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Elementary Teaching Techniques (updated 1/6/02)

Band directors tend to talk too much and give information that young children will readily forget. The more kids play and the less you talk, the better. Try some of these ideas:

**new realization of mine: The way to get that beautiful sound out of your band is to play chorales every day in warmup, and use them to work air, balance, blend, and tone.  I know this seems simple, and you learned it in college, but it really makes a difference when you take the time to do it every day starting at the beginning of the year.

1. Teach dynamics this way:   p = soft   m = medium   f = loud

    Ask them what mf, mp, pp and ff mean based on that information.

update: this still works for me.

2. Teach rhythm this way instead of the boring 1-and-2-e-and-a stuff:

    quarter note = pie
    half note = pie-ie (in rhythm)
    two eighth notes = ap-ple
    four sixteenth notes = wa-ter-me-lon
    eighth and two sixteenths = pine-ap-ple
    two sixteenths and an eighth = co-co-nut
    dotted quarter and eighth = (my coun-try) "'tis of" (thee)
    dotted eighth and sixteenth = (here) "comes the" (bride)  OR  "shut the" (door)--when followed by quarter note

    kids love it!

   Update: This director has found better success by delaying starting beginners a couple of weeks to spend time teaching them to count using numbers and subdivisions.  I found the most important area of counting is making sure they know where the upbeats fit.  I have them pulse long notes and whisper rests, subdividing with the word "and" on the upbeats.  We start playing later, but they move through the book more quickly because they understand the fundamentals of reading.  I started my recorder class on the same thing, since there is no rush anyway to get them to play their first notes.  I still use the fun syllables like above, but just in cases where I have to teach rhythms beyond their level or if they are having extra difficulty understanding the placement of beats, like with dotted eighth and sixteenth.  Furthermore, I spend a major time at the beginning of the year on tone production and breathing.  Again, it delays progress in the book, but I enjoy the fuller, more mature beginner sound that happens by Christmas time by taking my time in this area.

3. To teach breathing:

    Lie on your back on the floor, put a book on your belly, and breathe, maling the book rise and fall.

     Have them lean forward in their chair, chest touching knees and arma dangling at sides so that knuckles touch the floor. Then have them breathe to see what it feels like.

     Have them silently "yawn" in to draw a big belly breath with an open throat.

 Have them hold up three fingers (boy scout salute), then put them sideways between their teeth to hold their mouth open. Have them take a deep breath to feel what an open throat feels like.

     New info: Having them either "hiss" or "sizzle" on the sound "sssssss"while executing the rhythms of the music gets them to tighten their abs and diaphragm and support the sound.  Blowing through coffee straws with a lot of air helps this too.

4. Young kids especially need structure. Have a daily warm up routine. You can write out some simple exercises and rhythm pattens for daily use. I would keep it all unison, then end with a harmonized I-IV-V-I progression to work on balancing and blending on a simple level.  I have not found a warm up published that I like, so I write my own.  If you cannot afford premium music writing software, go to and search for "Noteworthy Composer".  I like to use long tones then rhythmic exercises on the Bb scale notes for beginners.  For advanced students, I use chromatic long tones, lip slurs, rhythm studies on a simple scale, scales and arpeggios, and finally a chorale or two.  It is a well-spent 10 minutes a day.

5. As early as possible, have them start MEMORIZING scales. The first year of band I teach 3 or 4 scales (I've started band in 5th and 6th grades). I do one daily for a few weeks (once they know enough notes), then I give them a test from memory. I make every kid who misses it retest until everyone gets it. Then I go on to a new scale, but continue playing the previous scales daily. I know, but all that CAN be done--I have worked with as little as a 30 minute band period, and sometimes it takes 2 days to test my larger classes (occasionally I have to finish on a 3rd day!) The results are worth it. The kids read better and have better technique when they memorize scales. I would have it no other way.

6. Force your percussionists to learn melodics first. Let them know it is coming before they agree to play percussion. Ability to play melodic percussion will keep them busier, which is better for them, you, and the band. Need I say more?

7. Test beginners yourself. I use these basics:

 (a) flute players should have a round opening in the lips when they blow in your face with a "poo" syllable. I discourage them from flute if they cannot produce a fair tone on a flute during tryouts.

(b) clarinet players should have long and large enough fingers to cover the holes and reach the keys.

 (c) Trumpet players need to be able to play a G, and trombone players an F when tried out. I have them say "mmmmm", then have them "buzz" (demonstrate). If it is a large buzz, I put them on trombone. If it is small, I try trumpet.

 (d) I will let a kid blow an instrument, then I will jump up, light up and smile. Then I exclaim, "I can't believe it!" They ask what I mean. I reply, "Did you know that you are a 'natural-born' trombone player!!!! Do you know what a trombone is??!!!" I snatch out a picture and start talking about how cool it is, and how they march at the front of the parade. Anyway, you get the idea. My kids leave excited about their "choice" (that I really made for them), and I get the instrumentation I want, with the right kids on the right instruments.

8. If I am able to teach a "pre-band" class, I spend a lot of time teaching my expectations in band. I let them know that we have lots of fun, but I also let them know that they will be miserable if they do not like these expectations. I teach recorder to them, so that they can see what my band class is like. I demonstrate instruments, talk about band, and spend a lot of time selling kids on trombone. When I get done, about a fourth of the kids are begging for trombone. Those not lucky enough to get trombone can still get a good instrument, though.  New: I now spend major time with pre-band classes on teaching how to count rhythms.  In sightreading, I find students do fine with the notes, and they usually make their errors in the area of rhythm (less familiar key signatures not withstanding, but if you work the scales like I said and relate key signatures to scales, you will solve this problem).

more to come--please visit again!

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