Confessions of a Band Director

Experiences and thoughts on music and teaching elementary and secondary band.

Elementary Program Changes Successful

Posted by D. Butchy on January 29, 2010

In the spring of 2009, I approached my administration about the possibility of making a significant change in our elementary band program. I wanted to eliminate 4th grade from our program and just focus on the 5th and 6th grade. This freed up a little time in my schedule, and now I am able to see my elementary students twice a week at 30 minutes each (instead of only once). I get to see them in a small group with like instruments, and also in a full ensemble setting. I asked for this change in the hopes that it would improve the elementary program, and I have been very pleased with the results!

Without officially crunching the numbers, I can safely say that student attendance for elementary band has improved by at least 50%. I used to have students that would consistently miss lessons, and thus fall way behind their peers. This simply does not happen any more. Now, out of approximately 60 students that I have in 5th and 6th grade only 2 students have chronic attendance problems. I don’t even have to send other students to remind others of their band time – everyone shows up on time and ready to play!

Another significant improvement this year is a reduction in the number of students that I have had drop out of the program mid-year. I suspect that the attendance improvement probably has something to do with this as well. Out of all 60 students in elementary band this year, I have only had one student drop out! This is a significant change from last year as well!

Finally, the level of the music that the students can play this year is also vastly improved. In the past 5 years, most all of our concert selections consisted of two to three 8-measure exercises from our method book. Now, we are able to perform entire band arrangements and the kids love the music! I think this is strongly tied to the improved attendance and participation…the kids like to play the music (it is enjoyable for them) so they want to be there more than ever.

So in summary, I am proud to say that this change in our elementary program has been everything that I hoped it would be. This is also probably one the largest 5th and 6th grade groups that I’ve had in the last few years. Hopefully, the attendance and participation with stay high and it will translate into a larger number of students participating in our middle and high school programs.

3 Responses to “Elementary Program Changes Successful”

  1. MIrandaloll said

    I’m glad that your classroom attendance and interest in music has improved! It is great to know that maybe something is working so that students are more involved in music. However, there could be some alternatives.
    My older cousin teaches elementary band and choir. I have observed many many times and found how excited kids are to learn their first instrument. We all go into the classrooms in third grade and show them each instrument and what it is like to play. You could try that to spark more interest. In fourth grade; instead of omitting the kids completely, you could try giving half hour lessons to groups of kids to learn the instruments, fingereings, pitches, and all the glorious extra stuff that you wouldn’t have time for in regular lessons. You could just try getting certain groups together that way in fifth and sixth grade the band will be even better and you could play more advanced music!
    Or maybe, you could try having an “advanced” band and a regular band. It could make the kids strive to be a better musician (and help practice their music). Either way, it could help your band become even better, and also give the students a longer time to learn the instruments rather than starting in fifth grade.
    It might not be as beneficial having the students only playing for two years. Sure, it is lighter on your load, but didn’t we realize we were going to be busy all the time when we picked this profession?
    It seems like your program is great, but I think that keeping the students involved in fourth grade is good also. Maybe just thirty minutes to one hour a week devoting time to a group of fourth graders will improve your band without stress. Teach what you love and know and watch their faces light up when something happens. It’s all worth it.

  2. Cary said

    Congratulations! Now do the “official” number crunching and make a appointment with all of the applicable administrators to present the evidence!

  3. Hey Doug!

    I am always so excited to read about your progress with the bands at Sharon. You are doing some great things with those kids, and I am proud of you as a colleague and former teacher.

    Research conducted by Richard Grunow some years ago indicates that your current schedule is ideal for this age level. Young musicians need consistency and this schedule is giving them more of that which is a great experience!

    The last thing I want to remind you – as it is something I have been reading about this week for Kent – and that is we must not always be the educator and conductor in our rehearsals. We sometimes must be the musical role model. You are a tremendous musician and you need to make sure you share that from time to time with your students in a rehearsal! The research shows that students are more accepting of instruction from someone they respect – and when it comes from a great musician and person, I think the results will be fantastic.

    Keep up the good work Doug!

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