Reply To: Teaching Middle School Band with 6th, 7th, and 8th Combined

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I know this is kind of an old topic (I hope it is working out well for the OP), but I thought I’d chime in as long as it is resurrected. I thought I would hate teaching a 6-8 band, but while it has it’s challenges, I really do enjoy it. While I do have some really low-skilled 6th graders and some pretty high 8th graders, I also have very talented sixth graders that really benefit from the challenge and 8th graders who would really struggle to play in an 8th-grade-only band.

I run my band similarly to slagelb276- from about 1.5-2 music in the beginning of the year to a max of about 3 in spring (right now, I have a three 2s). I do not create simplified parts for 6th grade, and I would only do so for a student that has severe learning problems and absolutely wouldn’t be able to play along as written. I think rewriting music pidgeonholes students into certain ability levels and does not push students to improve like music that is a little too hard for them. I rarely have students that do not learn their music to an acceptable level by the time of the concert. It’s not always perfect, but it does give them more of a sense of achievement. Plus, rewriting parts is takes time away from doing other, more useful things.

I do have pull-out lessons, which I understand is not a universal thing. I am scheduled to see each of my students for one 20-minute individual or small-group lesson each week (they show up most of the time and are required to attend 6 lessons each 9-week quarter). I know very well the abilities of all of my students. We can work on concert music or other music (solos, duets, method books, etudes, etc) that I pick out to match individual needs. At this point in the year (our first concert is in the beginning of December), I’d say about half of my students are working on concert music in lessons and the other half have moved on to new things. (Not rewriting music gives me more time to pick out all of this new music for students).

As we move into winter and spring, all of my students will be required to work on a solo or ensemble for festival. I have students that can do Class A music and I have students that could barely play anything on the list, but I make sure everyone is playing something at an appropriate level. I schedule a rotation to work on this music during class time (I have three practice rooms and a few offices to use). My more advanced students usually look forward to this time to be self-directed and working on more difficult music.

I also give my students two playing tests each quarter- one is scales and the other is concert music or an etude. I used to assign these based on grades, but I’ve recently started assigning them based on their actual developmental level (which I keep track of using checklists- beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate, etc). It’s definitely more work this way, but they all have something to work on- either mastering a particular section of concert music or working on something that is new or otherwise challenging. Right now, I know that none of my students have an unmanageable or super easy assignment. I do use SmartMusic for most of my assessments (manually Finale-izing music and exporting it to SmartMusic if necessary) and students can work on them in lessons, or occassionally in class.

I don’t assign seats in my band. Students need to sit in their sections, obviously, but I don’t tell them an exact seat (unless there is a behavioral issue). They generally sit by students in their own grade, probably because they are more comfortable there and that’s how it’s always been done. I think I like it like that because it makes it easier to assign parts (2nd clarinets are sitting together, 3rd trumpets sitting together), and they are more likely to feel comfortable playing. I think it is sometimes intimidating to be a 6th grader in a 6-8 band, and if sitting together gives them more confidence, that’s awesome. I do have students mix up seats sometimes, and my rule is that they can’t sit by someone playing the same instrument, and they need to sit by at least one person who is not in their class.

I’m definitely not an expert on teaching a 6-8 band, but these are some things that have made my junior high band pretty successful in the last five-plus years I’ve been doing it. I’ve gotten great feedback from students, admin, and parents about the strength of our program. Not every student sticks with it, but I make sure they all have a place to belong in my classroom as long as they are there.