ONE Thing That Improved Student Performance in Band (well, really 64 things…)

In our summer survey, we asked Band Directors Talk Shop readers “What is one thing you did last year that directly lead to improved student learning/performance?” With over 300 responses to the survey, we came up with these 64 things in these 11 categories that give you a variety of ideas to think about for your own program.

Thanks so much to all of our readers who took time to fill out the survey. We’ll be posting more Readers’ Collaborative Articles in the future!

Individual Accountability

  • Brought back scale tests
  • “Around the room” and “down the line”
  • Guided practice worksheets for homework instead of practice reports
  • Hearing every student play something every day
  • On-line recorded playing assessments
  • Pass off challenges
  • Solo & ensemble festivals
  • Shorter, more focused assessments

Ensemble Accountability

  • Our program performed at our State Conference for the first time.
  • Offered more small ensemble performance opportunities
  • Had the students write a letter to a future band student about what the festival experience is like overall and what they wished they would have done better during the performance.
  • Performing more
  • Post-concert self-evaluations

Goal Setting/Practicing with Objectives

  • Adjusting parts and fitting expectations to individual students to the degree possible.
  • Finally succumbed to learning targets on board for everything. I had to admit to my principal that they work!
  • Guided sectionals during class time – I split them into different rooms and went to visit each room to guide them help on different parts of a hard piece we were doing for festival. Each section got several chunks to work on that day and they needed to accomplish them together for the next full rehearsal.
  • One-on-one conference with each kid. I’m the only teacher, so this was difficult and time consuming, but well with the investment.
  • Upped the standard and made them stretch to reach the goals.
  • Did a better job of lesson planning and blocking out the entire year. Kids can move faster than I think if I’m ready to move that fast.
  • Individualized learning goals for each student.

Talk Less, Play More

  • 10 seconds or less of speaking for every minute playing.
  • Played more talked less. Students figure things out when the play more.
  • Stopped talking

Student Leadership

  • Student leadership helping to maintain behavior in high school band. Much less time spent on behavior issues.
  • Students set weekly goals and posted them for their peers to see. Kept them honest/ on-track.
  • We started every day with some type of student-led rhythm reading activity.
  • Worked on changing the 27-year habit if saying “I want…” Gives the students the responsibility for their improvement.
  • OK trumpets, you see a F# in the key signature what does that mean? Yes, 2nd finger for all the F’s but also 2nd finger for the B’s because it is a B natural. It doesn’t always have to be the section leader reminding you. Anyone can just lean forward, press down your second valve, and just say “Don’t forget, guys.” Worked great and often it was a player playing a second part that took the initiative.
  • Peer-led tutoring
  • I made sure in every rehearsal that I ask my students what they need help with, what questions do they have, what do they want to work on? When they are given more responsibility in the rehearsal process they take more pride in the outcome.
  • Gave every student a post-it note. Adding their name was optional. They had to write 3 things they think was going well in band and 3 things that need to be improved. Could write about themselves, me (the teacher) or the band as a whole.


  • More tuners and metronomes in class
  • Offered more extra help in my free time (before school) Used Sign-up Genius and emailed parents directly to have them set up appointments. The site automatically emails a reminder. Fewer canceled appointments and more successful kids.
  • Reinforcement videos that I made of material covered in class then posted to our Google Classroom
  • Tonal energy app
  • Switched from practice logs to recorded playing tests
  • Used the Harmony Director (keyboard) and played more recordings of good bands


  • I set up “houses” (red, black, blue, green) and students would fight to answer questions to earn their house points.
  • Used motivational/inspirational sayings
  • Used hashtag phrases
  • Using quotes and applying them to learning an instrument, then applying the same work ethic to academics, sports or any activities to improve themselves

Rehearsal Techniques

  • Making my own exercise pieces for my concert music. Everyone gets to play all parts to better understand what to listen to and how to match style
  • Gave the freshmen band a consistent tuning routine
  • Got off the podium
  • Grew/shrunk with the dynamics
  • I got off the podium and sat in my students’ ensemble. It forced them to listen collectively

Getting Help

  • Brought in guest clinicians to work with instruments
  • Found private teachers for some of my students
  • Inviting others to work with my band while I listened and took notes

Focus on Fundamentals

  • Focused on improving the quality of tone. This lead to better blend and balance in the large ensembles
  • Focused on watching the conductor
  • Focused rhythmic training
  • More breathing exercises and long tones as part of warmup. Tone and intonation both improved greatly as a result
  • More extensive time on warm-ups
  • Scales
  • Used rhythm charts from Teaching Rhythm Logically.
  • Taught rhythm directly, even to my senior/advanced students. Also, took an entire week to teach intonation to my middle schoolers.
  • The gospel according to Concert F. From Day 1, we did not proceed until Concert F (first sound of every rehearsal) sounded great (tone, breath support, balance, tuning, etc.) I hardly mentioned intonation in the spring.
  • When learning a new song in the method book, count rhythms, clap rhythms, say/finger notes, sizzle/finger notes, play notes.
  • Worked a lot on breath support to improve dynamics, phrasing, and expression
  • Focus on fundamentals. Every single day.


  • I cared. Third band director in as many years.  They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • Fix problems right away, don’t wait.
  • I treated the students as if they were my own children. I guided them, lovingly, to become better versions of themselves.









Related Reading:
9 Things To Say Instead of “That’s Hard”
Band Performance Day
Setting Goals and Achieving Objectives

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