Teaching Band with Games – Drop Out Contests

A “Band Drop Out Contest” is a chance to have a spur of the moment contest that takes about 1 minute once the kids learn how to play it.

Examples of when to use this game:

  • Students are playing something they know very well and it’s getting boring/repetitive (scales, the same measure over and over etc.)
  • Students are playing something that they understand and know how to do, but are missing something they shouldn’t miss and you’ve repeatedly taught them to fix it.  (a key signature note, a rhythm)
  • Students’ eyes are glazing over and you need something short and exciting to get them engaged again.

How the game works:

All instruments that are able to stand up do so (everyone except low reeds/tuba).  They play the scale or passage or count the measures you want.  I usually limit it to about 4 measures in beginning band.  When they make a mistake they sit down and KEEP PLAYING or counting.  It is critical that they keep playing/counting.  That is why I have them stand up to start.  If you have them sitting and they stop playing when they mess up, then the students that need the repetition the most drop out in the first measure and don’t get to try to play the rest of the selection.

After the first round if there are a lot of students still standing we do it again.  EVERYONE plays, but only the people standing are “still in the game.”  As it dwindles down I might have all the people that are sitting just finger so we can get to a final winner. (if that even matters – sometimes you can just play it once or twice and go on.)


You have to prepare the kids correctly and react correctly to this game the first few times you play it or it can cause a lot of damage instead of having great results.  This is an example of the kind of preparation I give the kids before hand.  I’ve bolded the critical ideas. (comments in parenthesis are for your info.)

(Always play this game the first time with something the kids are confident playing)
“Ok guys, we’re going to play a new game. It’s called Drop Out. In a minute I’m going to have you all stand up and pull your stands up higher.  We’re going to play these 4 measures again.  If you miss a note (easy way to start this is just notes because it’s clear) you’ll sit down and keep playing.  Now the purpose of this game is not for you to feel bad or embarrassed or get in trouble for a mistake.  The purpose of this game is just like any other game – for fun! 

It’s also for me – it lets me see how many people in the class are getting it right without having to hear you play down the row.  If most people sit down right away then I know I need to work on teaching you this line better.  If most people stay standing, I know we can go on. (Be sure you watch their fingers the whole game.  If someone messes up and doesn’t sit down watch their face – they usually look up, see you, and sit down.)

But here’s the big thing.  This game works on honor system.  You must sit down if you mess up.  Don’t wait to see if someone noticed.  Just sit down.  It’s ok.  We all make mistakes and you can still keep playing, just do it sitting down.  I promise your neighbor is going to know you missed a note because they hear it, so don’t make them think you’re not honest.  I’d much rather have someone know I missed a note than think I don’t play by the honor system.

When I get really worried is not if most of the class messes up and sits down.  I get worried when someone misses a note and DOESN’T sit down.  That tells me that not only are they missing the note, they don’t even know they are missing it.  And that’s so much worse because then they are really confused.  If you miss it and sit down then I know you understand and probably won’t miss it again.  If you miss it and stay standing we’re in really big trouble!

(After the first round, the first time we play it I might ask the following)
Ok – everyone sit down (say this quickly so the kids that are sitting don’t feel embarrassed.) Thank you to those of you that sat down.  I know I can trust you to be honest and it helps me know what we need to work on more.  (I don’t really praise the people left standing at the beginning – later in the year, yes.  Once they get used to the game.  At the beginning I praise honesty and that they knew they made a mistake.)  Now, how many of you that made a mistake know what you missed?  How many think you could fix it if we try again?  Alright, let’s play again – everyone up.  (Then we play again. Judging on the reaction of the class you can decide if you should play multiple rounds and get to a winner or not.  Sometimes it’s better not to, but sometimes it’s nice to get to a winner because that means everyone else sat down and the people that sat down first don’t feel bad.  Totally depends on your teaching style and your class personalities.)

I give a short version of this speech every time we play until I’m sure the kids see it as fun and exciting and not stressful or embarrassing.  Later in the year (spring) I might even give prizes to the top few people left, but at first you want it to be a low key, fun ‘evaluation’ type game.

How Picky Should You Be?
You can choose how picky you want the students to be.  In brass class at the beginning of the year, you may tell them that a slightly cracked pitch is ok, but as the year goes on you tell them they must drop out if the crack a pitch even slightly.  It can be based on what your teaching objective is.

Advanced Band Option –
Especially if these students played this game in beginner band, they can handle a longer version.  Maybe there are 6 major scales you play through every day.  You can have them play through all 6 scales with 4 beats rest in between.  At the beginning of the year you can have them sit down after their 3rd mistake, a few weeks later, after their second mistake, a few weeks later have them sit after their first mistake.  If you do this, be sure you do the standing/sitting so students that drop out early are still getting the repetition of playing the scales all the way through and aren’t just sitting waiting for the end of the game.

Benefits of Band Drop Out Contests

  • Instant motivation –  If you say “Let’s play that line 2 more times and then we’ll play band drop out,” the level of engagement and concentration in the room will immediately increase.
  • Change of Pace –  Since you have the students stand gives the kids a chance to stretch and move when standing up and sitting down.
  • Standing Practice – Most instruments should perform standing up in situations like solo contest, yet in band they sit 95% of the time.  Playing drop out (with beginners or advanced band) is a great chance for them to see what it is like to play standing up.
  • Performance Practice – This game gives kids a little bit of a feel for what the adrenaline that hits during performance feels like.  That can come in handy when they are performing in a concert, audition, or solo contest.  They will know what ‘nerves’ feel like and be able to perform anyway.
  • Teacher Evaluation – You are able to quickly evaluate what percentage of your class is getting it correct.  You can also evaluate which measure is the problem (if you don’t already know.) You can then do a new drop out contest just on that one measure.  Also – and this is critical – you know what percentage are still missing it even when they are concentrating 100%.  If they miss it during the contest, they are really unable to play/count it correctly.  You can eliminate lack of focus as a possibility.

Band director Resources

Related Reading:
Teaching Beginning Band with Games – Jeopardy
Note Name ‘Video’ Game that Teaches, Reviews, and Assesses 

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