Contagious Engagement in Band

Ok, so this is a little off the wall. This article was inspired by a book that is not your normal “band director” book. The book had nothing to do with music. Nothing to do with teaching. This is a behavioral economics book based on scientific studies of why things ‘go viral.’

But SO many parts of it relate to teaching band, that I had to share it with you!

Click on this link to order a copy. When we posted this it was on sale for under $10!

In Contagious, Berger reveals the secret science behind word-of-mouth and social influence. This book provides a set of specific, actionable techniques for helping spread your product, services or ideas like crazy.

So, how does this apply to band? Ever heard of recruitment? Retention? We want students (and parents) to be excited about band. We want our program and a love of music to “catch on.”

Here’s a brief book overview and just a few of the many, many ways the ideas can be transferred to band class. I highly recommend you read the full book (I listened to it on audio while on a car trip). The links for the book and a free audio book for new Audible listeners are at the end.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On
by Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School and expert on word of mouth, viral marketing, social influence, and trends.

Why do products, ideas and behaviors catch on?

Social Currency 
– How does it make people look to talk about it?
– We share things that make us look good. *
– Make people feel like insiders. *

– How do we remind people to talk about things?
– Top of mind = Tip of tongue

– When we care, we share.
– Focus on feelings.

– Can people see when others are using our product?
– Built to show, built to grow
– How can you make the private, public? **

Practical Value
– People like to help others.
– News you can use

– What broader narrative can we wrap our ideas in?
– Information travels under the guise of idle chatter.

This book might give you hundreds of ideas that relate to band, but let me share just a few:

* With regard to social currency, this relates to both the students in your program and their parents. What people talk about also affects what people think of them. So you want people to feel that ‘talking about band makes them look good.’ This is for student-to-student and parent-to-parent (and, also crucial, parent-to-future-band-parent.)

Social currency for students

  • Have a band party coming up? Even if the band kids know about it, go ahead and announce it on the school announcements – the other kids may wish they were in band and could go as well.
  • Did you have kids make the region band? Get the names (and pictures!) in the school newsletter/emails/announcements and post in the hallways for all students to see.
  • Do you have a high school concert coming up? Get your middle schoolers there. Take a bus, email parents, offer extra credit, offer cookies – whatever you need to do. Make those younger kids feel like they are part of a group of cool older kids and get them looking forward to being an ‘insider’ in band for years to come.
  • Invite some of your great upperclassmen to come talk to your beginners about all the fun things band kids get to do (that no one else gets to do.) Pick kids that will relate to the younger kids, be engaging and speak confidently.

Social currency for parents

  • For parents, share successes of the program at concerts, parent nights and on social media. If possible send home newsletters with individual as well as group accomplishments.
  • Parents LOVE to brag about their kids on social media. If you post pictures of their kids at a band concert or region concert, parents are sure to share! Fellow community members will see that, and hopefully, parents of future students will want their kids to be a part of the band.
  • Try to have a band booster or similar group that the parents feel a part of. If parents are big band supporters and are friends with other band parents, they are more likely to encourage their kids to stay in band through disappointments or tough times.
  • Educate band parents about the benefits of band. Parents love helping each other make good choices for their kids. (‘Practical value” – listed above.) Be sure that your band parents have the information to be advocates for you in the community. Share the most current research about benefits of music. Share stats from your specific school about how band students are successful in many areas of school and life. Share all the things students learn besides music. Point out the many musical experiences that their children will remember for life. Be sure your parents feel comfortable promoting band when the topic comes up among their friends.

**How can you make the private, public? We spend all day, every day helping students do amazing things. When they go home and parents ask what they did that day, what do they probably say?
If pressed, “What did you do in band today?”
They probably say, “Played.”


This is where social media can be a huge help to you. You can make your classroom and all the awesome things you do public! Be sure you know your district policies and stay within them, but within those restrictions, post as much as you can! Share photos of kids that play off a scale on Twitter or Instagram. Video your trumpet class playing hot crossed buns. Email it to parents or share on Facebook. Live stream your pep-rallies and concerts on Facebook. Invite parents in for a Demonstration Day. Record student performances for them on their OWN devices so they can go home and share with parents or friends.

Share. Share. Share.

If it’s overwhelming for you to remember, consider appointing a couple responsible students to be your Public Relations Assistants. Allow them to quietly get up once or twice a week and video/take pictures with a school device. Then all you have to do is send it out. If that’s still too much, appoint a Communications Assistant that can come in twice a week and help share on social media (with your careful and constant supervision). Sometimes schools will share on their own social media accounts as well, so when there’s something especially fun/different consider forwarding it to a principal.

Also, it doesn’t always need to be playing. Teach your kids the Key Chant and have them perform it. Record counting, scales and other fundamentals. Play the Rhythm Envelope Game with them. Play the Measure Mix-up Game. Have a Drop-out Contest and video it to show the excitement. Have a Performance Day and record the student’s performances on their own devices.

If you need help getting your program started on social media, check out this series – Social Media for Your Ensembles.

This podcast (Making your class Contagious) goes into detail about many of these ideas and how to make your class contagious. It also discusses “Triggers” in more detail.

If you’re interested in more information, I highly recommend you purchase the book to read soon!

Click on the book for more information. The audiobook is great as well. (I actually read it and then listened to it again on a road trip!) This 30-day free trial you get 2 free audio books! BandDirectorsTalkShop is an Amazon/Audible affiliate.  When you purchase through a link from this site a small percentage is returned to us to help us maintain and improve our site.  We appreciate the support!

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Related Reading
Teaching with Poverty In Mind
5 Things You Should Say to Your Band
Five Minute Drill – Fun Classroom Routines for Percussion

Learn. Share. Inspire.



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