We all know that kids today like to have fun. So why not try making some of the important things you teach fun. We do not need to try and entertain our students every moment of every day but we teach music. In band we do not work on assignments we PLAY! We play because it should be fun.
Here are a few ways I have found to break things up and make a game out of listening and adjusting pitch.
1. Tuning Duets - Go through your band having different like instruments play unison notes. Have the two players play one note right after the other. Each student in the band writes done if they think the first player was sharper, flatter or in tune. This gives you a chance to give individual players a quick chance for help and everyone gets to listen and identify it. You can do this as an assignment but I find kids take more ownership if you turn it into a competition on who can get the highest score. Motivation to get the highest score is better motivation for most kids than their grade. You just turned listening, tuning and individual assessments into a game instead of a lecture.
2. Don't Just play long tones play long tones with exciting accompaniments - If you could make long tones more fun your kids would do it more. Seriously, long tones are boring. Not anymore. Watch this video which shows the score for Band Intonation Exercises along with the accompaniment tracks. You can teach long tones and tuning into something interesting.
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3. Short Small Ensemble or Section Performances - assign small groups or sections a small excerpt, interval exercise or easy chorale to play for the class. BIE Exercise or BIChorales would work perfectly. Give them five or ten minutes to practice it then have each group perform it for the class. This can be a great opportunity for students to learn in a different social situation then your normal learning environment. You can quickly assess how to help each group and or individuals. You can identify who needs the most help and find ways to help them.
4. Teach a song by rote - Choir teachers do this all the time and band teachers neglect this. If you teach a melody by rote students spend time listening and adjusting pitch, they also get to hear you play good tone on your instrument. Students who spend time learning to play by rote can play more in tune and develop listening skills that make them great musicians. Give them a chance to start training their ears before the musicianship/dictation class in college.
5. Student Centered Learning (instead of lecture) - Make teaching intonation student-centered not teacher centered. Band used to be a class where the kids sat and listened while the teacher lectured. If students can read what to do without having every instruction from the teacher you can save rehearsal time, they will get to play more. More playing equals more fun and a better band. BIExercises and BICHorales are designed with student-centered tuning tricks, hints and helps for each exercise. Students can see what notes are generally out of tune and ways to fix it without the teacher having to say everything. You run a few exercises or chorales and they learn without you having to talk all the time.
I was thinking recently about the skills I learned through music and how they made me successful. Truthfully, I spent more time on the skills I did not learn from music because I am always trying to be better and find more efficient ways of doing things.
Some of the skills I learned through music classes are: to be adaptable, have teamwork skills, openness to feedback (well sometimes), confidence, instructing, determination, verbal and non-verbal communication, perseverance, active listening, hands-on learning strategies, judgement and decision making, and focus.
We learned some great skills from music but sometimes the way we use these skills is different for different groups of people.
I will be discussing some soft skills that can make you a better educator outside of the band room to make your job in the band room easier.
Soft skills - this term is used in the business world a lot these days. They want employees who not only know hard skills like what flick keys a bassoon player should use to start each note but they want them to be creative, work with others, to listen and follow through with what they are asked.
Imagine if your students listened to you and agreed with everything you were teaching then they played there instruments a different way. Even if they understood it they choose to do it a different way. That is what we would call insubordination and you could be fired for that. I have seen music teachers over and over again do it there own way and not listen to what administrators ask. The teacher feels that because the administrator does not know about music or the parent does not have a degree in music that they do not have to listen to them.
Soft Skills Every Band Director Needs.
I have found a few skills that could help directors as they try to negotiate the hardest part of the job teaching music, everything but music.
Social Perceptiveness - Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do. I consider my students, parents and administrators time to be valuable. If I have reason to hold an extra rehearsal or meeting there better be a very valid reason and it should not happen very much.
Piggy Bank Method - you as a teacher make deposits into the piggy bank by the good things you do. Make more deposits then you do withdrawals. Make deposits by complimenting a student, having a great concert that was on a good day that was planned ahead so families could make it. You deposit when you organize a group to perform for the golf tournament your principal happens to be in. You make deposits all the time. How often do you make withdrawals? Do you hold kids beyond the planned rehearsal time every day or once in a while. Do you forget to plan transportation and have to go beg the secretary for a vehicle at the last second all the time or maybe once a year? Do you have parents coming and complaining about how upset you are during rehearsal or have you been able to keep a cool head?
The more you make withdrawals the more in debt you become. BE THE DIRECTOR WHO MAKES MORE DEPOSITS THEN WITHDRAWALS.
"I am sorry to inconvenience you but this is such a great opportunity that even though it is last minute we are going to go ahead and do this anyway. I appreciate your understanding."
Service Oriented - actively looking for ways to help others. Did you help the vice principal fix a sound system even though it is not part of your job? How about the time you covered someone else's class because they really needed to help. Does your band try to find ways to help others or are you just about yourself? Teach your students to care for others and they will care for you and your program more.
Negotiation - a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement or bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences. It is too often you hear about the director who says "do it my way or the highway." Try to think about the administrator, secretary or parents perspective before you blow your top and make a fool of yourself.
One of the biggest problems with conflict is that each side wants to be understood and we do not do a good enough job listening to others to find the problem then working out a mutual agreement. One of the best advice I have received is from of the kindest directors around, not to be offensive but his band is not as good as mine, he hasn't taught as much as me but he is genuinely nice. If you are one of the directors around me now this statement is not about you I promise.
He said listen more then you talk, help them know that you understand where they are coming from and then try to find a solution. If you do not listen you are not negotiating you are arguing. Being argumentative is not a soft skill business and administrators are looking for.
I once read about a band director with a BOA national championships who would work with students so they could play basketball and other sports. As he stated, "our basketball team was the worst in the league" but that student would rather quit the band with a championship then basketball. His negotiations worked. He had students in his band and knew how to work things out so it worked for everyone.
Concern for others - sensitive to others needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful. Wait for a second, these all have the same ending outcomes, yes, I am sorry band directors are jerks. They cannot wait for a chance to pounce on someone else's' misstep but want them to give hem a chance when they make a mistake.
If you are concerned for others they will have concern for you. If they are your friend you will be friendly not just critical. I had a secretary forget to schedule a vehicle for me, there was a bus trip we ended up not having a bus on time because it was scheduled wrong. I can talk about the janitor who did not clean m room exactly the way I want it or the time he forgot to vacuum part of my room. Everyone has a bad day or bad week, including you. Give them the benefit of the doubt and they will give you the benefit of doubt.
Some of the things I thought about talking about but won't are:
Persuasion - cause (someone) to do something through reasoning.
Active listening - I am not talking about listening to music, I am talking about listening to other people.
Speaking - talking to others to convey information effectively, a musician may understand what you are talking about but do parents and administrators.
Psychology - knowledge of human behavior and performance.
There is one soft skill we could all use in music. BE KIND.
Experienced band teacher, author, clinician and musician. Brian has a Masters in conducting from Sam Houston Sate University through the American Band College. He was quarter Finalist for Grammy "Educator of the Year" 2018