Procedures and Routines in the Music Class

I remember once watching my daughter playing school, pretending to be the teacher. She sat in a chair holding a book up to her class of stuffed animals. She showed her class the book, and said “Front cover, back cover, spine, title page, dedication…”

It was obvious that she had learned the parts of a book through a routine of her teacher. It struck me how important these kind of routines are for music classes and private lessons.

Anyone familiar with the book The First Days of School knows that this is the holy grail of teaching prodecures and routines at the beginning of the school year. This is certainly one of few books that apply to music classes as well as the traditional classroom.

Here are some classroom management issues to consider:
-Where do students put instrument cases?
– Music stands and chairs: Does the teacher set them up? Do the students get them from a rack? Does everyone get their own music stand? What equipment gets put away and who does it?
– Books and sheet music: Do students take everything with them, or is there a folder storage system? Larger ensembles may need a librarian, or at least section leaders who can help distribute sheet music. What about when they forget their folders or misplace sheet music?
– Are students allowed to play their instruments before the ensemble warm-up?
– How do students know the rehearsal/warm-up has officially begun?

Here are some routines I’ve been implementing with my groups:

For beginners:
– Identifying the parts of their instrument, admittedly ad nauseum
– Assembling their instruments and explaining/verbalizing the process for doing so
– Verbalizing the fingerings for their first notes (Beginning Band: Concert Bb – F; Beginning Strings: D Major scale)
– Identifying notes on the staff, using flash cards

For intermediate students:
– Band: Simple warm-up exercises such as those on Essential Elements Book 1, page 18
– Strings: The D Major scale with simple rhythmic variations and bowing patterns
– Rhythm exercises, clapping and counting aloud

For private students:
– Scale/arpeggio exercises appropriate to the student’s ability
– Warm-up notes for beginners
– For younger students: A review of previously practiced music
– Introduction of new music/exercises
– For older students: Repertoire development
– A clear expectation of what is to be practiced for the next lesson

What procedures and routines have you used in your music classes that you would recommend to the rest of us?

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New School Year’s Resolution: Fall 2010

My New Year’s resolution this fall is to keep music classes fun.

The issue of music being fun has been brought to mind through several different sources.

First, it’s no secret that classrooms have become less fun in recent years. It’s true that students may always complain about school not being fun, but now experienced teachers are now protesting as well. Many fun, creative lesson plans have been eliminated because they don’t fit into today’s curriculum. The word “enrichment” has come to mean “dispensable.”

As music teachers, we are fortunate that for the most part, we have a certain level of control over what we teach and how we teach it. I hope to make the most of that freedom by keeping the experience fun for students.

Second, I have been reminded about how fun music can be by those outside the traditional band/orchestra setting. (More about this in future posts.) For now I’ll just say that when adult amateur musicians talk about playing, they talk about how fun it can be. By contrast, sometimes I find myself getting too stressed out by learning or teaching music, so I know my perspective is off.

Third, I’ve been reading about the importance of laughter. Laughing has all kinds of benefits which I won’t get into here. It seems laughing even has health benefits, releasing endorphins and possibly reducing toxins in our bodies. In the classroom, sharing a laugh can break down the psychological defenses students build up when they’re in stressful environments. In brief, laughing can free us up to learn more effectively.

Finally, when you hear people talk about past musical experiences, their eyes often light up as they talk about how fun it was. Whether it’s an adult reminiscing about their musical past, a high schooler talking about their elementary music experience, or a group of performers who have just come off the stage, people love to talk about how much fun they’ve had making music. If you’ve read Steven Covey’s work, you know about beginning with the end in mind. I want the end to be students having fun.

Sure, all of this fun needs to be balanced with discipline, developing new skills, learning new concepts, being challenged, etc. Personally, I’m not worried about forgetting to teach those concepts in classes. But I want to remember to have fun along the way.

Marching Band Enters the World of New Media

OK Go – This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

The relevance of marching band and traditional band programs has been the subject of many a blog in recent days.

Here’s an impressive video by a very creative marching band. This is one way to incorporate 21st century media into a marching program!

Although this is a college band, I can imagine the excitement a high schooler would have knowing their creativity was going on YouTube rather than just ignored during halftime.

“We Can Play, or We Can Wait.”

I’ve recently stumbled upon one of those phrases I’ll probably carry with me through the rest of my career: “We can play, or we can wait.”

The music classes in my district are only 30 minutes long. That includes the time it takes to set up instruments, deal with individual issues, and make any announcements. I figure I’ve got about 25 minutes of actual playing time per class.

In an effort to avoid using phrases like, “Hurry up already!” I’ve been trying to come up with new ways to motivate students to, well… hurry up.

This passive-aggressive approach has worked pretty well much of time. Most of my students are geniunely motivated to play during class, so there’s sort of a constructive peer-pressure factor involved.

Do you have successful suggestions on how to get rehearsals started promptly?

Testing a New Mouthpiece

The music store where I teach has been expanding its presence on the net and on YouTube. With that goal in mind, they recently asked me to review a new saxophone mouthpiece. Here’s the video.

Here’s a video of a colleague trying out the classical/traditional model by the manufacturer.

For those of you shopping for new saxophone mouthpieces, I would encourage you to add these to your list of possibilities. (And no, I’m not a paid endorser!)

Two Thoughts for New Music Teachers

In the post Music Vs. Behavior, Janet asked about advice for pre-service teachers who are getting ready to start their careers. If I had a moment to share a few thoughts with her music ed students, I would remind them to…

1. Talk less/Let the students play more. Students are there because they want to PLAY. The general education community is slowly coming around to the idea that students learn by doing, and “doing” is what being in music class should be all about. Plus, the one failsafe a music teacher always has is calling out a title and giving a downbeat. When you don’t know what else to say or do in class, play another piece! It does wonders for classroom management as well.

2. This one is more general, but be mentally prepared to adapt to the unexpected. Whether in rehearsal, in a performance, on an outing, or in a career, there are undoubtedly going to be unexpected obstacles. In my first year or two of teaching, I’m not sure how well I reacted whenever I hit a bump in the road. But I have since realized that even seasoned veteran teachers hit those same bumps. Although it’s impossible to be prepared for every unexpected setback, it is possible to learn how to react and solve problems. Students will lose sheet music. Instruments will malfunction at inopportune times. Tour buses will get stuck in traffic. You will be asked to teach a course outside of your specialty. When these things happen, don’t panic. Learn to be a problem solver. As time goes by, you’ll learn to predict the types of things that may go wrong, you’ll learn how to ask for help, and you’ll learn how to react.