I’ve Got My Eye On You!
By NAfME member Wendy Higdon
Music is an aural art form. We all know that. We are trained to listen to our bands and provide instruction based on what we hear. So what do our eyes have to do with teaching music?
Watching our students can give band directors, especially those who are responsible for setting the foundation with our youngest students, a great deal of information. What do you see when you look at your students’ faces? Do you see tension? Are their embouchures natural looking? What about their hands? Are their fingers relaxed and gently curved? Now look at their bodies. Are students correctly balancing the weight of the instrument so bad habits don’t have a chance to creep in? All of this information helps the director to provide ongoing feedback to students that helps set them up for success.
In the first several weeks of instruction with my beginning band students, I don’t use any music stands so that I have a clear view of what everyone is doing. I can see everything that is going on as students learn to manage their new instruments My eyes are constantly scanning faces, hands and bodies for tension. We talk constantly about eliminating tension. I want my students to be aware of how it “feels” to play correctly, so they get lots of feedback and reminders about this. I can do this because I am watching for those telltale signs of tension- creases and lines in the face, unnatural hand position, raised shoulders, problems balancing the instrument as they hold it.
When we eliminate tension, something magical happens! Students, even beginners, start to create pleasant sounds. They learn what it physically takes to create characteristic sounds, and they know how it feels when they are are doing everything correctly. Even the newest students, those with only a few weeks or months of playing experience, know what sounds “good” and what doesn’t, and they are empowered and energized when they hear satisfying sounds coming from their own instruments. They become discriminating listeners, and it only gets better from there!
And my watching doesn’t stop as they progress. Have you ever noticed how quickly struggling students learn how to hide their wrong notes from detection? Well, they can’t hide when I’m watching for correct fingerings. Yes, I have those little songs in the method book memorized and I am walking up and down the rows scanning fingers as the students play (instead of standing behind my own music stand). So, I can see that little clarinetist in the 4th row who played Bb when it was supposed to be B natural, even if I didn’t hear her. In my sea of fledgling musicians, I can detect rhythm and timing errors with my eyes too. Now, don’t get me wrong, like most experienced band directors, I have bat-like hearing, and my ears are on high alert whenever I am in front of my students, but my eyes tell me more than one might imagine.
Try it. You never know what you might see!
About the author:
NAfME Member Wendy Higdon is the Director of Bands and Unified Arts Department Chair at Creekside Middle School in Carmel, IN. She began her career as Director of Bands at Lebanon Middle School (IN) in 1991 and came to Carmel Clay Schools in 1999 where she taught band at Carmel Middle School until the opening of Creekside in 2004. Under her leadership, the performing arts programs at Creekside have grown from 400 students in 2004 to nearly 900 students this year.
To read more about Wendy, visit the About Me section on On and Off the Podium.
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