The first four weeks of beginning band (or orchestra) are a pivotal time to develop relationships, expectations, and lay the ground work for a successful start to playing, creating, and performing. When I think about this month, three areas I focus on are creating music and sound immediately, building a collaborative atmosphere, and giving students tools they can apply when they begin playing.
The first days of school can become monotonous as students attend class after class learning new syllabi and classroom procedures. While developing classroom procedures is, of course, important in a music classroom, I like to get students making music immediately. Start by teaching basic rhythm: whole notes, half notes, quarter notes. I write these rhythmic combinations on large flash cards and rotate through them at the beginning and end of class. It is an effective “bell ringer” and also a great way to take advantage of even the last minute of class. Students can practice clapping and counting with a metronome, or spice it up by playing a popular song with a regular tempo and meter in the background to act as a more enjoyable metronome.
Once students are assigned sections, building relationships can establish a community that will foster growth once the playing begins. I incorporate numerous activities including human knots, name games, and more. One game starts with students standing in a circle and tossing a ball of yarn to each other until it forms a net connecting every student. As you throw the yarn, students can practice names or share an exciting event from the summer. Once everyone is connected with the yarn it serves as a great metaphor for an ensemble. If one or two members of the band drop their yarn, other members have to pull back to tighten the web, carrying the weight of their colleagues. Countless team building exercises exist and most exhibit some parallel to the rehearsal or ensemble situation.
In a heterogeneous band classroom, the first day of playing can, and will, be madness. The days leading up to it are packed with tips that I give in hopes that most of the students will be able to recall them when we begin playing. I have always found it incredibly helpful to break students into sections and have them read and take notes on the first pages of their method books that cover details such as instrument care, assembly, posture, and formation of the embouchure. Then students collaborate to give a presentation to the band about their instrument. During their presentation to the class, I step in with helpful tips (i.e. correctly attaching a reed, lining up bridge keys, steps to holding the trombone) and correct misunderstandings. On the first day of playing, students already have many of the basic skills needed to get started, which means you start making music sooner.
Knowing your students, anticipating struggles, and front-loading information will enable a successful start for your beginners. Consider what you want your students to know and be able to do in December or May, and plan backward all the way to their first day. With an organized plan tailored to you and your students, a successful first four weeks and year will be inevitable!
Be sure you download this EXTENSIVE handout with tons of great information!
Midwest Clinic Handout and Resources 12.22.2017
Kelley Gossler is currently the Director of Bands at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago Public Schools. She previously taught for four years at Westinghouse College Prep in CPS where she established the instrumental music program. While at Westinghouse, she was the recipient of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Grant and Ted Oppenheimer Teacher Incentive Grants. She is currently a member of the Northshore Concert Band where she plays clarinet. Kelley earned her master’s of music in wind conducting at Northwestern University and bachelor’s of music education at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
If you would like to receive our weekly newsletter, sign up here.
Don’t forget to like us on Facebook too!
Learn. Share. Inspire.