A Guide to Band for Parents Episode V: Band Music Strikes Back

In an effort to assist band parents with little knowledge of music, I’ve created this blog series, A Guide To Band For Parents. I hope that my experiences both teaching and playing will be helpful to you!

Ah, yes band literature. In the beginning, it’s mighty boring; especially books that are made for class instruction, such as The Standard of Excellence. But, before I get into the pedagogy, let’s divert a moment to some basic information.

Typically the school will send you a notice about what book you need to purchase for the music program. Sometimes, teachers will test (or use as midterms/finals) out of another book that isn’t group learning oriented. Or they may use the same group book for midterms or finals. If you are ever unsure about what to purchase, be sure to ask the director! 

Unlike other subjects, music teachers are usually free to choose their own teaching methods. The norm in the US is to have students start in classroom books that are geared towards group learning. Needless to say, this can leave some in the dust and others not challenged enough. This is where a private instructor can come in.

In my early teaching days, I had a student who came to me for extra help in band. Apparently he was having a hard time playing the instrument. I recall him having trouble reading mostly. I saw he was using something comparable to the Standard Of Excellence, so my musical instincts kicked in, and I took away the book and wrote my own lessons and exercises for him. This way, the student was focusing on what he truly needed to focus on. The book just wasn’t cutting it for this student. And don’t you worry, he turned that bad grade into an “A”!

Why? Well, again, “classroom” books are geared towards group learning. This means that they are not only short of information (i.e. students rarely learn every single note on their horn in the first books), but also geared towards group instruction. Just like with any other subject if a student misses a piece of the foundation, they will have trouble moving forward. Also, there is sometimes a disadvantage to second year students. Due to beginners starting a year later, most elementary school classes wind up using the same book twice. So instead of learning new concepts the second year student simply does the same thing all over again.

This is why I recommend anyone who’s behind or excelling in band class to obtain a private teacher. Understandably, the classroom teachers don’t always have the time to devote to individual instruction that their students need. Also, with a private instructor, you’ll get a second opinion as well.

Books private instructors use move a lot faster than group instruction books. They are mostly oriented around a few basic notes at first and then scales. Often, later on in the book series, they will have duets, which I have to say are a lot of fun to play with students.

There are advantages to band class though. The students have to play in unison with each other, they have to stay in tune, and this helps make them a better player. I have some horn students that don’t take band class and the biggest problem I see is bad intonation. That’s because, since they never have to play with anybody, they can be as out of tune and as badly intonated as they please. Yes, I just made the word “intonated” up. Get Dr. Suess on the phone.

To me, the key to a student’s musical success, is both private and group instruction. This way the pupil gets the best of both worlds. Not only from the literature associated with either situation, but also the experiences each situation lacks.

Join us next time for

A Guide to Band for Parents Episode VI: The Return of The Secrets To Get Your Kid To Practice. 



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