I experimented and took a risk with a different way of teaching band. My discovery from the trial run is that band method books do not teach music. They teach technique but not beauty through music.
Let me explain my experiment and conclusions better. I have been frustrated with how inefficient exercises are at perfecting playing style. They are good at introducing elements of music but not learning how to apply them. Music is also not good at applying techniques because everyone gets a different part. Tubas never learn anything, flutes learn it all. How do I get away from inefficient exercises and into music if music doesn't teach skills?
I will offer a new teaching method and a different way of approaching rehearsal. Imagine this, fundamentals approached in a holistic way. Everyone gets to learn, everyone gets to play, everyone learns quickly and together.
Exercises are not music!
Music is written in a different way than exercises. Rhythms are not always independent from other parts of music, most of the time they work together with the music. Melody can be independent or interconnected to harmony, accompaniment, bass lines, or counter-melody. We learn each of the skills as independent parts, not as a whole. This is a good way to understand each independent element of music but not a good way to apply it.
We need to first understand each element of music then apply those elements into real music. Wait you say, I do apply each element in real music as we rehearse our music for upcoming concerts. I am a trombonist and played in some excellent bands but as you and I know trombones, tubas, and low woodwinds do not learn as much as the flute, clarinet or trumpet. I did not apply the things we learned because my music was too easy to learn as much as others. You say it is because I was not paying attention it could have been a little of both but if you had a way to engage everyone so you did not lose them would you try it?
Problem: We learn elements of music but do not apply them enough to understand the connection to music.
What makes music musical?
I spent a whole year studying scores for one express purpose, what makes band music musical? It seems like a simple question and when I finished it all, it was simple. So simple I felt dumb for spending so much time studying it. Then I realized in my experiment that none of the method books teach those things. That's why it was hard but simple.
I found there are six parts to music.
Six Parts to music.
1. Melody - of course, there has to be a melody and beginning band methods do a good job teaching melody. High School level books ignore melody. There is one book that I used for several years which brags about the hundreds of sight-reading exercises in it. Not one of the exercises has a melody. I found even though they taught technique they wasted our time. There was no music. Why sightread if there are no musical lines, no dynamics, no articulations, etc. I need to save time and be more efficient and sight-read music, not exercises.
2. Basslines - music has a bass line. The bass line establishes the root of the chords. Without a root, it is difficult to know how to tune. The bass line should relate to the melody and be played to enhance the melody musically. How many books teach this? None, Zero, Nada. Just a quick selfless plug of my book that teaches all parts of music. Progressive Musical Studies: Sousa Book 1 and in the summer of 2020 book 2. This book teaches all parts of music so your students can say things like mine. "It is nice to be able to know what other people are playing so we can make our part in the music fit with theirs" or "It is so much easier to play music now I know how to make my part fit." My favorite comment "the march book is fun to play out of."
3. Accompaniment - Have you ever thought to yourself; why do my third clarinets always struggle to play rhythms right? We work on them every day? Accompaniment rhythms are different from rhythm sheets. They are part of a larger work and how you play them has to work with the melody. My band sight-read for festival this year and the first time through my lower trumpets, clarinets, and background parts played their rhythms right. That's what I said they played it right the first time. Why? We practiced excerpts of real music from easy to hard in a progressive method. For the first time, we talked about and learned how to play accompaniments as a whole band. Everyone learned about accompaniments and how they relate to the melody.
4. Counter Melodies - Real music has counter melodies. Students understand things that they do over and over again. Well with concert music you learn counter melodies only every once in a while. Most musicians in your band will only encounter counter melodies a few times each year. If you want them to play counter melodies as they relate to the melody they need to practice it over and over again. When is the last time you had a book that taught how counter melodies relate to accompaniment and melody?
5. Harmony - There are two types of harmony in music. The harmony part which plays the same rhythm as the melody but different notes. The second is the combination of all the parts: bass, accompaniment, melody, harmony or counter-melody altogether. These need to be treated differently even though one is part of the other. Teach how to play harmony with the melody. When to play louder and softer and how the two relate. Then teach the chord progression how everything combined relates. In Progressive Musical Studies: Sousa book 1 I have written a chorale to show the musical progression as a whole for each excerpt. Everyone can play any part SATB. See an example from the book.
6. Fanfares - Most music has a fanfare. A loud sometimes monophonic, polyphonic or homophonic section that does not necessarily have a bass line or harmony but it is loud and accented. Fanfares are often an integral part of the music. Imagine having a bunch of real fanfares that you could practice that are progressive from easy to hard. Learn fanfares as a specific style within the music.
Take a risk and experiment with a new way of teaching music.
John Philip Sousa said, "There is one way of judging music if it is beautiful or not." Why do we spend so much time teaching exercises but not spend time teaching beauty through music? We are missing a big part of what we can teach kids or we are teaching inefficiently.
You can download an excerpt from three strains of Progressive Musical Studies: Sousa Book 1 try an experiment to see if it will work for you and your band.
Please consider using my book next year as you think to yourself I want my students to learn how to be well-rounded musicians who can read and understand music. If you have questions or would like to hear more feel free to contact me email@example.com
Sevier Band & Percussion
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