Tips for a new band teacher
August 4, 2013 at 10:19 am #26412
So I’ve been teaching choir for quite a few years but this year I was asked to start teaching a band program. It’s for grades 5-8 and I’m a bit nervous. I haven’t had much interaction with instruments since my technique classes in college. So, what tips and tricks do you have for a vocal teacher looking to switch over?August 6, 2013 at 9:46 am #26449
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!August 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm #26819
Both of David Newell’s books will get you far and they are fun reads as well. Besides that barrettj319 has some great suggestions. Just remember the new kids don’t know that it has been a while for you and the older kids even if they know more than you do on the instrument you know more than them about music/musicality.August 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm #26821
Thank you both so much for your suggestions! I really REALLY appreciate it 🙂August 29, 2013 at 3:51 pm #27766
Show EXCITEMENT with the younger kids! Even if it sounds like a dead cat! Your enthusiasm is all they have. If they think they sound horrible then they won’t try. Demonstrate a lot. Which means you need to sound good at your instruments too. The clarinet was the devil for me for the first couple of years but now I am better. If you have private lessons with them you should play with them. You will get better too! Believe me when the fifth graders can play jingle bells for the first time they are so proud of themselves. Later on in the year you can always go back and say “remember how hard you thought jingle bells was? If you can play that you can play this in no time!” Keep in mind that the beginning band needs to be told everything! Even how to sit in a chair. The littlest detail that you think isn’t big at all really is!August 31, 2013 at 3:46 pm #28134
Erika, don’t forget that middle school kids thrive on structure, so make your classes/rehearsals as structured as possible. The kids appreciate an established routine; they need to know what you expect them to do from the moment they enter the band room until they set foot out the door. I spend the first week with my middle schoolers establishing the routine and drilling it until they’ve got it. Structured rehearsals result in bands that play well! I’ve been directing middle school bands for 35 years (ouch!), so please feel free to email me for help anytime – firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck! Amy RichterOctober 12, 2013 at 12:02 pm #30613
The most important things to remember with beginners is patience, reinforcement, and encouragement. Learning to play a new instrument is difficult and requires you to not only think in an entirely new way, but also use your body in ways that are foreign to you. Regardless of how many mistakes a student makes while playing ANYTHING, it is important that you first provide them with positive feedback and then encourage them to think about improving a different part of their playing.
One thing I would recommend, just as barretj319 said, always reinforce the basics. Even after 8 weeks of band, some students may still be assembling their instruments incorrectly. As a flutist, I am ALWAYS finding students that do not know how to line their flute up properly. (You should be able to draw a straight line from the center of the lip plate, through the center of the keys, which align directly with the notch on the footjoint. Most students have the notch rolled too far forward.) Unfortunately, if you don’t catch these small details early, they will continually assemble their instrument incorrectly, thus, providing them with no choice but to have a poor hand position.
While it is very important to model for students, do not let your choral background prevent you from singing in band! I wish my directors would have enforced singing more. This is a great way to enforce aural training in the classroom, and it allows you to demonstrate to your students your talents.
Band, especially beginning band can be very overwhelming. Take it one day at a time. View every chance as a learning opportunity, both as an educator and musician. There are a lot of similarities between singing and playing. I always teach my students to think as if they were an opera singer when they play. This reinforces the thought of keeping an open oral cavity, taking the proper deep breaths, and using the right amount of air support. Allow your choral background to enhance your students’ instrumental experience!
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