Reply To: Tips for a new band teacher

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As a beginning band teacher I’ll try to share some of the things I have picked up along the way. Of course I will focus on the beginners – I’ll let others offer tips for the older kids.

First: Get ahold of some instruments and spend time re-aquainting yourself with how to play them. You will be much more able to help instruct the kids when you yourself work through the same issues that they face.
Second: Your older kids should be self-sufficient in terms of knowing fingerings/notes (if not, hold them accountable for it!) so you should be able to focus more on musical concepts. Your beginners though will need to be taught EVERYTHING. The biggest mistake I made as a new beginning band teacher was forgetting that the kids in September do not know how to play at all. I remember the first day having the band together and thinking…”What would be very basic for them? I know: A scale!…” Most of them looked at me like I just grew a set of horns and started grunting like a pig. Be prepared to break down every concept into it’s most basic structure.
Three: Insist on re-enforcing the basics: proper instrument assembly, posture, hand position, breathing, articulation, counting. You can never repeat these things enough as you want it to become natural for the kids to do these on their own. Spending more time up front on these items will save you hours later on through the years.
Four: Be patient with them. Band moves much more slowly than choir. Remember, learning to play an instrument is like learning to speak all over again. You would not expect someone who is learning a language to be able to recite prose in that language. The same goes for beginning instrumentalists. It will be a while before the band sounds like “a band”. There are many different pieces that a kid has to coordinate in order to play an instrument. It takes some a bit longer than others, but they ARE capable!
Five: Celebrate the small achievements, encourage them when they struggle and always treat them as musicians. If they feel they are doing something worthwhile, they will want to continue. Tell the saxophone player who sounds like a truck horn that you loved his nice full tone – then see if he can get a more round sound by backing off of the mouthpiece a bit. Tell the trumpet player who can barely get to ‘E’ that you loved her phrasing in Hot Crossed Buns when she played two notes without breathing – now try for three.
Six: Enjoy it! The growth in first year is the most they will ever see in that amount of time. They are wide-eyed and excited. Keep that momentum going by showing that you love what they are doing. While not everything they do will be “musically gratifying” for you, for them it is – and, believe it or not, they can get to a point in one school year where they are playing some pretty cool stuff.

Sorry for the long post – hope this helps!