Too Many Skill Levels In One Band. Can I Make It Work?
September 15, 2012 at 11:28 am #12297
I am teaching 7-12 grade band. There are 25 students in this group, with playing experience from 6 months to 8 years. We meet for a 23 minute rehearsal every day (yes, that is twenty-three minutes I’m trying to figure out how to get them ready for the Holiday Concert and have them learning at the same time. Trouble is that I don’t know how to write the objectives as I really need to teach 4 objectives at the same time for each level. When I pass out easier music, the older kids get bored, and likewise when I pass out harder music, the less experienced get frustrated and I’m afraid they will drop out. Does anyone have a similar situation that they can advise? Any help is greatly appreciated! Thanks.September 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm #12298
I’m drinking my Saturday morning coffee and shaking my head in empathy. What a challenge you face! I shared your post with my husband who, incidentally, is also a music teacher. He suggests that you try (and you’ve likely thought of this) having capable older students work with the newer students in like-instrument ‘group lessons.’ Keep the objectives very simple, like ‘Good King Wenceslas’ from the method book, or lower tetrachord of the Concert Bb scale, etc. I would offer that you might work with the advanced kids 2 days a week on harder stuff while the younger ones do written theory work, and then trade off . Or, do a 2-2-1 arrangement, with 2 days devoted to the older ones, 2 to the younger ones and 1 day for combining. Have the older students ‘sit in’ with the younger kids, playing the easier arrangements, with the understanding that they’re ‘ringers.’ On the days you work with the older kids you could also require younger students to sit alongside a student who plays the same instrument and observe. If you have a Booster group or capable parent (and your district allows it), an adult could supervise practice for the younger ones while you’re working in another room. Tough situation. Why so short a meeting time?September 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm #12305
Thanks for the reply. I’m really not sure why the time is so short. Was like that when I came last year. I like your suggestions, but I neglected to mention that I also have to get them ready for a Holiday Concert. Any suggestions on how to do that? This is my 18th year of teaching, and I have a Masters In Music Ed, yet I just don’t know how to face this. Any other ideas? GreggSeptember 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm #12309
It occurs to me that you might divide and conquer further; that is, showcase the kids by ability group. Each group could play 2-3 selections. Your administration in no way should expect that all those kids could appear on the same program. You could liken it to putting middle school kids in a calculus class. Wouldn’t be fair to them, and it certainly isn’t fair to you.
You seem to have all the credentials, but that’s really irrelevant here. Nobody could make it work as a ‘real’ band. Or at least that person doesn’t live in MY world!September 17, 2012 at 10:02 am #12334
I agree with halsellm029 that dividing the groups into like-abilities might help. You could either have them break into small ensembles for duets, trios, and quartets or into one larger group (but that is always harder, instrumentation-wise). This way, all students are playing music at an appropriate level.
It would also be fun to play a selection or two together as a large group. You could rewrite and simplify parts for the less-experienced students and move more difficult passages to the more experienced ones. This way, the students get the “full ensemble” experience and have music closer to their level.
As far as objectives go, you might have to generalize a little bit. Think of your students in broader groups, like “advanced,” “intermediate,” and “beginner.” Obviously they can’t have the same exact objectives, but if you simplify, you can reach and challenge all of your students. Do you post your objectives for students to see, or do you just use them for yourself?September 17, 2012 at 4:38 pm #12369
It always amazes me to hear about the challenges that we as music teachers have to overcome before we can get anywhere close to the teaching, learning, and rehearsing of music! I consider my situation to be similar to yours but to a lesser extent – I have a 6-8 band, so I have students with anywhere from 1-4 years of experience on their instrument. Some of the strategies I’ve used (although I admit this is a continuous challenge I work to overcome):
– Re-write parts or utilize “alternative” parts to make things easier or harder. For example, flutes with less experience that struggle with high notes can play the oboe part, and clarinets who aren’t ready to tackle faster rhythms or melodies can read the bass clarinet part and help with the harmony. The alto sax or trombone parts will often benefit from some added doubling of the melody on lower grade pieces to make them more interesting/challenging (although, that is where I currently have my stronger students).
– Find concerto or section feature pieces to highlight your advanced players. I’m finding more and more of these in the grade 1-2 range, and it’s a great way to give your older, more experienced players to chance to shine. Usually the solos are more challenging, but the accompanying ensemble part will fit within the grade of the piece.
– Choose a few pieces aimed at your lower level students, a few pieces for your more advanced students, and few that are more in the middle that they can all do together. Have alternative written or theory assignments for the days you want to focus on one group or the other, or maybe there is a teacher with a prep during that time that would agree to supervise students in his/her room while they spread out and do some individual practice. This definitely requires some creative management and planning in order to keep all students on task….this is probably the strategy I use the least just because it gets so complicated.
– When choosing repertoire, I tend to choose “serious” music that is closer to the lower end of the grade/level range my students can play. So for example, I like to do one march every year, and a certain number of “contest” pieces, and I’ll keep those in the 1-1.5 grade range. Then I’ll usually choose one or two pop or show tunes each year, but let those be up in the 1.5-2 grade range because I’ve found students will really work harder to master those and will be more motivated to try to access something that is maybe above their ability level.
– I always encourage my more advanced students to participate in music summer camps, audition for honor bands, or prepare something for Solo & Ensemble Festivals, and I always offer to help coach as they prepare a solo or audition piece that is likely above the level of the ensemble as a whole. I wish more of them would take me up on this, but giving these options allows me to show students, parents, and admin that I am presenting opportunities for extension for advanced musicians.
– Occasionally break into sectionals so that older students can coach the younger…although not too often, because your advanced students want to play and learn too!
– Offer lunchtime or after school “Practice Club” drop-in hours for the students that need extra help. If your school requires or rewards volunteer hours, your advanced musicians may want to volunteer to help tutor during this time.
You mentioned your holiday concert…I just ordered Christmas Concerto #3 by Robert W. Smith, published by Belwin. We haven’t started rehearsing it yet, but I love that it is a medley of three solos and there is a written solo part for EVERY instrument, so you can assign or have auditions for your most advanced students, and the background part is much easier (although I may still have to re-write some parts). It’s completely flexible…you could even feature a full section or duo, etc. I passed the solo parts out early so that my advanced students can begin to prepare and feel challenged. Just an idea. Good luck!
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