Reply To: Must mix absolute beginner 5th grade band with two year veteran sixth grade band

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I do this at my current position, and have for five years.

It’s very rough at the beginning of the school year, but it does have some real benefits overall, and I think it works well for my (very small) school.

A few quick thoughts:

– If you alternate with written work, don’t do it for long periods of time or you’ll lose them. Do make sure that you train the students to help each other with the written work quietly, or they’ll be raising their hands to ask you questions while you are trying to have the other half of the class play!

– Do come up with a two year rotation of material that BOTH sets of students will learn from. I use a traditional method book as my main method, but supplement in alternating years with other materials. This year (and two and four years ago) I will be using material from The Habits of Musicianship: A Radical Approach to Beginning Band. It’s available for free online, and approaches things in a very different way. By using it every other year, it’s a great complement to the traditional method, and is fresh material for both sets of kids. I have used Simple Rhythmatician as my other complement book in the alternating years, but am not convinced it does what I want it to, and am looking for other ideas.

– Do emphasize to your older students that they are leaders and mentors. You will have to train them what this means to you and how it looks in rehearsals! They will also need lots of reminders that working on basics and fundamentals is good for all of us in all things, not just band! Make sure to give them opportunities to show off. I mean, role model. 🙂 This is actually a great setup for reviewing basics and fundamentals with the second year kids and really reinforcing concepts with those that didn’t quite get mastery of certain things the first time around.

– Do make sure you’ve already structured your classroom to allow for differentiation of various levels of players. This is a HUGE topic and if you don’t do it already, look into Marguerite Wilder’s work as well as many others. Lots of thoughts on this if you are into MLT/Gordon philosophy as well. If you have everything structured so that the whole class works on page 5 of the book at the same time, all class long, until you rehearse the band music, regardless of whether they’ve just mastered page 2 or belong on page 16, this will be even harder situation. If you already have structured your class such that students are making individual progress and being assessed on it, this setup is not that foreign. You’ve just stretched the difference between your most beginning and most advanced students!

– I offer summer “starter lessons” to all of my incoming 5th graders. Every kid that at least knows how to assemble their instrument on Day 1 is a lessening of the craziness of this setup. It helps a lot!

– If this becomes your default situation, do make sure that your 6th graders have an opportunity to play appropriately challenging stuff at the end of their 6th grade year, so that the transition to the next ensemble is easier. I tell my kids – in 5/6 band the music has to be easy enough for the 5th graders, and in 7/8 band it has to be hard enough for the 8th graders! That means a big leap between 6th and 7th. I offer almost all of my 6th graders the opportunity to learn at least one of the 7/8 pieces for the final concert and have them rehearse and perform with them at the end of the year. It eases the transition and promotes recruitment at the same time.

I am absolutely happy to answer any questions or offer more specific suggestions from my experience. Feel free to contact me at