Teaching a 90-minute middle school band class can seem daunting, especially if you have never done it before. It can be particularly overwhelming with beginners since they know how to do very little at the beginning of the year! Breaking up the class with different types of activities can help students stay engaged and prevent the class from moving too slowly.
1. Write the Schedule on the Board
Providing a visible agenda will help students keep track of where you are in the class and how many activities you still have to go. You can even put a check mark next to each item as you complete it.
2. Break It Up!
Playing for 90 minutes can be physically challenging for students, especially early in the year. Break the class into smaller chunks, alternating between playing and non-playing activities (such as counting rhythms, naming notes, etc.) These types of activities can also be done when combining with other beginner classes that meet at the same time.
3. Move Students Around the Room
Moving students to a different physical space can help break up the monotony of sitting in one spot for 90 minutes. Have students switch rows, sit by a friend, sit in a circle, or even on the floor. I have students sit on the floor at the beginning of the year when we are doing non-playing activities such as learning to put our instruments together or organizing our reeds. I also have them sit on the floor when we do activities at the board (note naming, rhythm counting, etc.)
Showing videos of professionals playing their instrument provide a great visual and aural model for students. Obviously, YouTube is a great resource. If you don’t know which artists to showcase, consult colleagues who play that instrument and ask for recommendations. Military band websites are another great resource. (BandDirectorsTalkShop.com has a recommended list of Woodwinds and Brass resources)
I put my students in groups of two or three and give them a small assignment to work on for about 20 minutes. This could be a line out of the beginning band book or a chunk of concert music at the end of the year. Split the groups up among practice rooms, other classrooms, or even storage rooms! I walk between the groups and make sure they are staying on task and provide help if needed. At the end of the 20 minutes, we perform for each other.
Kids love using technology and it can be very easy to incorporate into your class time. I project the Tonal Energy app onto the whiteboard and we take turns playing on the small parts of our instrument (head joint, mouthpiece, etc) to see if we can match the correct pitch. I project www.musictheory.net on to the whiteboard and use it for note naming activities. (More info on MusicTheory.net can be found HERE.) I also use Smart Music in a variety of ways. Sometimes I project a line from the beginner band book on the board and we break down the exercise. For example, “Who can come to the board and point at the time signature?” or, “Who would like to come to the board and circle all of the dotted quarter notes?” Once we have learned the exercise, I record the class playing it and then play it back to them.
Suzanne Glaser is an assistant band director at Clint Small Middle School in Austin, TX. She is currently in her 11th year of teaching and is a woodwind specialist. She holds a Master’s degree in music education from Indiana University and a Bachelor’s degree in music education from Central Michigan University.
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