The Belwin Concert Band Series Guidelines have long been the industry standard in music educational publishing. We at Alfred/Belwin are constantly honing the guidelines to keep them contemporary and to best meet the needs of today’s ensembles and directors.
When arranging popular music for Beginning Band (Red Series: Grade 1 – 1 ½), writers are employed to reduce or eliminate syncopation down to quarter notes or dotted quarter notes that are written out with the use of a tie. Choosing a key that suits the song (B-flat, E-flat, F) that can fit within the range for beginning players is also a very important factor. This series always includes a clarinet part that does not go above the break. An “easy” low brass part, which often constitutes doubling the trombone/baritone part up an octave with the tuba, can give you many options if your ensemble is lacking a tuba player. However, for the upper end of this series, an “easy harmonic” trombone/baritone part may be written for the arrangement. Typically, percussion can be written up a grade level to include sixteenth notes and an optional drumset part may be included to allow for a more authentic performance.
Arranging for Young Band (Green Series: Grade 2 – 2 ½), gives writers a bit of a larger score including two clarinet parts (with the second part still below the break), two trumpet parts, and separate trombone and baritone parts, however, the parts are still considered “easy.” The key signatures of the beginning series, B-flat, E-flat, and F, are still the main choices, however, the ranges in this series are expanded to suit second and third year players. A main goal in this series is to give every section a chance to be featured. The syncopation and rhythm difficulties increase slightly and offer an opportunity for more “pop” rhythms. Easy eighth-quarter-eighth rhythms and sixteenth notes are included in this series. Again, percussion can be written up a grade level for this series, and an optional drum set part can be included to allow for a more authentic performance.
The Concert Band (Blue Series; Grade 3 – 3 ½) presents full instrumentation for concert band along with the inclusion of “color” instruments, if the arranger chooses, such as electric bass, synthesizer, or a piano part. This series expands the key signatures to include A-flat and C. The time signatures start to include alla breve (cut time) and compound meters such as 6/8 and 12/8. The ranges in this series are again expanded to suit players from year three and beyond. This series is also very popular with community bands.
Last but not least, the Symphonic Band (Purple Series; Grade 4+) is all stops out with expanded instrumentation, ranges, rhythms, and extended material. Or as noted in the Belwin guidelines, “as necessary for musical content.”
Personally, I find a great deal of benefit in teaching popular music in the classroom. It presents an opportunity to work on breath control, tone, balance, blend, and intonation, often times without having to intensely teach rhythms, because the students quite possibly already know the songs. All that needs to be accomplished is to turn off the radio and play the notes on the page. My intent is that this quick overview of the Belwin Concert Band Series will help you find where your ensemble fits. I hope you and your students enjoy the New 2014 Belwin Pop Music Promo.