Reply To: Teaching Middle School Band with 6th, 7th, and 8th Combined
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Though I have never been in or taught an ensemble with such a disparity in experience, I have a few ideas that you might find helpful. Perhaps choose music literature with different levels of difficulty. For instance, at my high school, the end of the year concert always included a performance of “America the Beautiful” with grades 5 through 12. With each grade level (except for the high school, which was divided between which level of band the student was in), there was a different level of music. The song had everyone playing at the same time, but allowed each grade level to have an appropriate music level. Perhaps you could take whatever level of music your eighth grade band is at, and then make easier arrangements for your seventh and sixth graders that fit into the piece. This allows every grade level to continue to learn at a comfortable place, and allows you to determine that pace. This also allows eighth graders the chance to shine and show off what they have learned, and has younger students look forward to the next year, when their parts become more interesting.
I would also suggest pairing younger students with older students when determining seating. Much like a “big-little” companionship in sororities and fraternities, the older students will take care of the younger students. Your older students feel a sense of responsibility with this leadership position, your younger students feel more secure and at home in the ensemble, and you will feel a sense of relief, because your students are taking more initiative and responsibility in your ensemble.
Hopefully some of these suggestions are helpful to you! Good luck!
Kent State University, Ohio