Preparing Your Non-Varsity Band for Spring Contest and Beyond

Looking forward to the spring semester the non-varsity band presents many unique challenges. What are your priorities?  Is success at the spring contest your ultimate goal or is there more?  The following points are ones I have used successfully. I have found that they work to get the most out of my ensemble, and help to further develop the individual player.

Having trouble deciding how to prepare your non-varsity band for spring band contest?  This article is for you!  Great advice such as how to choose music, ways to motivate your students to practice, ideas for pass-offs including scale patterns, sight reading, lips slurs, and/or chromatic exercises.  A must read for band teachers, including middle school and high school directors.

“What should we play?” can seem like an all-illusive question. Ask a veteran teacher who has either worked with your group or was able to listen to their fall/winter programs to give you a few suggestions. You, of course, want to challenge them, but make sure that you have selected music within their grasp. Allow them to play more than just the notes on the page. Our goal should be a performance of the music where the students have had a hand in its interpretation. Contest day should not arrive and you are just hoping they get all the notes on the page.

Additional information about selecting music can be found here: General Guidelines or Specific Qualifications.

Do your students know your expectations? Pass-off charts are essential to a successful program for a couple of reasons. They help the student know your expectations and allows for a visual representation of the ensembles proficiency. Assign deadlines, but encourage your students to continue to work to pass off, and adjust the grade in the gradebook as they improve. This system works whether you have them play in person/groups or submit to you via a recording. I recommend 3 achievement levels.

    1. Attempted (Pink Sticker, Grade of 70) – When a student attempts to pass off the music within the given parameters but did not display proficiency.  This also shows basic effort, I would rather a student start here then to see someone never try. This is also useful for when a parent calls with a concern about their child’s grade. When you explain if they just attempt it they automatically get a 70 (or whatever grade you choose), you usually gain a parental support, and see an attempt from that student in the near future.
    2. In Progress (Blue Sticker, Grade of 85) – When a student attempts to pass off and can show a basic understanding of their part. However, there are a few areas that still need their attention in order to be considered passed off.
    3. Passed Off (Green Sticker, Grade of 100) – This is when a student shows a clear understanding of their part and can execute it to your standard.

More information of successful pass-offs here.

More than just the Music 
It is easy to become singularly focused as contest season arrives on just the music.  Take a step back in looking at your program selections and select a few other fundamentals that will help in the music preparation but will also serve the individual well in their development as a player.  Consider having the students work on scale patterns, sight reading, lips slurs, and/or chromatic exercises.  Don’t overly saturate with pass-offs as this can become counter productive to your cause and be overwhelming to your students.

My hope for the students at the end of the spring semester is that not only have they received validation at their spring contest for all their hard work but that they have developed into a more mature musician. Above all remember to ask those teachers that you respect what they do; no great teacher figured it all out on their own.  Learn to love the process not just the result.

Adam Davis is in his 10th year as a music educator and his 4th in Prosper ISD. Mr. Davis has worked with students from 6-12 grades in the great communities of Belton, and Forney ISD. While in Forney Mr. Davis served as the Director of Bands at Warren Middle School. In his time there, the program grew from 90 students to that of nearly 200. The Honors Band achieved great success not only earning consistent Superior Ratings at UIL, but also national recognition, placing as a Commended Winner in the National Wind Band Honors Project. Mr. Davis is a graduate of the University of North Texas trombone studio with a degree in Instrumental Music Studies. 

Woodwind Instrument Resources for Band Directors and Private Lesson TeachersRelated Reading:
Teach Style First
Taming the Beast – The Middle School Non-Varsity Band
Learning to Play the Flute in Tune
3 Quick Ways to Check Your Percussionist’s Grip from the Podium

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