So Many Students, So Little Time

Do you sometimes get the feeling there are never enough hours in the day? No need to answer. A bit of a no-brainer, isn’t it? For many music educators, finding time to meet individually with all their students is becoming more and more difficult.

“During my first three years at Badger High School there were three bands that met during the school day, and I was expected to pull kids out of class for weekly lessons,” says Greg Bunge, former Wisconsin MEA Jazz Education Chair. “A sign-up sheet was posted each week. Once it was filled out, it was distributed to the faculty. Passes were then created. In addition to the school day, before-school and after-school lessons took place. This was great until the demands on testing increased and teachers began to get more possessive of contact time.”

How to manage, then?

Student Leadership/Sectionals

“Student leadership is a must in any school program,” continues Bunge. “Once the students invest their time and personalities, good things happen. It is ultimately their program, and when they buy into the teamwork aspect, success will be evident. When choosing student leaders, endeavor to select those students who have a good rapport with the other students and who can stay on task. It is important to have regular meetings with student leaders to discuss all issues. It is also important that when students run the sectionals, they have an idea of what is to be accomplished. Sectionals run by students can accomplish an array of positive outcomes, such as camaraderie, trust, empathy, and sometimes a less intimidating atmosphere.”

Lunch Bunch

“Creating a family atmosphere or an area that is relaxing and fun is essential to the program. The director’s office is not necessarily a bad place. My office includes most home comforts, like comfy chairs, a refrigerator, microwave, photos of the band kids over the years, and of my family. There are usually 10 students who eat lunch in my office. Discussion evolves from current events to band-related issues. Music is always on the CD player, and it is not always ‘my stuff’. I really enjoy this down time with students. We get to know each other on a different level. The students are really insightful young people. Oftentimes, the lunch bunch is the best part of the day.”

Pop Playing Quizzes

“Basically this is self-explanatory. I give little forewarning in rehearsal before I plan to test the students. ‘You might want to look at letter A to G because you never know when you will be asked to play this yourself’ is usually sufficient. Once the bands are familiar with the individual playing, parts are mostly learned. ‘Down the line’ does not have to be intimidating. It can be included in part of a sectional or in rehearsal. As the rhythm section keeps playing, the section can be rehearsed, and then I ask one of the students to play a certain passage. The key is to be creative and positive with the students.”

Enjoying the Job

“Making music is a special gift. Those who are fortunate to get paid for creating music should embrace that opportunity. Students, parents, and the audience can sense frustration, apathy, lack of enthusiasm/motivation, and disorganization. Preparation is the key to success in many professions. Enjoy what you do, and, in turn, the people around you will feed off your happiness. Most of all, have fun!”

Excerpted from “Techniques for Reaching Individual Students” by Greg Bunge, originally published in the September 2005 Wisconsin School Musician

Gregory D. Bunge is director of bands at Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where he teaches three concert bands, jazz ensemble, jazz lab, combos and general music


—Nick Webb, December 12, 2008, © National Association for Music Education