Dear Beginning Band Student (and Their Teacher)
By NAfME Member Casey Clementson
As another summer comes to a close, so concludes my role as a contracted beginning band instructor in other school districts than my own. I love getting out to other schools and band programs to meet colleagues, working with new students, and getting ideas for my teaching. Sometimes, though, I learn examples of what not to do that reinforce my own philosophy of teaching beginners. And so, I offer this open letter to any young student who is starting band this fall….
Dear Beginning Band Student,
Welcome to band! I am so glad to be working with you this year! As we work together so that you learn how to play your instrument well, here are my promises to you:
- I will remember that you are dealing with an enormous amount of new information when you begin learning your instrument. I will teach you things a little bit at a time. I will let you try something, and then I will tell you new information. Always a little bit at a time. If I start talking too much, please tell me.
- With this enormous amount of new information, I may teach you three things, but your body and brain will only be able to do one of those things. It’s ok. I’ll circle back often and re-teach. I won’t forget that you missed where to put your pinky and never mention it again while secretly resenting the fact that “kids these days don’t know where to put their pinkies [insert sigh].”
- In small groups (also known as sectionals), it is my responsibility to help you master the basics for your instrument: embouchure, hand and body position, and articulation. I will use everything in my bag of tricks to help you achieve these three things. If my bag of tricks gets empty, I will borrow another teacher’s bag of tricks. I will be patient, kind, encouraging, dramatic, or funny: whatever you need to help you learn, because that’s my job.
- I will trust that you can play musically from the very beginning. I will teach you to sustain your air across bar lines by teaching those method book songs by their phrase structure because that is how we sing music, listen to music, and enjoy music. When I do that, breathing makes more sense (unless you’re learning the flute, then all rules about breathing go on hold until we get your sound production right. I know, flute players, I know… it’s rough at first).
- If I am using a method book, I will teach you articulation as soon as possible. To not teach you how to articulate four quarter notes in a row, in one breath, is a disservice to you. It shows that I don’t trust you to play musically even if I say I do. Same goes for half notes or whatever rhythm you are playing.
- I will make learning as authentic as possible. Clapping and counting has a time and a place, but singing rhythms on a “too” syllable while tapping your foot teaches your brain that music involves air and internalizing a pulse with those around you. (P.S.: The first time your band ends together perfectly creating a perfect sliver of silence? Well, it will send shivers up my spine. I will tell you that I got a shiver up my spine. You and your friends will learn how to end together all the time, and maybe you’ll get a shiver up your spine too!)
- Finally, I will remember that you may learn differently than your friends. Some of you learn by seeing, some by hearing, and some by doing. I will touch on each learning style when I teach a new concept. I will talk a bit, you will try a bit, and then we’ll repeat the cycle. You may teach me something too, which will be great because I can add it to my bag of tricks!
Looking forward to great year!
About the author:
Casey Clementson reaches into her teacher “bag of tricks” often as an instrumental music educator in Rosemount, Minnesota. She is also on the education faculty at the University of St. Thomas and has been published in Interval: The Journal of the Minnesota Music Educators Association and Contributions to Music Education.
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