Tag Archives: instrumental music education

A Few Tips on Selecting Your Halftime Show Music

 

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By Michael Story
Composer, Arranger, & Editor

Times sure have changed since I was in high school band. We used to perform a different halftime show for each home game. Nowadays, most bands perform just one show a year, which makes it even more important to select a show that truly fits your band. Although marching band students are not exposed to as much music as we were, the advantage to doing just one show a year allows for a much higher level of achievement in performance quality. Here are few tips to help you in your halftime music selection:

  • Type of Music: Although many bands have had success with original compositions for their show, there are many good reasons to consider a show based on pop music. Sure, there is good and bad pop music (just as there are good and bad original compositions), but many popular songs offer great teaching opportunities. The added benefit is that you will generally have a better opportunity to connect with your audience.
  • Difficulty Level: You want to choose music that is neither too easy nor too hard. Students will become bored with music that is too easy, and discouraged with music that is too difficult. Choosing music that is right at your band’s ability level (or slightly easier) allows you to focus on increased musicality and polishing the drill.
  • Quality: Are ALL the parts (not just the melody) interesting, musical, idiomatic, and written in a comfortable range for your students? Has the composer or arranger chosen an appropriate instrument or section to play the melody? Do the interior parts, countermelodies, and bass lines make musical sense?
  • Form: Does the show achieve a balance of REPETITION and CONTRAST? Examples of repetition include recurring themes or ideas, or an ending reprise of the opening melody to tie the show together. Contrast is achieved not only from varying the musical content, but also through textural and instrumental changes, including solos or ensembles within the show, musical highs and lows, and percussion or other section features.

Good halftime show music can come in all shapes and sizes–there can be great educational opportunities in all genres. Whatever music you choose, have fun with it, and have a great year!

Recruitment and Retention

Chris BernotasBy Chris M. Bernotas

Spring is coming and that is certainly welcome here in the Northeast!  Along with fresh air, spring also brings many exciting events in the world of education.  We are all enthusiastically preparing our ensembles for spring concerts, spring trips, spring community events, and many other performances.  The other school event that occurs around now is student course scheduling for next year’s classes! Kids are excitedly running to their counselors, looking ahead to the new and unique opportunities that await them (I can dream, can’t I?)  Of course the first thing on their list to register for is band!  That, at least, is the scenario we all hope and strive for.

Recruitment and retention are always on the minds of music educators.  Some goals in music education are to help students learn to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, as well as cultural contributors.  Without students studying music, it would be hard to achieve that.  We also want to share our love of music and our passion for working together in creating emotional performances and lifelong memories with as many students as possible.  Actively recruiting is essential in our quest of filling the sea of chairs in our room with fresh young minds that are eager to learn.

One way to encourage students to continue their study of music in band is to host a District Band Festival.  Many of us facilitate a district concert. Usually, we have all the different level bands perform a selection or two for each other and perhaps end the concert with a massive group performance. This is a wonderful concept and, while it can present a few challenges to arrange, the end result is often well worth it. How would a district festival work differently? First of all, the District Band Festival isn’t necessarily focused on holding a concert performance—it is about student-to-student interaction.  Let me explain.  The concept is to host a side-by-side day.  Seat the younger students next to the older students within the ensemble and run a workshop. Teach them a new piece of music!  What I love about running a festival day is that it allows the younger students (even at the 4th and 5th grade levels) to experience making music together with the older students and not just observe them.  The older kids are their heroes, their rock stars, and now they get to sit with them and even play music with them! That exciting opportunity alone creates a lasting impression on them.

The side-by-side experience is also wonderful for the older students. I encourage them to look at those little legs that don’t quite reach the floor, and think about when they were that age and what that music meant to them.  They love the reflection and gain an appreciation of how far they have come, and I bet that some of them feel wonderful about how they are making an impact on an impressionable young mind.  Not to mention that those younger kids get to see you, the director, in action doing what you love!

Adults can tell younger students that band is wonderful and how music is a lifelong passion and while we do need to impart that wisdom, words from student-to-student are incredibly powerful. Between their experience performing alongside their heroes, seeing a teacher that loves what they do, and hearing from older kids about how they love band, continuing to study music is a no-brainer.  To complete the day you may want to include a performance of the new piece for parents, teachers, administrators, and community members.  It is even a great idea to alternate between having a District Band Concert and a District Band Festival each year.

Music is an easy sell.  If we create memorable experiences that kids enjoy and connect with, when that day comes in the Spring and that student gets set to select his or her course schedule, they may just smile and remember that special day.

Including Your Students in Concert Repertoire Planning

By Jan Farrar-Royce 

Jan Farrar-RoyceWe all know that choosing a balanced program for our ensembles includes searching for pieces that contrast in tempo, mode, styles, and eras.  We also want to choose programs that are entertaining and include some musical and/or technical challenges.  Finally, we want to find music that our musicians will be excited to play,  and even practice, especially since we will spending so much time working on them!

Particularly for teaching students in the first three years, using pieces that everyone will recognize, notably ones with lyrics, can help students and their families enjoy their lesson and ensemble pieces more.  These tunes can include well known songs for children, folk tunes, some popular songs, and some of the tunes used in the General Music classes.  Building on this common repertoire encourages students to use their ear to help them become more skilled at playing more complex rhythms and better in tune.

Your students may even recommend songs that you wouldn’t have considered. If some of these pieces are a little beyond their current technical level, feeling like they have some input into what they play may further motivate students to be more invested in their practice, and encourage them to learn new notes and techniques.

You or a parent can help monitor internet research so that your students can earn extra credit by learning about “the story behind” the tunes you play, or about the composers who wrote the music.  This kind of investigating can be especially satisfying with living composers who will sometimes write back to students who ask them questions through the composer’s own or their publishers’ web pages! Use this research to create program notes that can be included in the printed program or read to the audience by a student before playing a piece.

Using familiar tunes and empowering your students to choose some of your ensemble materials may help them to be more invested in their practice, leading to better intonation and rhythmic capability, and more willingness to learn new techniques so that they can play the tunes that they have chosen!

Have Fun and Enjoy the Music!

By Bob and Pat Cerulli

Teachers of successful instrumental programs usually agree that one of the main reasons that students play an instrument is to have fun. If students enjoy the music that they play, they will continue performing with their group.

There are several ways teachers can ensure that students have fun and are enthusiastic about studying an instrument and performing in a school music program. One is to choose music that the students like or are familiar with. Especially enjoyable is music that includes audience participation. This goes a long way to partner players with listeners which in the long term grows support for music programs.

The second and equally important factor for young musicians is the socialization that performing in a group provides. Students will look forward to independent practice, group rehearsals and performances if they are motivated by positive interactions with their peers. That being said, music teachers should choose selections that mirror the interests of the students and compliment the school curriculum.

Another important consideration is to assign music that is within the playing abilities of the students in a specific performing group. Perhaps one piece could be challenging yet within the scope of the students’ technique and skills. Giving students music that is too difficult for their stage of musical development might result in frustration or loss of interest. However, when students learn music within a short amount of time, their sense of accomplishment becomes a driver of their success both as individuals and as a group.

It might be worth your time to share your musical program choices with your students so that they may rate them according to their preferences. Students could use a simple rating scale of one to ten while listening to excerpts of the titles music teachers propose. In this way students could demonstrate their interests and teacher designated music will probably be more well received.

There are many Alfred Music publications that incorporate audience participation, reflect student interests, and support the growth of music programs. Above all, when choosing music for your program, keep in mind that the number one thought of your students is that they will have fun and enjoy the music.

Classics from One Generation to Another

By Douglas E. Wagner

Douglas WagnerIf there ever was a blast to the past in my life, it happened this past spring when I began to write concert band and string orchestra arrangements of The Who classic single, “My Generation.” That day, it was 1965 and I was 13 again.

While not fitting the mold as the stereotypical angst-ridden, anti-establishment teen of the time, the words didn’t hit me as strongly as they did some of my friends. For me it was all about the beat — that driving, pulsating forward motion and unrelenting call-and-response pattern. I remember hearing it for the first time, being jolted to a new awareness of the world around me, of life, of the freedom that only music can bring. And so it has been I’m sure for millions through the decades whose lives have been forever affected by this quintessential British Rock standard.

My five-year-old granddaughter happened to be in the house when I was listening to the playback. She exuberantly came running up the stairs exclaiming: “Papaw, Papaw, what is that?” “My Generation, Alex … and now it’s yours.”

Hope you and your students like the charts!

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.

Be an Active Listener

By Jeff Coffin and Caleb Chapman,
The Articulate Jazz Musician
Authors

calebchapman_jeffcoffinIn our new book series, The Articulate Jazz Musician, one of the first skills we discuss is the ability to listen. Listening is fundamental! We believe it is the most basic fundamental in music and ultimately essential to success. To participate, we like to think of the listening process as “the act of listening” or, better yet, “active listening.” To get the most from a practice activity, you need to be focused and involved. We would like to share some of our ideas on becoming better listeners, as well as some important recordings to listen to and share.

1. Listen with the Whole Body

Have you ever had goose bumps while listening to music? Where do they come from and why do they happen? Goose bumps come from a WHOLE BODY listening experience. Hearing and feeling music through your body can be a profound experience. Learn to appreciate the sensations of music on your arms, legs, feet, chest, hands, and face—they’re all vibrations and we can “hear” those vibrations with our bodies.

2. Listen to Your Surroundings

Learn to listen around you. Close your eyes, be silent, and pay attention to what you hear. It may take a few moments to perceive your surroundings but there is a lot there! The better your perception is, the better your listening skills will become. There is a big hint in the fact that the words “listen” and “silent” contain exactly the same letters.

3. Listen to an Expanded Range of Styles

It’s important to listen to and enjoy different styles and types of music. A wise person once said: “All listeners are equal in their opinions.” Just because you like something doesn’t mean someone else will feel the same way. The opposite holds true, as well—just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not valid. And similarly, just because something is new or is in a style that is unfamiliar, don’t dismiss it! Give it a listen, not just once but a few times. You might be surprised at how your appreciation for the music changes as you spend more time with it.

4. Listen More than You Practice

A good rule is to listen twice as much as you practice. Music is a language and we need to hear it in order to assimilate its sounds, articulations, rhythms, and emotions. It’s not realistic to expect children (or anyone) to learn a language without first hearing it and imitating it. Music is no exception. It takes time, effort, imitation, and listening.

5. Listen with Others

What is some of the most unusual music you have heard? Have you shared it with your students? Have you asked them to share theirs with you? Listening with others will give you a fresh perspective on what you are hearing. People enjoy talking about what they have heard. It’s important to ask the question, “What did you hear?”

Start a dialogue about music and about listening. Be sure to listen to your students’ comments. This is important even if you don’t agree with them or if their assessment seems a little strange to you. Experience is a beautiful teacher and we can all learn something from communicating and listening to one another.

Chances are that you, your friends, and your student musicians have some favorite current jazz artists that you are listening to. However, sometimes the vast catalogs of earlier recordings can be intimidating—often students will inquire about what to listen to. Below are a few recommendations from us of some great music to hone those listening skills on!

Small Group Recommendations from Jeff Coffin

Louis Armstrong & the Hot Five – anything!

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

John Coltrane – Ballads

Sonny Rollins – Live at the Village Vanguard

Keith Jarrett – Standards Vol. 1

Cannonball Adderley – Something Else

Alan Lomax’s field recordings (These are online for FREE).

www.folkstreams.net (Great folkloric documentaries for FREE!)

Ali Fakar Toure – anything (He’s a guitarist from Mali, Africa.)

Aretha Franklin – Aretha Sings the Blues

Large Ensemble Recommendations from Caleb

Toshiko Akiyoshi – Long Yellow Road

Count Basie – April In Paris

Duke Ellington – Jazz Party

Gil Evans and Miles Davis – Miles Ahead

Maynard Ferguson – Birdland Dreamband

Dizzy Gillespie – Birk’s Works: Verve Big Band Sessions

Benny Goodman – Live at Carnegie Hall 1938

Fletcher Henderson – 1924-1925

Joe Henderson – Big Band

Woody Herman – Keeper of the Flame: Complete Capitol Recordings

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis – Live at the Village Vanguard

Stan Kenton – Cuban Fire

Charles Mingus – Let My Children Hear Music

Buddy Rich – Roar of ’74 

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!

The Development of a Piece

By Dr. Andrew H. Dabczynskidabczynski

Not too many years ago, my wife and I took our children – as have so many other American families – on a pilgrimage to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, certainly one of the most venerated shrines to our nation’s ongoing quest for freedom. We explored the hills and valleys of the bucolic landscape trying to envision the scope and sequence of the terrible events that transpired there, attempting to fathom the staggering loss of life, seeking to understand the very personal and yet broadly national meanings of the battle’s outcomes. We stood on Little Round Top, and in the field that was Pickett’s Charge. We took pictures of monuments dedicated to the brave regiments, and honored the grave of an ancestor who died there. Our experiences were profound and unforgettable.

This month we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. And along with this anniversary, we honor that great leader whose words – delivered to the nation just a few months after the battle – gave meaning to the towering heroism as well as the unspeakable horrors that were endured there. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address has become perhaps the most iconic speech in this nation’s history, never to be forgotten.

With these things in mind, I sought to create an opportunity for string students to experience for themselves, and to express to others, the meaning and importance of this turning point in our great national struggle. And so I wrote Lincoln at Gettysburg for string orchestra, percussion and narrator (published by Alfred Music, 2013). The piece combines an original musical score with a narration describing Lincoln’s labors to compose his address. Lincoln at Gettysburg begins in a somber and reflective mood conveying Lincoln’s own deep sense of sadness over the catastrophic loss of life in the battle. Themes borrowed from several famous Civil War era songs are heard, including “Kingdom Coming” by Henry C. Work, and “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” a poignant parlor song by George F. Root. As the piece builds to a patriotic finale, additional melodies join in, first from the marching tune “The Battle Cry of Freedom”also by George F. Root – and finally “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by William Steffe. Lincoln at Gettysburg conveys Lincoln’s successful struggle to find the words that would reassure a grieving nation, and would live on to inspire and unify generations of Americans to follow.

As with our family’s experiences visiting Gettysburg – and perhaps like yours – I hope that both students and listeners will never forget their own encounter with Lincoln at Gettysburg.