Small Band Programs: Strategies for Success

So, it’s almost UIL contest time. You have that perfect piece in mind with four horn parts, but your band has only two horns. What will you do since your group can’t cover all of the parts? Will you still be able to pull off that piece?

This, of course, is just one challenge the typical director of a small band faces. In a “bigger is better” world, it can all be a scary experience! Directing smaller groups can be frustrating, but common sense techniques can help your band excel.

One solution for solving uncovered parts is to use some creativity in part assignments. Of course, the melody should always be covered, but that’s the easy part! The small band sound often depends on making sure the other parts are covered correctly.

Carefully choosing which parts to omit can help solve this problem. You might even consider omitting the first part in some sections! For example, in many pieces for concert bands, the Horn 1 part often doubles the Trumpet 3 part. Could your piece be one of them? Having your horns play the Horn 1 and 2 parts but omitting the Horn 3 part may leave out notes that are critical to fill out some chords.

But, there’s that Horn 1 solo in the first section of the piece. How can you leave that out? Consider mixing and matching parts within a section. Does one part not catch everything you need? Grab some scissors and tape and create a new one! Your bright students in your group will be up to the challenge.

And, even in cases where this is not possible, simple fixes to a few notes can go a long way. Just a quick check of the important held chords can help your piece quite a bit, especially that last note! Again, making sure all of the chord notes are appropriately present can help it resonate correctly.

Dr. David Robinson is the Director of Bands at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, with an undergraduate population of approximately 1,000. He holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Wind Conducting from the University of North Texas. His teaching assignments include directing the Marching War Hawks and Wind Ensemble, as well as teaching Instrumental Music Methods.

Dr. Brandon Robinson is the Associate Director of Bands at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He holds the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Music Education from the University of Mississippi. His experience includes directing the WFU Spirit of the Old Gold and Black Marching Band and arranging for small bands across the United States.

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