Band 5 – Not getting any better at all.

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    I have two Grade 5 Bands. I see each of them two days a week for 30 minutes; the percussionists I see alone on Mondays. The bands are divided by ability. I decided to do this late in the second quarter when it was evident there were students who just weren’t keeping up. My goal was to work the slower group, well, more slowly, but try to eventually merge them back with the better players. As I identify kids in the slower group that are progressing faster, I do place them in the faster-moving band.

    The kids in the lower group aren’t improving at all. I’ve tried everything I can think of to motivate them. And yes, I try to be positive and encouraging. I’ve written three-note tunes for them to review basics, I try to vary rehearsals by going over the easy stuff and the slightly more challenging. . . I’m just exhausted with it. Went down the line today and asked individuals to play one measure of a piece they’d been assigned and we’d gone over in class. They didn’t know fingerings, etc. etc.

    I send home practice sheets, and some come back filled out and signed by a parent, but the kid can’t be putting in the time, in most cases. I know there are directors out there that don’t ask kids to practice at home. Maybe that’s real world thinking.
    So it’s Friday, and how do I reinvent the wheel for next week?


    Some quick thoughts for what it’s worth:

    1. I’m not a huge fan of dividing bands by ability in the lower grades. You are pulling your best kids out into a separate group…you’d be surprised how the “lower” ability kids improve just by sitting with kids of higher ability. I’ve seen it time and time again when bands are divided by ability at this age group, you end up with a 50/50 split…good kids and kids that will always be terrible.

    2. Is there any chance you can get band more than twice a week? I know this is very common, but that’s part of the problem. We had 5th grade band in our district…met once a week. Our JH bands ended up being awful, and many kids would just quit after 5th grade. We eliminated 5th grade band so we could start them in 6th grade and see them every day. The results were astounding. By the middle of 7th grade, they are caught up…and our JH and HS programs are thriving. Our JH 8th grade band just played at the state conference…no way would this have happened had our beginners had band once or twice a week. I know it’s a long shot, but I’d try to see if you can see your kids more.

    3. Perhaps I’m a cynic (actually, I’m almost certain I am), but I’ve found practice sheets to be a waste of time. A. The kids lie. B. The parents lie. C. I think there are better ways to motivate kids to practice than assigning it as homework. But that’s just me..they work for many people. If you aren’t seeing results, try something else.

    4. No matter how hard you try, there are going to be kids that just don’t get it, or that just don’t care. You can pull them out for one on one time every day, and it will still be like teaching a stump. I don’t know why, but every program has a certain percentage of kids like this. Don’t stress about it..just make sure they are the huge minority of students.


    Thank you for responding. I have considered delaying beginning band until Grade 6. At that point I would see students 4 days a week.

    I am moving as many students as I can from the lower to the upper band at this point. Dividing the group in this way was an experiment; I’d never done it before this year. As you pointed out, the strong may be able to guide the weak. And, I would see everyone for four days each week.

    And those practice sheets. I recently heard a presenter at our state conference point out that the kids won’t practice, they’re too busy with stuff, and everything else you pointed out invariably happens. So, he suggested letting them practice in class, chair contests, and other good ideas I can’t recall right now.

    You’ve given me many good ideas. Thanks for taking the time.


    I am in your position except that I teach at 4 different schools and only get to see the kids once a week. 30 minute pull-out lessons and 50 minute group rehearsal.

    I have to agree with everything that sp415 on the breaking up the band. The better students will encourage/pull along the students struggling. You might even think on trying a mentoring system where you pair students together (not necessarily good with struggling) to make them accountable to each other. It is something I have always thought of, but I have never tried it.

    I have also found that if you can give them something that the can latch onto that they are good at it gives them something to build on. I chose rhythm for my groups and use David Newell’s book “Teaching Rhythm: New Strategies and Techniques for Success” and it has helped my students greatly. I know that they can accurately and confidently play their rhythms so than they just have to worry about fingerings…

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