Band Directing – Lessons from Almost a Half-Century of Teaching

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post – the intro and first 8 lessons can be found here!

9. Remember that your class may not be the most important thing in your students’ lives on a particular day. Keep things in rational perspective. Your rehearsal room should be inviting and safe. The question to ask yourself at the end of the day is: “Would I have wanted to spend an entire class period with me?”

10. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It is vital for you to be as human and humane as you can be to your students. You can and will make mistakes, so admit them, laugh at them, you can even point them out. Your students and their parents will admire and respect your pursuit of perfection, but they will like and love you when they see you are truly no more perfect than they are.

11. Never give up on your students. My band director, Mr. McEntyre, told me the story of Mike Barry. As a seventh grader, Mike was last chair cornet in beginning band, arguably the worst player in the entire group, and he remained last chair throughout that and the following year. It would have been easy for Mr. McEntyre to give up on Mike and concentrate on the other 124 beginners who demonstrated more promise. But he didn’t. As a result of Mr. McEntyre’s continuing support (or prodding), Mike made a decision the summer after he finished eighth grade. He committed to work on learning, really learning his instrument. In ninth grade, he sat first chair and was elected band president. He made All-State in high school, studied music in college, and became a high school and eventually a university band director. What would have happened to Mike (and all the other students) if Mr. McEntyre had given up?

12. Expect more and tolerate less. Student achievement is limited only by your expectations. Teach your students to aim high and to consider themselves capable of great things. And remember, excellence is not the goal you pursue. Excellence results from the consistent pursuit of perfection: Every attack, every release, tone, the way each player blends with the ensemble, and more.

13. Invest time in fundamentals. As Aristotle commented, “It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.” While he wasn’t referring to clarinet embouchures, the statement rings true in music. Clearly, we should invest the time regularly to discuss matching tonal energy, articulation, rhythm, technique, intonation, and more. Yet, we often don’t believe we have the time. Not teaching these things, however, is precisely the reason we don’t believe we have time. If you can’t afford the time to spend 15–20 minutes of rehearsal away from the concert music, then you have over-programmed. It’s that simple.

14. Teach style from the very beginning. I disagree with learning the notes and rhythms first and adding the articulation, dynamics, and phrasing later. Before you begin a section, inform the band. “These notes are detached. The trombones have chords, so they need to play below the melodic line. Give a little accent to the first note of the slur, and don’t forget to lift the last note of the slur to prepare for the upcoming staccato.” Sing it to them demonstrating the style. Have them sing and copy your style.

15. Rehearsals must have a sense of urgency. Have you ever heard someone comment that their testing calendar is why they couldn’t fully prepare? “We just needed a few more rehearsals.” The fact is that the number of rehearsals we have changes from concert to concert and year to year. If you consistently feel as if you needed one more rehearsal, there is a greater issue at hand. We and our students sometimes have a tendency to approach early rehearsals lightly and wait to get serious until the last minute. Don’t let the number of rehearsals you have dictate your band’s productivity. When you start treating every rehearsal like the last rehearsal, you will have the sense of urgency that every great ensemble needs—not frantic or desperate, but purposeful.

Tomorrow we will post the final 3 lessons along with 9 “Lessons Learned” – rules that are a guide for every day. Check back tomorrow!

This is the second of 3 posts that were published as an article by Barbara Lambrecht in the January 2016 Southwestern Musician. It is being republished here with the author’s permission. 

Related Reading:
Things They Don’t Tell You About Being a Band Director
Do Bassoonists Really Need to Use the Resonance Key?
Simple Steps to Teaching Flute Vibrato

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