Small Program Woes

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    Welp, I have been teaching in a rural district going into my third year now, and things haven’t gotten better. The only upside is that they can’t get much worse, I suppose.

    I will have about 15 students in high school band this year, with an odd instrumentation — only 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, 1 tuba, and the rest woodwinds and percs. Most of them are heavily involved in other activities, so I doubt I’ll ever have all of them at pep band things. We don’t march, but we do play at all varsity basketball games and all home football games, and there are 2 parades during the year. The students I *do* have are decent on their instruments; I just don’t have many of them.

    I can’t pull up 8th graders — well, I can, but I only have one signed up. I have 14 seventh graders and about that many sixth graders, but they are nowhere near the ability level yet — even if I rewrote parts they’d only be able to have seven or eight notes in them.

    This year I will also have combined 6th through 8th graders. I will have a middle school band of approximately 30 kids, which is nice, but they will be somewhat different levels. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what to do with the high school students. Should I have them march in parades if I’m only going to have 10 or so? There comes a point where it is kind of degenerative to the spirit when they go out there and know they’re a teeny tiny band that can’t hold all the parts together.

    If anyone has advice on what to do with a band of this size and status, I’m all ears. I’ve managed to get practicing levels up some but not a lot. Any advice — things to do during the year — what their achievements should be — how to mix things up to sound fuller — I’ll take any advice!


    It sounds like you are doing a good job with what you have, but I will give you my thoughts and suggestions.
    1. Find out what the minimum you administration will allow you to do as far as Pep band and Marching. As you pointed out with only 10 kids there it isn’t much fun. If they do want you to continue you can always ask other people in the school, parents, community members to join you in the Pep Band events. I did that when I taught at a small school and the community and students enjoyed it.

    2. For the High School you could always focus on Chamber Music which will improve their musicianship, confidence and than you can have more of a recital/studio style concert.

    3. Keep on building the the middle school and elementary, which it sounds like you are doing, and if they are enjoying it they will stick with it until High School and you will build the program. If you want to can make playing in the Pep Band a special thing that they (the Middle Schoolers) can earn so than you are challenging them to make themselves better.

    I would love to find out what you do and how things go so please keep us updated. I used to work in a small school so I understand your concern and questions you are asking.


    Building from the bottom up can take some time to see the results at the HS level. When I was in HS we had about 20 in band and it does make it difficult for pep band. What I would do (and still do even with a larger band) is see if any of the kids have guitar experience. I play bass with the kids and then find either a bass player in the band or train a guitar player to play the bass. If you don’t have a bass hopefully you will have a keyboard and you can play the bass line on that. Have another kid (or someone from the community, or even yourself) play the drum set. Adding those two things will help out the pep band a ton! But of course there is always adding the electric guitar in there and having a three piece mini band to play some stuff. My kids love goofing off and just playing stuff. The other kids in band that won’t be playing those songs will really enjoy dancing to it and just having a good time. Therefore, others see that and want to be apart of that. Use your hs students as a recruitment tool. Can you have them come into the jr high band class some time and have them play with them? Or even come and talk to them about joining band in hs? I take band trips (florida and NYC). These trips do keep a lot of kids in band because they want that experience. Yes you have to fund raise and it is extra work but it is soooo worth it in the long run. Find surrounding band teachers in your area and ask them for help. Ask them what they do and they might even come and help play for pep band games too.

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