Every band has different times they struggle to play in tune. Some struggle on everything others just on difficult passages. I wanted to share a few ways that I have found that can help any group play more in tune.
1. Try it for a month: Commit to about four weeks of teaching intonation every day. Research shows that if you can do something for a month you can build a routine that works. We all know when teaching music that it is easy to get distracted and try new things all the time. We also know that intonation can be boring and tedious. If you want your band to be in tune in the most important time of the year for festival, performance assessments or whatever your area calls it, give some focus to intonation, every day.
2. Try bundling Intonation with something fun: It is easy to not do something because your students don't like it or it is boring. They will complain, whine and you will avoid doing it. Even if it is one of the top things judges talk about at festivals. Bundle intonation with something fun. Shameless plug, Band Intonation Exercises and Chorales are quick fun set of exercises to play with accompaniments to practice long tones and intonation. Check them out here.
You could also pair intonation with something fun like a song your students like to play or a quick game. One of my favorite ways to play a game that only takes about two minutes is "Ultimate Rock Paper Scissors". I read about it once but can't find where I would give the creator credit if I could. Everyone pairs off and plays Rock paper scissors best out of three. The winner moves and plays another winner. The loser becomes the biggest fan of the person who beat them. In about two minutes the entire band is cheering on the two final players. It can be very loud, fun and ultimately fast. Give your kids a quick break after practicing tuning or whenever you need to regain their attention or give them a break.
3. Set goals - but understand there will be failures: Make sure your goal of playing in tune is achievable and ambitious - but give your band a pass one day when they come in and just cannot play in tune. You have worked on intonation for two weeks and all of the sudden they play worse. It happens that is part of the process of long-term goals you do not progress every day. Some days you take a step back, give them a break and don't get upset just say we will be better tomorrow and move on.
4. Be Flexible: We get set in our daily routines so much. Breathing, playing rhythms, practice scales, play a chorale, etc. Try practicing intonation at the end of a rehearsal or between songs play a chorale in the new key you will be playing in major or minor. Sevierband.com has chorales that teach the skills to play in tune in all 12 major and minor keys. They make it easy to quickly review any of the 12 major or minor keys and teach intonation for those keys. Check them out here.
5. Make It social: Post what worked for you on social media and give others ideas to help them. If you are posting about it, you will also encourage yourself to keep doing this thing that worked so well for you. You may also get others to input on things to try to make it better. You get the reward of helping others instead of being the one tearing others ideas down. Sorry, I see too many vultures on social media, I would like to see more of hey this worked for me type posts.
6. Put some money on the line: This seems odd for a way to play in tune but if you dedicate some money to curriculum or devices to help you and your band play more in tune then you are more willing to keep doing it. You have decided I am sick and tired of always having judges say we are out of tune, I am going to dedicate some of this year's budget to be in tune. You put skin in the game and are now dedicated to this goal of yours to teach your students to be in tune.
Brian teaches band, choir, guitar, percussion, etc. in Richfield Utah. He has been teaching for 14 years from middle school to college. He received his Bachelor's from the University of Utah in Music Education and a Masters in Conducting from Sam Houston State University through the American Band College. He is the owner of sevierband.com He can be found teaching music, writing exercises or arrangements, or as an adjudicator, clinician, scoutmaster, church choir director, woodworker, or spending time with his family camping.
Self-doubt is part of being a music educator.
It is easy to question everything you do and teach. You can never do enough. You are not doing the same as the directors around you. You will never be as good as that school or teacher you look up to. Having doubt and questioning what you do can be a very effective tool for being a better teacher and help you improve or it can also be crippling and make you want to find a new career.
Find a safety-net of trusted friends and educators.
It is easy to doubt yourself but it is important to find a group of other teachers, friends, or musicians to share your fears with, lean on them to help you emotionally. They may have advice for dealing with students or parents. Maybe you need ideas for dealing with administration. Having a live friend to lean on can make all the difference in the world. The place I found the most advice at was at educator conferences, honor bands, honor choirs and all state band rehearsals.
Find a solution, not a place to whine.
Online forums are a great place to whine but a friend, peer, or mentor can be a better way to solve a problem. When I was a young teacher I was told to not spend all my time in the faculty room whining. That being said online forums did not exist yet and they were never as bad as BDG can get. If you want to be attacked like a shark or have all your ideas shot down online is a great place. Someone is always going to tell you you are wrong. You could also get the opposite, other people who are bitter and just want to blame all your problems on everyone else. They don't try to understand the whole situation and realize the problem could be what you are doing. The key is finding someone you trust to talk through things, someone who is willing to listen and give you the advice you really need. I have had several people I have talked to that helped me not make stupid decisions with my groups.
Turn debilitating problems into strengths.
We all have weaknesses, there are things we doubt. We need help musically, with discipline, with motivation and someone else will always be better at something than you. Ask for advice, ask for help, listen and find a solution that works for you. If you can resolve a lot of your self-doubt, problems with your administration or students you can solve the reason most of us have burn out. Most of us have very few problems teaching music. The things we hate about teaching music has nothing to do with music. Ask others. Find solutions that work. Don't become an example become a model to follow. Be the teacher everyone else looks up to. If you are supporting others they support you and together you can make music education better.
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