Category Archives: Concert Band

Playing Melodically: A Different Approach to Teaching Phrasing

By Todd Stalter

During my first semester in college, my studio teacher gave me what seemed like an insurmountable amount of technical studies to prepare for every lesson which, frankly, I enjoyed in a perverse sort of way—being able to play rings around everybody else was certainly on my mind as an ambitious freshman trumpet player (as if that was all there was to it).  During second semester, however, he tacked on some simple melodies in the back of the Arban Method for each lesson as well, saying, “I think it’s about time you learned how to play a melody.”  Of course, I thought I already did…boy, was I in for an education.  Thanks to him, I was initiated into my first truly detailed study of music.

One of the most important concepts we try to teach our ensembles is to play with good phrasing, but we often become frustrated when we don’t hear our groups playing phrases consistently.  I believe that part of the reason for this can be traced to our students’ first experiences with full ensemble music. They may be unconsciously making a distinction between that music and the material in their lesson books, which is naturally almost 100% melodic in focus.  You can’t really blame them; it’s hard to convince a young trombone player playing whole and half notes all day long, or alto sax and French horn players with an awkward middle voice part that sounds weird, that they actually have a melody of any kind.  And, to be honest, if we’re not careful, we directors can relegate phrasing pretty far down our priority list when rehearsing (guilty as charged).  After a few years of playing Grades 1 to 2.5 ensemble music with little or no attention to melodic playing, it becomes even harder to get good musical phrases out of them when they are in an ensemble capable of playing Grade 3 music and above.

We all know that for an ensemble player of any age, playing a good phrase requires knowing what the melody actually is, who plays it, and how their part relates to it.  I think too many directors get caught in the “melody vs. non-melody” trap while teaching phrasing, and are in fact unwittingly telling their students that when their part is not the melody, they should play “non-melodically,” which is exactly the opposite of what creates good phrasing in the first place.  I believe part of the answer to effectively teaching phrasing lies in convincing EVERYONE that their parts are melodic. Realizing that sometimes they may have the “primary” melody, a “secondary” melody, or even a “background” melody of some sort helps them find their place in the musical texture.  Using this approach, every member of the ensemble is focused on melodic playing, and is instinctively trying to phrase it musically, which gives the director something audible to work with, as in “Hey trombones, did you hear how the euphoniums played the part you share?  That’s how I want you to phrase it.”

Not only does this approach foster better individual and ensemble musicianship, but it teaches students to be more creative musicians and “think it” before they play it, which is a far more gratifying artistic result for both the director and their students.

Back to School, Back to Basics!

By Chris M. Bernotas
Sound Innovations Authorbernotas

I am a firm believer of reinforcing the fundamentals of music every day, all year, not just at the beginning of the school year. However, let’s face it, many of our students have taken the meaning of SUMMER BREAK to heart and likely have not played as much as we all would have preferred in the past two months or so. As teachers, we have the wonderful benefit of hitting the ‘reset’ button with the beginning of each school year. We can truly start fresh while continuing with last school year’s successes. Our sights can be set on what we want to improve in our own teaching as well as setting goals for your band program. Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Intermediate Band is a comprehensive resource that you might wish to consider as you set goals for your band this year.

The ensemble warm-up can be one of the most exciting parts of rehearsal. I know it is for me. During the warm-up I can truly allow my students to take ownership of their learning. Simple warm-up exercises help not only to train students to play as ensemble musicians but they serve to teach students to become self-sufficient decision makers. Let me explain. A teacher can discuss tuning with all the correct ideas and concepts and the band may still play out of tune. Students hear the teacher talking and often understand logically what he or she is saying, but until they experience playing in tune they really do not get it. To me, tuning is as much a feeling as it is measurable with a tuning device. I find it much more enlightening for a student to sense “in-tune-ness” than to be told that they are in tune. This requires experimenting on the part of the student. For a student to match pitch in an exercise like “Passing the Tonic,” he or she needs to truly listen to their note, evaluate or compare it to those of other students, and decide what to do if it is not the same as those around them. That is the exciting part to me; the STUDENT is the one directing their learning. When they experience playing in tune it is much more powerful and memorable because they are the ones that made it happen. Then when they turn to their performance music they can reflect upon that experience and implement the strategies they used in the warm-up as they work to achieve a meaningful musical performance. Almost all of the exercises in Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Intermediate Concert Band are similarly dependent upon student growth and understanding.

Flexibility and variety are also quite important when working on the “FUNdamentals.” The exercises in Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Intermediate Concert Band are simple and clear for you to work your magic with. That’s right, YOU will be working the magic. That is the beauty of this book – it is to be used however you see fit. You may decide that your band needs to focus on matching pitch, so you may want to choose a Layered Tuning exercise in the key of the piece you are planning to rehearse. Perhaps you will want students to sing their notes or hum them. Or maybe you will want half of the band to play and the other half to sing. Maybe you would like the woodwinds to play and the brass to buzz on their mouthpieces. It is all up to you and we provide you with many exercises and chorales (412 to be exact) to work with. The variety is also so exciting. These are not copied exercises, you know, written in one key then just transposed to all the others. They are all different, which allows you and your students enough material to choose from to keep the warm-up and focus on fundamentals fresh.

With Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Intermediate Concert Band you will be able to plan a 10-minute warm-up that will be engaging, prepare students for their literature, and seamlessly prepare them to perform their repertoire with a wonderful, musical sound. As well, Sound Innovations for Intermediate Concert Band is now available on SmartMusic, adding the dimension of that wonderful teaching/learning tool. And guess what, I will let you in on a little secret… Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Advanced Concert Band is right around the corner!

If you are already using Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Intermediate Concert Band, let us know how it is working with your program and let us know some of the innovative ways you are using it! We hope you are enjoying the variety of exercises and wonderful chorales by some of your favorite composers. I wish you and your students all the best this school year.

Chris M. Bernotas

Bang Zoom!!

Start your program off with a bang and watch kids get excited about music.

By Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi
There is so much to do in preparation for September and beyond, but just as important as all the organizing and ordering are the ways that we generate enthusiasm and excitement.  So how do we do it? How do we get kids buzzed about band and maintain that excitement all throughout the year? Here are just a few ideas. I’m sure you’ve got many more.

As you browse these eight great ideas, you can use the Mind Map below as a visual reference:
vincemindmap

1. BAND NIGHT OUT. Attend a concert as a band within the first few weeks of school. It’s a great way to kick off the year. There are always exciting performances to attend and good live music will aid in the development of a student’s concept of tone and style. Parents are always willing to help with transportation and other considerations. Plus, they will soon realize just how cool your program is.

2. SNEAK PREVIEWS. Consider inviting other classes, teachers, or parents into the band room for a quick snippet of your next concert. This doesn’t have to be onerous. Just one piece is sufficient or even a section that you are working on. Better yet, simply nab the next person walking past your room. Ask them to come in for a minute and listen. Kids love to perform and sometimes the best progress is made in front of a live audience.

3. OFF SPEED PITCH. As students are entering your room, why not have music playing? The twist is that it can be music that they listen to and not necessarily your musical preference. “Hey Miss, you like this stuff?” is a question you’ll no doubt hear. That’s okay. They’ll think that they have the coolest teacher in the school.

4. VIDEO TESTS (CONTESTS). Have students record their own playing tests. They are much easier to grade. What if they make a mistake and re-record? Great! The more they do that, the more they practice. Isn’t that the point? “But sir, I get nervous when I have to play a test.” My reply is, “Don’t think of it as a test but rather as a contest.” The word contest can imply a game or challenge to achieve a personal best. Athletes do it all the time.

5. BAND CAMP. It would take some preparation during the previous school year so you may want to save this one for next September, but how cool would it be (while the rest of the school is in class, of course) to have the senior band or the entire music department away at camp for a few days? Run sectionals and full rehearsals. It’s a great way to introduce repertoire for the year. Invite guest instructors for master classes and/or to perform with the band. Remember you want to turn kids on so it has to be fun.

6. BEGINNER CAMP. Have just the beginning music students at a mini-camp for one day. Specialists will ensure that concepts get ingrained correctly from the start. Order pizza (band budget) and invite parents to attend a very brief mini-concert (one very easy three-note piece). Briefly outline what your goals are and why home support is so crucial. What a sense of accomplishment your students will feel and what a fantastic sneak preview of the fun they’ll have in your music program!

7. VIDEO CONFERENCE. Set up a videoconference with a composer whose music you’ll be performing this year. It can just be a question and answer session. Forward student generated questions to your guest composer ahead of time. There isn’t a lot of tech setup (laptop, screen, Skype). Schedule a second session later in the year when the band has had time to work on the music. What an invaluable experience and what a great preparation for the actual concert. Plan ahead and this one will reap great benefits.

8. BANDFEST. How about a virtual and/or real band exchange? Two bands from different parts of the country or the world (or even just down the street) could meet via webcam and perform one piece for each other in preparation for an actual trip to each respective city. It’s up to you just how big you want to go.

OTHER IDEAS: 9. Youtube concert report (students critique other bands performing similar repertoire), 10. Senior students mentor juniors, 11. Start an ensemble or two, 12. “Hear and Tell” (students play short recordings for the other students of their favorite band piece/composer and talk about why they like it), 13. Students create a band website or a band blog, 14. Movie day (composers, famous musicians).

All of these activities generate excitement and energy and, most importantly, engender the belief that music is important and fun! Remember to make your classes and rehearsals engaging as well. Your excitement and energy will rub off, so be creative. Tap into your own passion for the music and share it. Start the year off with a bang and it won’t be long before your program will be zooming along!

Incubation Period – Training Beginning Music Instrumental Students on Flute, Oboe, and High Brass

Thomas J. WestThroughout my career as an instrumental music teacher in American public schools, I have had the opportunity to start a lot of students on a new instrument. My approach to starting beginners is typical: I begin with mouthpiece and embouchure formation, basic playing position, and so on. Where I diverge from tradition is in my approach to teaching basic playing technique, which I will discuss in a future article.

In training these beginners, I typically find that there are a handful of wind instruments that require a longer period of time for most students to become proficient at basic tone production. Until a student can reliably produce the tone of the instrument, it is difficult to move forward into technique building or music reading. I call these instruments ones with longer “incubation periods”.

Tone Production on the Trumpet and French Horn

While most beginning students are fairly successful early on in buzzing the lips and producing their first sounds, all brass instruments, and particularly the high brass, require the students to work on embouchure building and flexibility with a great deal of consistency over the course of several months to be able to produce an octave’s worth of pitches.

To produce an air stream that is compressed enough to play mid-range pitches, players must build the musculature of the face to a point where the aperture (portion of the lips that actually vibrates) can vibrate freely while the muscles hold back the resulting internal air pressure. As I tell my students, it literally is “weight lifting for your face”.

The French horn has the additional challenge of having their typical tessitura in band literature written for the middle to upper part of the instrument’s playable range, requiring not only strength, but enough control to accurately find partials that are as close together as a whole step. Because of the strength and conditioning required, trumpet and French horn students must put in consistent practice time on a daily basis in order to develop this control.

Tone Production on Oboe

Oboe students typically do not have difficulty producing their initial tones on their instruments. Refining that tone and playing in extended ranges, however, can take consistent work that lasts at least a year, a fact that applies to bassoon as well. The initial sounds made by oboists are jarring and strident at best, and the quality and adjustments made to their reeds can be a major contributing factor.

If oboe or bassoon is not your primary instrument, dealing with double reeds may be a bit perplexing. If you have the luxury of having your double reed students study privately or work with a double reed clinician at your school, many of these issues can be addressed. If not, everyone, director and students alike, will have to exercise patience as the oboe students continue to work on improving the total quality and range of their instrument.

Tone Production on Flute

The instrument with the longest incubation period, perhaps, is the flute. There is little about producing the tone of the flute that is intuitive. It is quite literally a trial and error process, and because of the nature of the Hemoltz resonator effect being produced, students often find themselves in the early stages becoming light-headed from hyperventilation. Once the initial sounds become more consistently produced, they still remain breathy and unfocused.

Once tone can be produced reliably, the next challenge for flutists is developing control of the air stream to become capable of changing octaves reliably. I wrote at length about this topic, including some useful exercises, in this article. Even after gaining control of the low, middle, and lower portion of the high register, it will take more time and experience for the flutist’s tone quality to go from the breathy, intermediate stage to a purer, more rounded flute tone.

Tone Production Is Essential for All

Even for instruments that do not need extensive work to produce a good tone in the middle register, such as clarinet and saxophone, good tone quality must come before nearly every other aspect of performance. The saxophone embouchure is fairly forgiving, but players still need to apply the mouthpiece firmly against the top teeth and use the correct amount of reed tip opening to produce the correct pitch on the reed. Many sax players are producing the wrong pitch on the mouthpiece well into high school, leading to perpetual intonation problems and strident tone quality.

Clarinetists, because of the downward angle of the instrument, must have a firm lower lip, correct angle of pressure from the jaw, and must position the tongue correctly to direct the airflow to produce the correct pitch and tone in all registers. This is especially true at the intermediate level as they venture into the register above high C.

Low brass performers are under the same kind of regiment as their high brass counterparts; there is simply less need for muscular development at the earlier stages of learning. Breaking through the “high F ceiling” is a tough process for many intermediate players.

Little else can fall into place for a wind instrumentalist until they are using the correct embouchure formation with the right amount and quality of air stream. Good tone is a prerequisite for tuning, intonation, articulation, and even simply getting the instrument to respond in time for the downbeat. Many secondary level band directors are guilty of taking tone production for granted, not revisiting tone concepts enough to continue to help each section of the ensemble develop as individual performers. For the highest quality performance of the full ensemble, however, revisiting tone production needs to be a periodic checkpoint that is part of every ensemble’s routine.

Thank you  to Thomas J. West for letting us use his blog!
Check out Thomas J. West’s blog: http://www.thomasjwestmusic.com/

Instrumental Music as Physical Education

TomWestMost public school music ensembles spend 95 percent of their classroom time preparing for public concerts. It takes many hours of repetition of the music in order to program the body to perform the music accurately. Band and orchestra directors basically run rehearsals for a living and become very good at  providing the repetitions necessary to program the physical movements required to perform the music accurately.

When I begin writing articles for my website, I focused on sharing music practice tips. The majority of these were strategies designed to help maximize practice routine efficiency, garnering more successful repetitions of the music. What I have only recently realized, however, is that the majority of time and effort spent practicing a musical instrument has more to do with  programming the mind to physically control the instrument accurately and reliably. There is more “physical education” involved in instrumental music making than actual “music education”.

In most traditional high school bands and orchestras, the vast majority of rehearsal time is spent drilling the music in order for ensemble members to develop some level of physical proficiency in performance. Teaching basic musicianship concepts like reading notation, audiating pitch, and so on is left to the elementary music teachers to handle. High school ensembles focus primarily on ensemble techniques such as pulse control, section and group intonation, balance and blend, and so on. Those concepts are touched upon and then drilled, drilled, drilled until the ensemble can perform them accurately.

The Marriage Between Physical And Aural

One of the amazing things about studying music performance is that it elides the physical skill of operating a musical instrument with the mental skill of perceiving and instantly processing and reacting to sound. Singers do this as well, but the need to physically train the body is quite different. Instrumentalists spend a great deal of time simply becoming proficient at manipulating the contraption that makes the musical sounds happen.

Students of music have to not only become proficient at the physical movements, they also have to use their aural skills to assess their own physical performance. The actual musical part of instrumental performace is all mental, and it requires training and skill building just like the physical training of operating the instrument.

Over-Programming The Physical Part Of Performance

Because it takes so much time and repetition to program the body, musicianship and listening skills often take a secondary role in many school performing ensemble classes. This is compounded by the fact that many high school band and orchestra directors choose repertoire that demands a high level of technical proficiency on the part of the performers. Technical wizardry (those fast sixteeth note runs, screaming high notes, rapid tonguing or bowing passages, and so on) are engaging and exciting to listen to, and many directors want their students to have the experience of performing exciting works with a lot of technical fireworks.

The trade-off, however, is that technically demanding repertoire often consumes the majority of available class time simply to get the ensemble performing proficiently. Even then, traditional band and orchestra programs lean on the students with the higher music aptitude and skill development to carry the weight while their peers hang on for dear life or fake their way through the difficult passages. Add to that fact the more important consequence – the students rarely have time to improve their musical skills in favor of improving their physical skills.

Audio Gym Teacher?

If ensemble directors, for whatever reason, continue to program technically demanding works that constantly stretch the boundaries of what the students are capable of, they are providing their students with more of an “audio physical education” than a “music education”. Technical ability is only part of what makes up an effective musical performance. It is far better, in my opinion, to choose repertoire with easier technical demand that can be mastered in a shorter amount of time, leaving room towards the end of the preparation period to work on ensemble playing techniques, expressive phrasing, and communicating the intent of the music to the audience.

Quite simply, if by concert time students are not able to look away from the sheet music for more than a brief glance at the baton in order to be able to perform the piece, the technical demand is probably too high.

There certainly is a need for repertoire that “pushes the envelope” and gets students to reach for a new level of technical ability, but I have seen too many band and orchestra programs that try to stretch the ensemble with every single piece they perform. Slaving away on demanding parts is enjoyable for only a minority of students – most are turned off by such hard work, especially if that level of demand is constantly upon them.

Physical training in the band and orchestra is a major component of instrumental performing music and is constantly being addressed. There needs to be a balance, however, between the physical aspects of instrumental performance and the mental aspects of listening, audiating, and understanding music as an art form.

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.
thomasjwestmusic.com

Choosing the Right Music for Your Orchestra

Bob Phillips

As a string teacher for many years, I always enjoy looking at new music.  It’s a bit like opening a present!  As an editor at Alfred, I see the music about a year before it is released. Right now we have just released the new 2013 music and have much of the music for 2014 selected.

Things have changed from the days when we all spent a lovely summer day in an air-conditioned music store looking for just the right pieces to play that year. Now we depend on the Internet and all the great websites to browse the new music or look for great classics.  A classic can be a piece that just works so well that teachers play it year after year.  It can also mean enduring music.  This month we are featuring several types of classic music – great rock and roll and timeless serious music. 

No matter what you are looking for, be sure it fits the skill level of your group. I would generally choose to play a slightly easier piece and play it with excellence than play a more difficult piece poorly.  Of course, there are times that a challenge is called for!  Keep your curriculum in mind as well and find tunes that provide the opportunity to teach the appropriate skills. Enjoy!

Finding Meaning in Your Teaching Career

George Megaw
By George Megaw
Belwin/Pop Concert Band Editor

I’m reminded of two former students that brought meaning to my teaching career. Beth was an outstanding clarinet player and contributed to the high school band program above and beyond. She pursued music as her passion and career; she eventually earned her doctorate and is now teaching at the university level. It’s always gratifying to see a former student of this caliber share our passion and succeed, or even surpass their teacher.

Conversely, Ron was a good trumpet player who had lost his father at a young age and was brought up as the only child of a single mother. One weekend, I chose to take him flying with me to give his mom a break from being both parents. The afternoon had nothing to do with music or band. Fast forward about 20 years to when I was reading the newspaper while waiting for an early commercial business flight, when I became aware of a uniformed flight crew member looking at me from across the waiting area. As he approached me, I was sure I was going to end up on a no-fly list or something… but it was Ron…the Captain on my flight. That Saturday flight in a little airplane so long ago inspired his career choice as a commercial airline pilot.

I can’t tell you which former student I’m most proud of, and there are many more. (The first-class upgrade was certainly a nice treat though!) Every teaching day we have a critical impact on our students’ lives. Sometimes it just takes years to learn about them.

In our role at Alfred, we’re here to help you make those gratifying teaching opportunities more frequent and easily available. Thanks for considering the Belwin concert band catalog for your teaching and programming needs.

We Do It All for the Students…

Richard Meyer
By Richard Meyer
Highland/Etling String Editor

When asked in an interview recently to give advice to new teachers, I remarked: “Remember that you are teaching people, not music.” As teachers, we are so lucky. Every day we are given the opportunity to influence our students’ lives for the better and we have at our disposal the greatest vehicle for change known to humankind: music. Of all the subjects in the entire school curriculum, I am convinced that it is music that best teaches our students the most important life skills.

As every school year begins, we meet new students who are anxious to learn to play an instrument. They sign up for our classes because they know that they want music to be a part of their lives. What these eager beginners don’t know, however, is that once they start playing music, their lives will never be the same. They don’t know of the real life lessons that lie ahead or how music will change who they are. They don’t know.

But we know. Oh, how we know! We see them change daily and, with music, we help them develop skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives—self-discipline, cooperation, teamwork, determination, goal setting, and leadership. The list goes on and so does our passion for teaching, renewed each year by a fresh batch of students who look to us for guidance. As year unfolds, we celebrate the musical progress our students make. Primitive, unrefined sounds slowly become recognizable tunes. Recognizable tunes eventually become basic ensemble pieces and, if we are all very diligent, ensemble pieces gradually turn into music.

As you celebrate the musical growth of your students, please don’t forget to celebrate those other ways in which they are progressing: the person they are becoming and the progress that each of them is making as a human being, as a leader, and as a caring citizen in a world that desperately needs caring citizens. Celebrate what you, with music, are doing to enrich all aspects of your students’ lives.

Recently, one of my beginning cellists was packing up after only her second lesson. She paused for a moment and said, in all seriousness, “I think I’m going to play the cello my whole life.” I hope she does. But even if she doesn’t, I am proud to know that music will have made her a better person.

Students That Keep Us Teachers Going

Robert Sheldon
By Robert Sheldon
Alfred Concert Band Editor

Jeremy was a very shy high school junior when I met him. Although he had no musical experience, he was aware of the band activities of some of his friends and really wanted to join the band. He chose tenor sax and signed up for marching band. The marching part came easily enough but he did not know how to read music. Once he learned a handful of notes, I wrote him his own part of half notes and whole notes which he played with great enthusiasm! By the following year he had improved enough that he was able to play the “real” music. It was always a joy to see how much he loved playing his sax and being part of the band family.

“Doctor” Jeremy is now a veterinarian and president of his twin daughter’s band booster organization. Music has no greater supporter. It’s students like Jeremy that keep us teachers going, and that’s why we know you do everything you can for your students – and that is why we are here to help!

Thanks for considering Alfred for the next concert band performance!

Listening Sideways (or the Art of Playing Together)

Jonathan Glawe
By Vince Gassi

Listening sideways is the second of three essential steps toward developing a more musical ensemble. As music educators, we attempt to teach our students how to practice properly so that 1) they are constantly improving their technique. The more control they begin to have over the instrument, the more they can 2) direct awareness outward and listen to what is happening around them. This leads to 3) the stage where your ensemble is ready to work on expressiveness.

Here is a simple but essential exercise to help develop the ability of your young musicians to “listen sideways.”

1. Have your ensemble play a concert Bb scale (or insert key of your choice). They can play four quarter notes (all tenuto) on each pitch of the scale (ex. 4 Bbs, 4 Cs, etc.). Play the final note of the scale as a whole note.

2. Encourage all players to listen to each other. Actually use the phrase “listen sideways.” It will be your unique code for them to understand what you are expecting of them. This may be challenging but stick with it.

3. Now have only the first chair players from each section play. Direct them
to play the same scale together in quarter notes as before. Players must
listen to each other and match volume, tuning, note length, style, etc.

4. When the section leaders can do this, have the rest of the ensemble join in. The section players must “listen sideways” in an attempt to match their section leader exactly. If they cannot hear their leader, then they, or others, are playing too loudly and must adjust. This may take several attempts, so be patient.

5. Now have only section leaders play the same scale (or a different one if you choose) but this time, instruct them to play it in a staccato style; remember, 4 quarter notes on each pitch of the scale. Do this until the leaders can match each other. When playing staccato, students may often become impatient and start to rush ahead. Start over if you have to but keep them to the indicated tempo.

6. Now have the rest of the band join in with the instruction that they must once again listen to their leader and match them exactly. The goal is to have each section sound like one player.

7. And now for the real challenge. Have the whole band play the scale again, starting legato (4 Bbs, 4 Cs, etc.). Ask each section leader to switch at a time of his or her own choosing, from tenuto to staccato. Yes, you’ll have different sections playing different note lengths at the same time but, since this often occurs in your repertoire, it will be excellent practice. The section members may not switch at exactly the same point as their leader, but keep at it until they can. This is what the ensemble is working towards.

Keep at it each rehearsal until it happens, until the section players switch together with the leader. Even when they achieve this goal, keep doing this exercise at each rehearsal. It is a great way to reinforce this essential listening skill. This is the way athletes train. Baseball players work on the basics before each game of the season, taking ground balls, batting practice, etc., just to stay sharp. I’ve heard it said when the first player player makes a mistake, a well-trained section will make it with her.

8. Try having just one section do this. The other sections will learn much from hearing just the flutes or just the trumpets try this exercise a few times. They may be eager to prove that their section can do better. So let them!! A little healthy competition can be a good thing now and then.

Don’t give up after one or two attempts at this exercise. Keep at it until the ensemble really starts to hear what is going on. It will be at this point that you (and they) will start to notice how much cleaner the ensemble sounds.

You can also do this exercise using chorales. Through regular practice, your students will become conditioned to listen (and really hear) what’s going on around them. This is one definition of a good musician: someone who is aware of what is occurring musically and responds accordingly. Remember, your students don’t come to rehearsal to learn their part, they come to learn everyone else’s part. This is why developing awareness through directed listening is so important. If practiced regularly, you will notice your ensemble maturing as the weeks go by and expressive playing is the inevitable result.

Don’t forget – all this time, you, the conductor – need to be indicating style and tempo. Your students’ awareness should include responding to you as well. So try the same exercise but instruct them to change style when they see you indicate such. You are the ultimate section leader!

Listening sideways is an essential skill which, if practiced on a regular basis, will empower your musicians to mature. Eventually, your ensemble will begin to transform. Your students will become players who are aware of their musical surroundings and will respond appropriately. It is so much more fun for them when they play together. Similarly, it is so much more fun to conduct an ensemble that responds expressively in real time to each other, the hall, and, most importantly, you the conductor. Expressive performance is what all of our hard work is ultimately about. From this point on, the sky is the limit.