How to Have a ‘Student Led Band Class’ When You Have a Substitute

We all know that finding band substitutes that know how to teach band (correctly) is a rare thing.  When you know you’re going to be absent for things like convention, contests, festivals, spring trips it’s great if your students can have a student led band class.  However, this does take some preparation. The students need to be used to a disciplined class with a very consistent routine.

You must have an established routine that the kids know by heart. It’s best if the students have been doing the same routine for months (or at least weeks) before your absence. 

Your routine can be whatever you want, but here’s an example of a routine that would be specific enough.  Again, this is a daily routine that the students are used to.

  • Kids know where to sit every day
  • Metronome on standard tempo (Be sure multiple kids know how to work the metronome and any other electronics you use.)
  • Start with counting. Count off a standard counting sheet.
  • Play the same warm-up every day.  If there is solo/soli playing, they should be able to do this without you intervening.
  • Play the same scales at the standard tempo.
  • Play the chromatic at the standard tempo
  • Play out of the book at the standard tempo.  If you have review lines you do daily, they should be routine.
  • Pack up 2 minutes before the bell.

Within the larger routine, you can have smaller routines.

For example:
With scales, maybe you play straight through 6 scales with 4 beats in between.
With the book, maybe it’s that you always count, rest 4 beats, name & finger, rest 4 beats, play.
The less stopping, the better.  The less need for instruction the better.
Your class routine may be different that this, just be sure it’s consistent and the kids know it!

Determine ahead of time who is going to be in charge.  It might be first chair, but it might be someone that is better suited to lead. Or if you’re gone for multiple days you can let different students run different days or different parts. Just be sure it’s clear.

The student who is the “teacher” basically just reminds the class what’s next, starts the metronome and counts them off.  I suggest giving them an “order of class” with the tempos marked.  Even though they may not need it, it serves 3 purposes.

  • Gives them confidence
  • Eliminates the opportunity for argument from other students
  • Shows the substitute that the student is in charge

You can try a run through the day before you’re gone. Have them run class and you just walk around the back. Try not to intervene. Be sure the students running the class can be heard by the students in the back. The last 5-10 minutes you can talk to them about how they did and give any feedback they need.

So what does your substitute lesson plan say?
Something like this:
We hope this is the most fun substitute job you’ve ever had! You get to be an audience member today! You are able to just watch these great kids demonstrate what they know. They will be having their regular class. Believe me, they can do it with their eyes closed! All you need to do today is take roll and deal with any discipline problems that arise.  (We don’t expect any!) Susie is our guest teacher for today. She is a wonderful leader and will completely run the class. She will not need any help from other students or teachers.  She has the class routine written out in case any questions arise. (It is attached so you can follow along as class progresses.) If for some reason Susie is absent, Johnny will run the class.  He is also prepared to lead his peers.  The should not need any intervention from teachers after roll is taken. In the unlikely event that a student is a discipline problem, you may remove him/her from rehearsal so the other students can continue to learn with their regular routine.  (Attach a copy of class routine.)

Read this substitute plan to the students so they know you believe in them and they know you expect them to be amazing. Let them know this is like a performance for the substitute. Tell them you want the substitute to beg to come back.

Now, you know your classes! If they are not able to handle this, don’t set them up to fail. There are lesson plans you can use that can have them continue to learn without playing. Best option is a student led band class that goes great. But if you try to have regular class and end up in the principal’s office Monday morning because of a disaster, it’s not worth it.

Sometimes beginner band classes can handle it, but an advanced band of 60 can not. Also, have a backup plan for individual discipline problems – do they just sit in the back, do they have a theory worksheet, do they write you a paper?

If a student-led band class is not right for some of your classes, we have a lesson plan you can use with middle schoolers (below).  It is based on wonderful TEDed videos with questions to keep them engaged.  They are short, interesting questions that can help them do better in band.  Even if you do prefer to have student led classes, you never know when you might be out unexpectedly or need to have a backup on file.

Here’s the FREE middle school band lesson plan. (Free 4th/5th grade lesson plan is here.) When you request the lesson plan it will sign you up for our weekly newsletter that keeps you up to date on our newest posts and free printables.

Related Reading:
Practice Tips for the Modern Musician
Learning to Play the Flute in Tune
Reach Higher (A Tim Lautzenheiser Activity)

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