Keep Them Coming Back for More!

And by “them”, I mean my elementary students. I had a great conversation last night with my graduate saxophone teacher, Dr. James Umble. I had mentioned that I was struggling with teaching elementary band. I lamented about how the students don’t show up for their small group lessons, they don’t practice, etc. Then I mentioned a conversation I had with my assitant band director. His son plays trombone in my elementary program. He is also taking private electric bass lessons. This student practices the bass a heck of a lot more than his trombone. Why? Because playing the bass is fun for him. Playing the trombone is not. Why? Because he gets to play what he wants on the bass. He gets to play music that appeals to him.

At this point, let me just say, I am old-school. I was raised on the old Rubank method books, and that is how I tend to teach, especially at the elementary level. For someone that claims to be a techie geek, I am extremely outdated in my approach to teaching elementary band. I am so into Garage Band and SmartMusic, etc…why am I not using these in my elementary band classes?? I don’t know. I think it is because I’m somewhat afraid to go out on a limb and stray from the class method book. But, I think I have to.

This goes back to the conversation I was having with Dr. Umble. How can I still teach the important basics of playing an instrument that are included in the method book, and yet make it interesting for the students? Let’s face it…how many kids are pumped about going to band to play “Hot Cross Buns?” Not many in my school!

So here is what I think I have to do. I have to find a way to use the method book in addition to some kind of supplemental material that is going to be “cool”, “awesome”, or even “rad!” What am I going to do to make the students want to look forward to coming to band every week? What am I going to do so that students are counting down the days until the next rehearsal? It has to be interesting and egaging for them, or they will leave it behind. And, that is what is happening at my school.

Some ideas I’ve kicked around include looking at my method book and identifying the key concepts that are introduced and reinforced, and then creating my own exercises that are handouts to supplement what is in the book. These handouts would be songs or etudes that are popular songs, or other things that the students would be interested in playing. This may even motivate them to practice!

Dr. Umble even suggested that I use Garage Band to loop something for the students to play with. Why didn’t I think of this?! We could play the exercises out of the book, and I could create loops for the students to play along with! Also, why don’t we have the students create podcasts? We could have them doing improvisation with Garage Band, record it, and then post it as a podcast!

So these are the things I’m thinking about doing with my elementary program, in addition to using SmartMusic to some degree.

What do you do with your elementary programs to keep the kids coming back for more?? What motivates them to come to your rehearsals? What motivates your students to practice?


4 thoughts on “Keep Them Coming Back for More!

  1. Doug, I can totally relate to your dilemma. As elementary teachers, we want to give our students a solid understanding of the fundamentals. We have to teach them to read music notation, playing technique, and of course fingerings. Meanwhile, we’ve got to keep it “fun” so those faint-hearted, easily distracted kids don’t lose interest.

    The whole issue of motivation is one I’ve been giving a lot of thought. (I’m planning a few blog posts on the subject, so I won’t give away all my thoughts here!) But for now, I’ll just say that I think our selection of literature has a lot to do with motivation. Elementary kids want to play cool songs.

    I’m eager to hear what else you and your readers have to say on the issue!

  2. Doug,

    I’m a HUGE fan of Band-in-a-Box for use in the classroom. Even at the elementary level you can create fun songs in almost genre you can think of to listen to… It’s obviously a little to complex for the kids to have “hands on” experience with but it can be a great asset to use in conjunction with what you are doing in the class.

    I use sequel with 8 and 9 year olds, and the make absolutelty incredible mash-ups with it! It’s worth a day of exploration on it.

    Are you going to PMEA?


  3. Doug great ideas. I am looking into this as part of my thesis. One idea you may have thought of is using the accompaniments with SmartMusic. Yea most are lame, but they are there and give the students something “real” to play with. The idea of recording students is great also. I have been creating short exercises in Finale to teach/rehearse challenging passages with my bands and they seem to like this. I will use this a lot when the hard part is only for 2 sections, but I give the practice part to everyone. This way all the students learn the concept, and no one has to sit around and get bored waiting for us.

  4. Question for you – I’m working on a M.Ed in Instructional Design. However I’ve been a musician forever it seems – singing and trombone. Anyway, do you teach your elementary students the categories of instruments? As in how to tell a woodwind from a brass, etc? If you do, at what point in a beginning program would you cover this? Yep, I’m writing a paper and need help!

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