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

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    I am looking at the very real possibility of teaching a combined 6th, 7th, and 8th grade band with all levels of experience (beginners included). Does anyone currently teach in the situation and have tips for making this more successful? And if you don’t teach in this current position, do you have any ideas to make this successful?

    I thank you for any input!!


    I teach MS Orchestra (FULL!) with 6 – 8th grade. Actually, this year I’ll have a fifth grader and a 4th grader! Yikes!!

    I start the school year with easier grade music (Grade 1.5 – 2) with maybe 1 harder piece than that to work on. As the year goes on, I gradually increase the difficulty and end about a Grade 3. I use ensembles with the older students (heavily encourage solo/ensemble) and have also called upon knowledgeable parents to help coach those ensembles. It keeps the enthusiasm higher.

    I wouldn’t recommend beginners. Minimum of one year of experience even if it is only private lessons.

    I use rhythm sheets daily. We do scales daily. The older ones “coach” the younger ones along.

    I can give you more ideas and help if you like. Do you have any specific questions?


    We had an after school honors band at my middle school that was 6-8th grades. This posed a challenge because it is hard to tend to the needs of all the students because typically the 8th graders are more advanced and expect more than the 6th graders. This is more of a guess and check type ensemble because you really won’t know what the students can do. I would recommend picking music that is of various levels, it may be boring for some and challenging for others. This is a good technique to use because it will force the students to make music with anything they read. I have found even pieces that are easy when it comes to notes and such, it is still a difficult piece to make “happen” musically. Whatever you feel works for your group will be ok and if it doesn’t, you will find out quickly and then can change it.

    Kent State University, OH


    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!

    Betsy Pratt
    Kent State University, Ohio


    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.



    I have no experience teaching this type of ensemble, but I do have a few ideas based on my own past band experiences. When I went to middle school, the band program was combined in this way. The point has already been made about proper repertoire choices.
    The one thing I do remember is the way the parts were assigned to the band. If the director had doubts about ex. flute sections ability to play a part, he would rewrite the part for the clarinet or sax section. All the parts were still being covered; it was just a matter of who played what part.
    Every section has multiple parts. The less skilled players will be assigned to the 2nd, 3rd, etc parts anyway. This would still provide a challenge for the students and give them a reason to practice. My middle school program became very competitive. All the students wanted to play the main melody line. The fact that the melody lines are assigned to the stronger sections had merit. This encouraged peer to peer learning to strengthen the independent sections. The musical parts always got better as you get closer to the first chair, so by adding the ability to challenge your peers and get a higher chair gave us incentive to practice.
    A good positive band room environment is important from day one. I would recommend not making a big deal out of the difference in the student’s age or grade levels in front of the band. There may be a 6th grader whose skill levels will exceed that of his 8th grade peer. You don’t want 8th grader to feel embarrassed or quitting because a 6th grader has earned a higher chair.
    The director promoted students participating in solo and ensemble contests every year.

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