DO Sweat the Small Stuff: Full Band Ensemble Tips

DO Sweat the Small Stuff: Full Band Ensemble Tips

As we all know, no band program is the same. We must adapt to our own school district and what our district provides. Some districts have full band class from day one, and others have like instrument classes. No matter what your situation is, make sure to spend time sweating the small stuff. It is the small things that help band programs to be successful.  

full band ensemble tips

  1. Count
    • Utilize rhythm packets – whatever they are
    • Utilize a counting system
    • Get all the other band teachers in your school (and district if possible!) on the same counting system
  2. Posture
    • The first thing we teach students is posture, you must be on top of the students constantly! It will pay off in the end.
  3. Pencils
    • MAKE IT MANDATORY! Have every student hold their pencil up at the beginning of the class. This is so easy to “let slide” but it will make a HUGE difference in your rehearsal if you do not let it slide!
    • I have a timer on our smartboard and when the timer goes off, students must be in their seats with their pencil raised to get full credit for participation.

      Time's up clock

      Use a timer!

  4. Count
    • Yes, I know I mentioned this already but I cannot stress it enough. Have your students count out loud and count often!
  5.  Warm-ups
    • Have your warm-up match your rehearsal. If you are starting a piece in Db, warm-up in Db.
    • Create warm-ups, do rhythm packets, 3rds, scales, rounds, concentration exercises in these keys.
    • What’s the concentration Exercise? Pick a Scale to play, and then have students play and hold the first note of the scale until you cut them off, students then play and hold the first note again until you conduct the next note when they will then move to the second note in the scale; continue to repeat starting at the bottom of the scale and adding an additional note on top. The goal is to change the speed of the exercise to have students concentrate and watch the conductor!
  6. The “Problem Note”
    • With the same ideas in mind as the warm-ups, the faster students can relate scales with key signatures in pieces, the easier it will be for them to understand what the pieces “problem note” is.
    • Have students identify in a piece the note they are most likely to mess up. Our students write this note on the top of their music as a reminder. It might seem redundant or a crutch but these additional steps really help, especially with younger students.

      Band Music

      Identify the Problem Note

  7.  Scales
    • Have students memorize scales. For years, I did not focus enough on scales. Students should memorize scales early.
    • As students are memorizing scales, they can begin to understand that in Flat scales the 4th note is always flat, and in Sharp scales, the 7th note is always sharp. This will help them additionally to recognize the “problem notes” in their pieces.
  8. Additional “small stuff” tips
    • Invest in mirrors – Check out your local dollar store. You don’t need locker mirrors, although these work great. Check out handheld cosmetic mirrors too.
    • For beginners: have students memorize note names for the first octave of their scale before even playing and have them make their OWN index cards (do not create it for them)
      1. If you are not in a situation where you have individual instrument classes, utilize flipped classroom videos to have students create their own index cards at home. Here is an example: Example
      2. Students learn by doing, which is why practice is so important. If students have to create their own index cards they will understand and learn the information quicker.
    • Invest in TAPE – LOTS and LOTS of tape! (It doesn’t always look pretty but it helps a lot!)
      1. Tape and painters tape can be utilized for almost all instruments
        • Flute players fingers – Roll tape up (as if you are hanging a piece of paper on the wall) and place it on the top of each of the keys their fingers should sit on – have students place their fingers on top of the tape to keep their fingers hovering over keys.  See more flute hacks here and here.
        • Clarinet Players – Utilize the same method as flute players for the clarinet pinky keys! (Call these the “home keys” so students fingers stay over them always) See more clarinet hacks here and here.

          Using tape on clarinet

          Clarinet Tape

        • Valve brass instruments
          1. Same as flute for helping to keep students fingers on the valves or on top of the pinky rest for trumpet players
          2. Trombone: place a piece of tape at the bottom of the trombone slide for students to keep their fingers at the bottom of the slide
          3. French horn: place a piece of painter’s tape inside the bell where the student’s hand belongs

            Using tape for beginner trumpet

            Valve Instrument Tape

Meghan Cabral teaches middle school band and works in Carmel, NY. Meghan is a Grammy Nominated Semi-Finalist, has written for many music publications including The Instrumentalist Magazine, NAfME’s Teaching Music, MEJ, NYSBDA’s Band Stand, as well as NYSSMA’s School Music News. Meghan is an active guest conductor as well as clinician for music departments and at state conferences. You can follow Meghan on twitter @band_mcabral, or Instagram @band_cabral or contact her at  To find out more information about Meghan visit her website, or check out her new publication, “A New Band Approach,” which includes flipped classroom videos ready for day 1 of beginning band as well as more advanced flipped learning at


brass instrument resources

Related Reading:
Small Band Programs: Strategies for Suggest
Contagious Engagement in Band
Reboot Camp: Setting Your Small Band Up for Big Success

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