By Jack Bullock

Music ensembles in public schools are formed of students with varying degrees of musical ability and accomplishments. The ensemble, whether it be concert band, orchestra, jazz band, marching band, or small groups of like or unlike instruments, as the saying goes, is only as good as the weakest performer. Let’s think about individual performers and methods to improve the performance of each member of the ensemble.

Most schools offer instrumental music lessons in small groups of like instruments. It is possible for students to get “lost” in these groups and need individual attention, especially at the beginning level. You, the teacher, are completely scheduled and this individual attention is impossible in your availability. What do you do next?

Consider a “Buddy” Teacher, an older student playing the same instrument well, who can help the young student with basic musical problems (counting, fingerings, tone production, stickings for percussionists, etc.). Prepare the older student in basic teaching approaches and briefly view the two together during the first “lesson” to insure that the combination will work. This will be effective in two ways – for the older student who will take pride in helping another with his or her “expertise;” and the younger student who will look up to his “buddy teacher.”

On a broad basis, try a solo and ensemble requirement of every student in your program that will help all become better musicians. One teacher I observed had such a program and it was very successful. Each student had to perform in two recitals each school year, on one recital as a soloist and the other as part of an ensemble. The recitals were held in the school auditorium, sometimes in the evening after school hours or held during the regular daytime instrumental lesson classes. The performance materials were compatible to their ability and the older students were instructed to memorize their solo performance. Young students were given songs or exercises from their lesson books and performed them in class as a solo generally standing in front of the class.

Give each student in your program “individual” attention to their “individual” needs. It may sound tough, but it will make your ensembles better!

Bullock_JackJack Bullock has had a varied and illustrious career in music as a performer, composer, arranger, and educator. As a prolific composer and arranger, Dr. Bullock has written more than 600 publications for a diverse group of ensembles, including concert band, orchestra, jazz ensemble and marching band. He is the co-author of the Belwin’s 21st Century Band Method, and was a contributing arranger for the recordings of Music Expressions.