Advice for Teaching Small Concert Bands – Readers’ Collaborative Post
In our recent survey, we asked Band Directors Talk Shop readers, “If you’ve had the experience, what are some challenges and/or advice for teaching (and adapting to) small concert bands?” With hundreds of responses to the survey, we came up with this categorized list of your answers. Thanks so much to all of our readers who took time to fill out the survey. Keep an eye out for more Readers’ Collaborative Posts in the future!
What are some challenges and/or advice for teaching small concert bands?
Choose the Right Music
- Choose your music appropriately – don’t pick music that requires 10 trumpets if you only have 2.
- Don’t overshoot on literature. Playing something on an easier level but doing it well gives the students a lot more confidence than playing something more difficult and being unsuccessful in preparation.
- Pick music that makes your small band SOUND GOOD. Exposed parts are usually not the best choice unless you have some REALLY great players who can weave rhythms and count independently.
- Select music that brings out your group’s strengths while still challenging them for growth.
Treat Your Band the Right Way
- Don’t try to have them play like your college groups. Meet them where they are and grow them.
- Don’t treat them like they are small, and meet them at their level.
- Give your kids the chance to be successful. They’ll feel great about playing something well, the difficulty level does not matter.
- Hold them to similar standards – expect the same quality of sound, just don’t expect the same quantity of sound
- Every student must contribute at a high level which means that you MUST teach every student to play to the best of their ability. The cool thing about that is that you get to know all of your students well. Teaching with bigger programs and staff means that you lose that personal connection with your entire program.
- You must teach every student. Don’t allow the entire group to be held back for one student. Instead, teach your ensemble members to be good peer mentors and models…and even better, supportive encouragers.
- Think outside the box– rewrite parts if you have to so that your students sound the best they can.
- Know enough theory to be able to arrange your music so all parts are covered. Don’t be afraid to rewrite the music from instruments you don’t have to instruments you do have.
- Challenge: instrumentation is lacking or unbalanced in the sections. Solution: arrange band music to fit your group’s needs. As long as the SATB is present, most grade 0.5-1.5 will work across your group. Use Finale or like program to create professional looking music without taking away from the composer’s intent. In this day and age of flex-band arrangements, it is possible to contact the composer on Facebook and ask questions.
- If you have only one of a particular instrument in your ensemble (e.g. clarinet, alto sax, etc.) and there are two or three parts for that instrument, don’t assume that you should always give them 1st – it may double quite a bit with another instrument you already have and the 2nd or 3rd part may be a better option.
- Don’t be afraid to use flex arrangements, or rewrite to suit the ensemble. It’s about working with who you have, not making a square peg fit in a round hole.
- Flex arrangements! Knowing that with Covid, everyone has struggled and it’s OK to play music that isn’t the highest grade or complexity.
- Challenge: preparing for an absence of the only student that plays that instrument (emergency tips for a concert, festival, or other performance).
- Not having a strong bottom of the chord, so my advice is to play piano for the bass line in rehearsals. Write out the tuba line on timpani.
- Everybody has to listen. Each part has to relate to what everybody else is contributing.
- Only teach 4 instruments in heterogeneous beginning classes.
- You have to be able to roll with whatever comes your way.
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