Beyond the Lessons—Teaching People, Not Just Music

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By Richard Meyer

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 the 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.

Richard_Meyer Richard Meyer is a full time teacher and has taught string students at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels for over 30 years. He is a much sought-after clinician throughout the United States, and is a nationally recognized, best-selling composer with over 130 compositions and arrangements in print. He is the co-author of several string method books, including the popular String Explorer series, and, most recently Sight-Read It for Strings.


How to Teach Improvisation on the Piano

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By Loren Gold

I’ve been playing keyboards on the road with The Who since 2012. It is the greatest job I’ve ever had, but it was a long road to gather all the techniques needed to get this dream gig. My journey started with classical piano lessons when I was seven. My first piano teacher may not know it, but they nurtured my love of piano, and got me on the path to “stardom” by giving me a solid foundation in technique. Having a solid background in classical music has allowed me the freedom to become creative with my composing and while playing other styles like ragtime, blues, rock, gospel, and R&B. Here’s how you can start incorporating improvisation in your piano lessons with your students:

  1. Establish a strong foundation in technique, ear-training, and theory: During lessons, you’re likely already focusing on fingering, hand position, scales, and other techniques that help create a strong and healthy musical foundation for students. Having a strong ear and theoretical understanding of compositions will allow students to be more creative improvisers.
  2. Choose repertoire that makes sense: The goal is to provide your students with all the tools needed to learn to improvise in lots of different styles, but to make the best impact on your lessons, introduce improvisation along with pieces that compliment what you are working on, or songs the student is already familiar with.
  3. Seek Inspiration: Before diving into soloing themselves, students should study and listen to example solos by other artists to help inspire ideas. Students can transcribe these solos and learn to play them lick-by-lick, including dynamics and articulations.
  4. Connect the dots: Like any other piece of music you’d teach in your lessons, point out how the chord progression is utilized in the construction of the example solos. Connect the dots between how scales, modes, and popular licks relate to chords, and how they can be used in crafting original solos.
  5. Leave the page: Once your student has mastered an example solo, encourage them to slowly branch out and incorporate their own ideas. It is essential that they are encouraged to eventually stop thinking about what they’ve learned verbatim, and begin to “go off the page” and play from the heart. You can try comping the chords, so the student can focus solely on their soloing, or use a backing track if one is available. Remember, there are no wrong notes when experimenting with improvisation! It’s time to explore and find a voice. Encourage mistakes while also helping them remember what works.

whiskeylights-1A great example of a familiar tune that can be used as a starting point in introducing improvisation is “Whiskey Lights” from Sitting In: Rock Piano. “Whiskey Lights” is in the style of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and includes a repeated eight-bar section for improvising (mm. 26-33). The first thing you’ll notice in the piece is that there is a solid repeated bass line throughout the entire song. Once this bass line is mastered, the right hand is free to explore mixing and matching various rhythms, ideas, and patterns to create something unique through improvisation.

If your student isn’t familiar with “Light My Fire,” encourage them to listen to a recording of it, and particularly pay attention to what keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger play during their solos.

A great way to correlate “Whiskey Lights” to their standard repertoire is to show how those pieces present similar challenges. For example, look at the first four bars of Mozart’s “Sonata K. 545.”

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If the simple Alberti bass pattern is played evenly, the top melody can sing above it just as an improvised solo should be free to soar above the accompaniment in “Whiskey Lights.” It is a simple correlation, but critical to being a good soloist. You can also talk about the makeup of The Doors: they didn’t have a bass player so Ray played all the bass lines on the organ. Rock trivia and history can be a huge inspiration to some students!

Next, play through the entire written music of “Whiskey Lights” including the notated comping in the solo section. Point out how the chord symbols above the right hand show the chord progression, and how the same progression is used in the solo section. Show the theory behind the chord construction and related scales including the E Dorian mode which will be useful in soloing.

Page_9-10There are also four sample licks on pages 9-10 that provide notated ideas and suggestions. Note that “Lick 1″ adds a flat-5 to give the solo a more bluesy sound.

Now it’s time to start improvising! While it’s great if you and your student play a duet on the piano—you comp on the chords while your student solos—the tracks that accompany the book include live bass, drums, and guitar players (and sax on some tracks) who are playing in the appropriate style. Encourage students to use the “Rhythm Section Only” tracks at home when practicing on their own. Click here to access the rhythm track for “Whiskey Lights.”

During lessons, continue to focus on fingering, hand position, and other techniques while your student is learning improvisation. The idea of soloing in a lesson shouldn’t be a foreign concept. Mix it in with standard pieces so you can focus on the similarities of techniques needed to play well, no matter what style the student is playing. Having correct technique lets you be a more creative improviser, and maybe you’ll even have a dream gig with The Who someday!

LorenGoldLoren Gold is an in-demand keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter who has played extensively with international pop and rock acts such as Roger Daltrey, The Who, Kenny Loggins, and more. He has served as musical director for artists such as Taylor Hicks, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato. In addition to touring and session work, Loren composes original music for films and TV. Learn more at www.lorengold.com.  


 

 

Finding the Meaning in Your Teaching Career

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By George Megaw

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.

George_Megaw

Active in all aspects of music education, since 1999 George Megaw has served as editor for Belwin concert band publications. Prior to that Mr. Megaw was a college band director in both Virginia and Tennessee for 12 years. He has taught music education at all levels, elementary through college, and remains active as an adjudicator, clinician, and guest conductor throughout the United States and Canada.


 

The Importance of Including Women in Music History

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By Anna Wentlent

Most music educators can wax poetic on the lineage of male composers from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Even elementary school students have enough knowledge of classical music to offer up interesting facts about the famous men in music history, such as Beethoven’s deafness or Mozart’s mysterious death. Yet, how many of us can even name more than one or two female figures from the history of classical music? Hildegard von Bingen, Clara Schumann . . . the list often stops there. And with good reason: the history of classical music is the history of Europe and North America, and within those societies women have traditionally stayed at home, out of the spotlight.

That history makes the accomplishments of female professional musicians all the more remarkable. These were women who defied tradition and familial pressure in order to lead rich lives as teachers, composers, conductors, and performers. Despite being denied the educational and performance opportunities given to their male counterparts, they persevered. Until the eighteenth century, women were not allowed to sing the female roles in operas. And it is only during the last 100 years that women have been admitted to symphony orchestras. Even as that imbalance has gradually improved, little progress has been made on the conductor’s podium. There are very few female orchestra conductors. In 2007, Marin Alsop became the first woman to lead a major American orchestra when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hired her.

Simply achieving some level of professional success would be admirable enough, but many female musicians have made real and vital contributions to their respective fields. Consider the innovations of Hildegard von Bingen, a Medieval nun who wrote the earliest-known musical drama, or Maud Powell, a professional violinist who made the first recording of a solo instrument. Weigh the impact of Nadia Boulanger, a teacher who molded many of the great composers of the twentieth century, or Patsy Cline, a modern-day country singer who set the tone for an entire genre of music.

In the course of researching The Women of Western Music , I made the wonderful discovery that many female musicians have made a point of supporting each other’s careers. Marian Anderson performed the songs of Florence Beatrice Price at her concerts. Amy Beach wrote a piece specifically for Maud Powell to perform at a conference for female musicians. Germaine Tailleferre studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were known to be friendly competitors.

In recent years, contemporary music historians have rediscovered the contributions of these women and begun to give them their proper due. But historical articles and biographies are not enough. For these and other female musicians to truly receive their proper due, they must be introduced to the masses by inclusion in K–12 general music curriculums. We owe it to these women for the sake of historical accuracy, and we owe it to our students for the sake of the future women of western music. My hope is that my young female students will see themselves in the lives of the musicians they study.

ws_authorphotos_wentlentAnna Wentlent is an educator, music editor, music education author, and piano accompanist. She attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, York St. John College, and Boston University. Over the course of her career, Ms. Wentlent has worked as a choral and classroom music editor for Alfred Music and taught choral and general music in both New York and Massachusetts.


 

Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs

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By Dr. Russell L. Robinson

I love working with middle school singers. (Some people might ask, “How could you love working with middle school singers?”) Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Their energy! As students this age make the transition from child to adult, they have boundless energy. Unbridled, unfocused, and unguided, this energy can be an “interesting challenge,” but as veteran middle school teachers will tell you, if you get the students going in the right direction and they know you are sincere, they will “go to the wall” for you!
  1. Their voices! Although the girls’ voices are also going through many physical developmental stages, their vocal changes are not nearly as dramatic as those the boys go through between sixth and eighth grade as their vocal cords lengthen and thicken. Some boys’ voices literally change overnight—or over Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation! You cannot force a boy’s voice (or any voice for that matter) into a range or part that they do not have. Middle school choral teachers must realize that they will likely have boy sopranos, altos, and changed-voice baritones all in the same class.
  1. Their potential! The expectations for middle school choirs can be too low. Often, parents and audiences (and sometimes teachers) simply do not expect middle school choirs to sing and perform at a high level of choral art. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have heard well-trained middle school choirs sing and perform choral music at the highest level.

So, given the above, what can you and I do to “turn their energy into wonderful choirs?” Let me offer the following suggestions:

Keep lessons well-paced. There is very little (to no) down time with middle school singers. Start class on time. Lead a sequential warm-up of no more than seven minutes, before transitioning into the first choral piece you are going to rehearse. Make sure that transition times between warm-ups, pieces, and activities are minimal and well-planned.

My particular sequence in a warm-up is as follows:
1. Warm-up physically.
2. Warm “down” on the “oo” vowel (five-note descending scale).
3. Warm “up” on the other vowels. For example, “noo, nee, noh, neh, naw” in arpeggios.
4. Diction exercise.
5. Chordal warm-up in the key of the first piece.

Select quality music that is appropriate for the ensemble you are teaching. Some middle school teachers are determined to have their choirs sing 3 and 4-part literature regardless of the age and experience of the choir. This can lead to a frustrating experience for both the choir and the director. Many beginning level middle school choirs (particularly those with sixth graders) would be better served by singing unison and 2-part pieces, rather than beginning with 3-part or SAB literature, as is common. I suggest that when performing 2-part literature, have the girls sing parts I and II and the boys sing Part I (in the normal octave if they are unchanged or down the octave if they are changed). My experience is that girls have an easier time singing harmony at this age, and having the boys sing with the Part I girls allows them to solidify singing on pitch. Also utilize rounds and canons with your beginning middle school singers. You must lead them into loving to sing!

Each lesson or rehearsal should accomplish clear and well-defined objectives. Remember, the purpose of each rehearsal is to get a little better, closer to your ultimate goal. Middle school singers (and all singers) want accurate reinforcement and feedback. If they are doing something right or at least better, specifically tell or ask them about what has improved. And, if they are doing something incorrectly, tell them what it is and demonstrate how to correct it. Then, get back to singing! Remember, students in choir want to sing, not listen to us talk too long about singing. We learn by “doing” and so do middle school students, especially when they see and hear the results of quality teaching and music.

Make middle school choir fun! Rehearsals can be fast-paced, exciting, and fun, or they can be drudgery. Remember, your best recruitment tool is what the students say to their peers in the hall after class. Use this unique age group and their natural social skills to your advantage. Make choir their best period of the day, and you will turn their energy into wonderful choirs!

RobinsonDr. Russell L. Robinson has been on the faculty of The University of Florida since 1984 and is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in choral music and music education, and has made over 300 appearances as a conductor, speaker, and presenter at festivals, workshops, honor choirs, all-state choirs, and conventions all over the world.


 

Why Reading Music Is as Important as Reading Literature

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By Chris Bernotas

Don’t you love all of the parallels that are drawn between music and other subject areas? You know what I mean, right? Music and math can easily connect through the basic idea of subdivision or how many beats there are in a measure. Music and team sports draw comparison through the concept and practice of working together for a common goal with people of all different skills and backgrounds. Well, how about reading and literature? You already know the importance of sight-reading and focusing on concepts that involve reading notes and reading rhythms. Both are incredibly important and necessary concepts, but really think about music and reading.

When you read a good book, you get absorbed in the characters, follow the storyline, and comprehend the words as they transform into images in your brain. Your emotions can go on a rollercoaster ride as you read the words describing an exciting chase or the evil villain or the feeling as the characters fall in love. Reading music is about comprehension in very much the same way. Learning the note names are the basic words. Learning the scales are putting those words in order and understanding some sentence structure. Performing a piece of music is the same as reading all of the words as they weave into a completed sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a series of chapters and so on. You’re piecing together musical words and phrases to tell a story, complete with good guys, bad guys, thrilling storylines, romance, and sometimes pure fun. You can tell serious stories, happy stories, sad stories, and sometimes historical stories. There really is no limit.

Just as it is important for students to recognize why they read literature, to experience and connect with themselves and each other (sound familiar?), they should recognize how the musical language and literature can fulfill the very same human needs. In honor of National Reading Month and Read Across America Day, make sure to read with your students today and share in the story together!

bernotasChris Bernotas is co-author of the revolutionary Sound Innovations series. An active composer and arranger of concert band music, his music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and has appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists. Chris has been an instrumental music teacher in the Mountain Lakes School District in New Jersey for more than 20 years.

 


 

Job Requirements for Private Piano Teachers

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By Gayle Kowalchyk

The path I took to my career in independent piano teaching was not a straight one. Sure that I wanted to do something in music, and knowing I didn’t want to be a public school music teacher, I began my college career with a major in Music Therapy. One year later, I switched my major to Piano Performance. By my senior year, I had developed an interest in piano pedagogy and decided I wanted to teach class piano at the college level. I set my sights on a Masters Degree in Piano Pedagogy and upon graduation, got a job teaching class piano and piano pedagogy in Illinois. I was all set on my career path!

But along the way, I fell in love, got married, and moved to Oklahoma. With no college job prospects in sight, I decided to open a piano studio in our home. My first student, Joel, was a transfer student in the third grade. We clicked immediately, and together we were off on a journey that continues to this day – Joel studied piano with me until he graduated from high school. He has continued to play piano and keep in touch with me since then.

There were other students like Joel, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. I loved teaching children and running my own studio. But never in a million years when I began college as a Music Therapy major would I have envisioned myself as an independent piano teacher!

I imagine that many independent piano teachers’ career paths have wound around just as mine has. This got me wondering – if I saw a job advertisement for an independent piano teacher position, would I apply? What would that job description entail? I then wrote the following as a hypothetical job announcement for someone seeking work as an independent piano teacher in the 21st century.

Wanted

Long-term position open for someone looking for challenging permanent work in a changing world. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours including afternoons, evenings, and some weekends.

Responsibilities

Must be able to work with a variety of ages and levels and assume responsibility for the final end product. Must schedule all lesson times, reschedule lesson times, and once again reschedule for clients who are continually adding other activities to their schedules. Candidates for this position must have their own studio space, piano, music library, and other needed supplies. Aside from scheduled lesson times, candidates should devote part of each week to lesson preparation and practicing the piano.

Wages and Compensation

Candidate will set his or her own wages, but must also bill for them and collect payment. Must be prepared to handle clients who pay late and clients who ask for family discounts. All continuing education is paid for by the candidate and will include out-of-town travel. During this time, wages will be lost unless other arrangements have been made.

Knowledge of Technology

Candidates must have access to a computer, the internet, and perhaps someone who can show them how to use these things.

Possibility for Advancement and Promotion

None. The job remains the same for years, but candidates must consistently retrain and update their skills so that their clients no longer need them.

Benefits

While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no paid holidays, and no stock options are offered (unless you create your own), this job supplies limitless opportunities for changing lives one at a time, instilling the love of music in the hearts of many, and in general, making the world a better place to live.

Obviously, all of us have accepted this position! Congratulations on choosing a career that touches the lives of many and enriches the world in which we live. There is none other like it.

gayle
Dr. Gayle Kowalchyk and her husband, Dr. E. L. Lancaster, have authored more than 400 educational piano books based on their years of experience on college faculties and in their private piano studios.

Beyond the Music: Fun Facts About Your Favorite Composers

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By Jay Althouse

We sometimes forget that the great composers, whose music we know and love, were living, breathing people who led normal lives beyond their music. Well sometimes, as in the case of Beethoven, not so normal. After all, it’s difficult to be normal when you’re a genius. But just like the rest of us, composers had parents, went to school, grew up, sometimes married, and sometimes had children—Bach had more than 20! Their lives were filled sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow. Some, such as Giuseppe Verdi, achieved great financial success musically, while others, such as Charles Ives, rarely heard their music performed during their lifetimes.

For example, did you know that . . .

  • Hector Berlioz studied to become a doctor.
  • Igor Stravinsky, Edward Elgar, and George Frideric Handel studied law.
  • Charles Ives was a very successful insurance agent.
  • Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.
  • As a teenager, Duke Ellington received a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
  • Much of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was largely forgotten until it was revived, in the 1830s, by Felix Mendelssohn.
  • Giocomo Puccini’s hobbies were fast motorboats and faster cars.
  • Felix Mendelssohn was an excellent painter, artist, and author.
  • After the death of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms fell in love, though never married.
  • After graduating from preparatory school, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky became a clerk in the Russian Ministry of Justice.
  • Richard Wagner authored several books, including an autobiography. He even formed his own fan clubs, which he called “Wagner Societies.” Now that’s an ego!
  • In addition to composing music and directing a band, John Philip Sousa wrote three novels, and autobiography, a music instruction book, and hundreds of magazine articles.

It’s important for students to understand that the great composers were, for the most part, normal people with extraordinary talents. As a teacher, you should take every opportunity to humanize the great composers your students study.

Alfred Music has two fully reproducible publications (One-Page Composer Bios and Accent on Composers) designed to teach your students about the lives of the great composers. Both books feature one-page biographies and are filled with musical and personal facts about the great composers your students should know. They’re excellent classroom resources for any music teacher!

althouse_jayAs a composer of choral music, Jay Althouse has over 600 works in print for choirs of all levels. He is a member of ASCAP and is a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award for his compositions in the area of standard music. Jay has also co-written several songbooks, musicals, and cantatas with his wife, Sally K. Albrecht, and also compiled and arranged a number of highly regarded vocal solo collections.


 

How to Keep Students Motivated Between Lessons

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By Amy Barlowe

Weekly or bi-weekly lessons generally build a healthy rapport and often begin a lifelong mentoring relationship between serious students and their teachers. However, concurrently, it is also easy for students to assume a sense of dependency stemming not only from the weekly assignment/check-up routine, but simply from the need for approval. What can we, as teachers, do to help our students find a path to independence? The summer and holiday seasons are the perfect time for students to take short forays into new realms of self-enlightenment.

By cultivating an interest in discovery, and encouraging them to surround themselves with curiosity and wonder, not only can we keep fanned the joyful fires we’ve kindled throughout the first semester, but also, we can attain a sense of personal peace knowing that even while away from our students, they will continue to enjoy the rewards derived from effective practice.

Having taught young people since I was a teenager myself, I have found that “imagination” is the key component of meaningful teaching and learning at all levels. It is unfortunate, however, that although stimulated by the most compelling teachers, imagination often remains behind in the studio. Instead, boredom, its evil twin, invades the practice rooms of even the most gifted students. How then, can we teach students to bring home the enthusiasm that fuels productivity even at the most distracting of times? We need to teach them to be their own teachers.

Keen observation, imagination, a constructive internal monologue, patience, and passion are at the core of successful self-teaching. With guidance, these essential components of learning can be fostered at any level, becoming habitual by the time students must be left on their own. Removing the “drudgery” from practice will keep it challenging and fun!

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Amy Barlowe, violinist and composer, received her B.M. and M.M. degrees from the Juilliard School after studies with Ivan Galamian and Margaret Pardee. Formerly Associate Professor of Violin at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Ms. Barlowe has held teaching positions at the Juilliard Pre-College and New York’s School for Strings. Ms. Barlowe’s biography has been listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Women, and the 2010 edition of Who’s Who in the World.


 

Listening vs. Hearing: Developing Your Students’ Ensemble Skills

Listening vs. Hearing: Developing Your Students' Ensemble Skills

By Chris Bernotas

Listen up! Listen down, listen in front of you, listen behind you, and listen all around. Critical listening is one of the most important aspects of learning to play as an ensemble member. Do we really teach our students how to listen? It is one thing to hear and another to listen, evaluate, and adjust. Learning to listen and react is as important a skill as learning the fingering for a concert Bb! Listening, as a member of an ensemble, is a new and challenging skill that students need to practice, like a scale. It might even be odd for students to realize they often need to focus their attention around the room instead of on themselves. I have found that by merely bringing a student’s attention to the fact that they need to listen to those around them often yields great results in improving the sound of my band. But what are they listening for? And what should they do about what they hear? This is where the teacher we are imperative and irreplaceable. We need to tell them. I always like to encourage teachers to share our secrets!

I want to share a quick lesson plan with you. Let’s focus this sample lesson on developing characteristic tone. Using “Passing the Tonic” as an example (excerpt below), you can help students develop a number of listening skills, but for this we will focus on characteristic tone. This exercise type uses the tonic note of a key and hands it off to different sections of the band. Direct your students to focus their listening on other instruments and to also be prepared to describe what they hear as it relates to the quality of the tone students are producing. Applying this simple lesson will encourage your students to hear other instruments in the band other than their own as well as practice using words to describe sound (it actually addresses listening, analytical and verbal skills.) Ask them to go beyond basic descriptions like, “the trumpets sound bad” or “the bassoons are ridiculously loud. Gross.” Share a few examples of how words can describe characteristic sound. Tell students to explore the ‘why’ part of their answer and provide that along with their analysis. For example, “The trumpets have a nice sound, they aren’t playing too loudly or too softly.” This is a first step in teaching students to listen critically around the room. This same exercise could be used for developing pitch matching as well. The overarching skill involved is critical listening and that skill can be applied to any number of ensemble concepts we teach in band. It all starts with learning to listen with purpose.

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There are many skills needed when students transition from learning to play their instrument in individual or small group lessons and playing as part of a band. Tone, Tuning, Technique, Balance, Rhythm, Dynamics, Articulation and Expression are a few of those skills. Many times we try to develop ensemble skills on the fly, with their concert music in hand. By identifying each specific ensemble skill, teaching them to students and reinforcing them, students will more effectively connect to and perform their music. They will have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a musician in an ensemble and to experience the expressive elements that sometimes elude them.  Focusing on one or two ensemble concepts at the beginning of each rehearsal and applying them to a beautiful chorale, your students will more quickly advance in not only their musical ability, but in their ability to think, evaluate and make decisions.

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Being part of a musical ensemble teaches students true-life skills that extend far beyond their school years.  Just as students are taught about posture as an individual, they need to learn what it means to be part of the team. These skills can begin to develop in their first year.  Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Young Concert Band may very well be the resource you have been looking for.

 

 

chris bernotas

Chris Bernotas is co-author of the revolutionary Sound Innovations series. An active composer and arranger of concert band music, his music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and has appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists. He was recognized as “Educator of the Year” in 2005 and has been listed several times in Who’s Who Among American Teachers.