Reply To: Putting your best players in one band and what's left…
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Hi there. First let me say, I apologize if you have tried any/all of these ideas before. I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders exclusively for many years. What I have written below is what I did with them. I never had the greatest middle school bands in the history of music, but I had pretty good bands filled with kids who loved being in my class, worked hard, and were extremely well behaved. I’ve also made these suggestions to the person who replaced me when I moved across (not up) to the high school, and they have helped her a great deal as she has been finding her “feet”.
Just a couple of thoughts all based on the belief that 1) the number one classroom disruption are students who aren’t engaged and spend large amounts of every rehearsal not participating. Percussionists know all about this. 2) As a teacher, I have to take responsibility for what happens in my classroom. If my students are constantly talking and being disruptive, then I need to do something about it. If what I do doesn’t yield results, then I need to do something different.
The first thing I would suggest is instead of focusing on problems you are having which you have no direct control over, look at the things you do have control over which might be related to the issues you are having.
For example, any time I talk with a director who has “talking problems”, and have an opportunity to watch them teach, 100% have also had pacing problems. There is way too much time where the students in general are listening instead of doing. The goal should be to keep the kids playing for 100% of rehearsal. We won’t ever get there, but that is what we should shoot for.
When I was teaching that age group I personally utilize a “warm-up” system that essentially turned 30-40% of our rehearsal time into unison studies related to the literature. Hard rhythmic figure? Have all the kids clap and count it and play it across a scale, or the circle of 4ths, or on a unison note. Flutes having problems with a technical passage? Write it out for everyone. Now who cares if you need to spend 10 minutes on that dang B major sixteenth note thing. Everyone is participating, learning and improving, and probably not talking. They are also learning everything that is happening in the music, which helps their listening later on.
Then, when you get to the “music” all those little things that so often kill our pacing and allow our student’s minds to wander, ie having your brass and percussion sit for 5-10 minutes (an eternity for a 13 year old) while waiting for the flutes and clarinets to figure out some finger pattern, or the tubas to learn to count, don’t happen. You already practiced it….with everyone. If it doesn’t come together today, you still have the unison studies for tomorrow. If you come across a new problem, don’t pound on it right then, turn it into your “warm-up” in the next day or so. If you do need to really isolate something, give everyone else something to do, and change it up. Make them human metronomes and say the 8th note pulse on a soft “cha” sound. Have them say their note names, have them sing their parts, have them sing along with the part you are working on, have them sing or play a chord reduction from the score and work on tuning, have them air band, have them march in time, ANYTHING so long as they are active and kept and out of a state of “duh”.
Also keep them jumping around in the music. Instead of spending 10 minutes straight on measure 1-10 and then 10 more minutes straight on 25-38, spend two minutes on 1-2 then 2 minutes on 25-30 then 2 minutes on 1-5 then 2 minutes on 30-35 then…until you get your 10 minutes in on each section in smaller pieces. This is called “interleaved” practice if you like fancy terms. There is a growing body of research that shows this type of practice significantly increases retention (like 43% or something) and engagement.
They will resist at first. It is new, and weird, and they have to work…….but if you are firmly persistent, I can almost guarantee this will fix a lot of the problems you are talking about. It will work because as the students do it, they will become engaged, as they become engaged they will get better, as they get better they will have fun, as they have fun you will get more buy-in, with more buy-in you will get more engagement….etc. as the cycle builds, students will be more open to other standard rehearsal procedures. “You know what would make you guys even better now?! If you sat like this/Checked you bell angel every so often/Stopped playing on 6month old reeds”.
I can’t promise a totally perfect classroom, but I can pretty well guarantee that given time, your problems will be greatly reduced. I hope someone else weighs in on this so you get lots of ideas and options, but I also hope you find something useful in the above. I don’t claim to be an expert, lord knows there are lots of things I need to work on, but I don’t have constant serious discipline issues in my band, and haven’t for a long time.