keep students on track. Good, regular assessment practices will result in more students experiencing success and staying a part of your program. Essential Elements Interactive offers audio and video assessment options, as well as SoundCheck performance assessment technology.

The Importance of Books 2 and 3

Books 2 and 3 in most every method book series introduces students to the practical playing range of their instrument. They introduce a wider array of keys, meters, rhythms, and music theory and historical concepts, as well as alternate and basic trill fingerings and positions. Playing music requiring students to play notes, concepts, and technical demands not introduced is frustrating for teacher and student alike. Though it may take several years to complete books 2 and 3, the time spent will be well worth it.

orchestra method

Photo: Bob O’Lary

Think Informances Not Performances 

As much as we hate to admit it, parents do not attend concerts to listen to the music. Parents are there to hear their child play. Having shorter, more frequent playing opportunities for students will help them to maintain their interest. It can be a section of the band or just a small group of students, it doesn’t matter. A 20-minute “show and tell” for parents lets parents see and hear their child in action and a smaller, less formal atmosphere, eases tensions, and lets the teacher interact with everyone.

Make Regular Communication a Part of Your Program 

Establishing regular communications with parents, administrators, colleagues, and community helps to keep everyone informed. A weekly email message does not need to be fancy; it needs to be informative. Use student names to highlight excellent work and effort. Spotlight successes of older students who once played in your program. Inform and remind parents of upcoming events. Provide tips on how best the parent can support their child’s participation and growth as a part of the music program. Keep a note pad handy and write notes throughout the week to help provide content for the weekly band/orchestra update.

About the author:

Charles MenghiniCHARLES T. MENGHINI is President Emeritus of VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Menghini served as Professor of Music and Director of Bands from 1994–2017. Prior to his appointment at VanderCook, he spent 18 years as a high school band director in Missouri and Kansas where his bands earned national acclaim.

Menghini is co-author of the Essential Elements Band Method published by Hal Leonard, LLC and is an Educational Member of the Music Achievement Council for NAMM. He also hosts his own podcast, Band Talk with Charlie Menghini and Friends available on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.

Menghini is active as a speaker, clinician, and conductor around the nation. He frequently presents at state and national music education conferences, works with teachers and school districts in a variety of forums, and continues to write for professional magazines and journals. Menghini is a past recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Midwest Clinic for his life’s work as a band director, teacher, and educator. With degrees in music education, administration, and conducting, Dr. Menghini can provide advice and counsel on a variety of topics and issues.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

May 12, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

May 12, 2022


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May 12, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (

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