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Brass Tactics: Building Virtuosity in the Brass Section



Brass Tactics - Building Virtuosity in the Brass Section

Developing a strong brass section requires individual attention to brass fundamentals. There are five areas of brass study that need to be practiced daily in order to maintain technique as well as further developing technique. These areas of study include tone production, flexibility, dexterity, articulation, and range.

Tone Production

How does one know how to take a good breath if they don’t know what it is supposed to feel like? We can say things like breathe “OH-HO,” keep the oral cavity open as if you were yawning, the breath should be audible and unrestricted, and you should feel a “coolness” in the back of your throat when taking a breath. These analogies are helpful, but I am a visual learner and the type of learner that needs to be allowed to do a particular task in order to learn. The famous Chinese proverb comes to mind:

“Tell me, I’ll forget
Show me, I’ll remember
Involve me, I’ll understand”

Utilizing external breathing exercises give students sensory processing of what a good breath and blow need to feel like. Breathing gym and/or breathing exercises away from the horn can provide the valuable and crucial lessons on what a good breath should feel like. In addition to using breathing gym, one can use other helpful tools like blowing bubbles, using a pinwheel, and other breathing apparatus types (breath builder, etc.).

Initially establishing a good sound in the practice session is critical. Developing a concept of sound goes hand in hand with this. Students must be able to recognize a good sound. Listening to other outstanding instrumentalists and singers can foster this concept. Once they have a good sound in their head, they simply reproduce this sound in their own playing.

In addition to building these listening skills, there are exercises brass students can practice to assist with sound production. Flow studies provide an excellent opportunity to focus on breath, air support, and proper vibration (buzz). Practicing Vincent Cichowicz’s Long Tone Studies can give one freedom from the physical aspects of playing a brass instrument. Ideally, one just needs to listen and create a good sound while playing these exercises. It is helpful and efficient to use a tuner and/or drone while practicing long tones and/or flow studies. Having a basis in which to check tuning is helpful as one develops their ear.

Other helpful exercises for tone production include mouthpiece exercises and lip bends. Mouthpiece work can include just playing simple tunes like Mary had a Little Lamb. Things to consider include focusing on a constant air stream and the quality of sound that is being produced. Lip bend exercises are a great source to strengthen chops and assist in intonation. There are many books devoted to lip bends, but just like mouthpiece work, a little goes a long way!

Flexibility

For some students, flexibility exercises are one of the hardest things to practice. Students hate to practice something they sound terrible on as it lowers their morale.

The definition of a slur is getting from one note to another without the use of the fingers or tongue. So how do we get from one note to another? The air speed needs to change; namely, higher notes require faster air than lower notes. Higher notes do not require more air, if we add more volume/amount of air, we will get louder notes. This is why we are able to play soft high notes.  So, how do we get faster air? Simply put, we engage the intercostal muscles in the tummy, which in turn accelerate the air.

The lips only respond to the air you give it, they do not dictate what the air is going to be! Students get in trouble when they set the embouchure before going for a higher or lower note; if the vibrating membrane of the lips is too tight, the resulting sounds will be tense and airy.

The aperture gets smaller for higher notes and larger for lower notes. What controls the aperture? Basically, the orbicularis oris muscles control the aperture size. We have muscles on the corners and on top/bottom of the lips. We get into trouble when we use one muscle group more than the other; we have to find a balance. Brass players may have a pucker or smile embouchure type. The ideal embouchure is one that uses both of these in harmony. Because we are using opposing forces, pulling and pushing at the same time, this can put players out of balance. The best way to fix this is to practice flexibility exercises.

The oral cavity also plays a role to a certain extent especially in the upper register. The tongue needs to arch (Irons[1]), “Ahhh-EEEEE” as one ascends in the upper register.

Some things to avoid include tensing the lips before moving from one note to another and stopping the air before moving from one note to another.

Time is crucial when practicing slurs; you are teaching the muscles to give you a voluntary response when you want it. What can a muscle do? It can contract and release essentially. You never want to practice slurs with bad time/tempo as this will only result in involuntary responses.

Initially, smooth contour slurs are ideal (Irons[2], Scholssberg[3], Colin[4]). Later, more advanced slurs can increase flexibility. These include those with wider interval switches (Vizzutti Book 1[5], Laurie Frink “Flexus”[6], Bai Lin[7])

Dexterity

With the invention of the valve in c. 1816 (Perinet in 1839), brass players were given a new technique that had to be practiced, namely, finger dexterity. The hand position is important as a poor position can contribute to a myriad of issues. Some good rules of thumb include having the tips of fingers on valves. The right hand should look like a backward C on top of the valves. It is best not to lock the pinky of the 3rd valve ring as this could hamper speed and contribute to tension. Another thing to consider is to not have slow fingers while playing lyrical passages. At times, students try to sounds lyrical with their fingers, but this always contributes to unsatisfactory results. Think about always slamming the fingers down when a valve is depressed as a new passageway opens in the trumpet when a valve is pushed down.

Articulation

When you bring the tongue into the “mix” it can create many issues. Keep it very simple, just say “TU” and that is where the tongue strikes. The sides of the tongue are already touching the teeth and it is simply the tip of the tongue that moves. One can give the illusion of shortness by adding space. Simply put, the tongue interrupts the air rather than stopping the air. The tongue also doesn’t strike “harder” for shorter notes, but rather, uses more space and compression (if needed).

I am an advocate of starting multiple tonguing (double and triple) as early as possible (middle school) as students don’t know it’s any harder than single tonguing.

Range

A systematic approach is beneficial, be patient! In addition to isolated range exercises, practicing the previous four areas of fundamentals (tone, flexibility, articulation, and finger dexterity) in the whole range of the instrument is ideal and can assist in range development.

Raquel RodriquezRaquel Rodriquez is the associate professor of trumpet at Northern Kentucky University School of the Arts. She holds the DMA in Trumpet Performance from The University of North Texas and a MA and Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from West Texas A&M University. Raquel has appeared as a clinician, soloist, and chamber musician throughout the US, Canada, the UK, and China. The principal cornet with the Lexington Brass Band, she is also a member of the Ohio River Brass Quintet, an associate member with Seraph Brass, and a busy freelancer. Dr. Rodriquez is also a clinician for the Conn-Selmer and Denis Wick Companies, and has been a prize-winner at NABBA, the US Open Brass Band Championships, the National Trumpet Competition, and the International Women’s Brass Conference. Her recording, “Cincinnati Virtuosity – The Cornet Solos of Frank Simon and Herman Bellstedt” is available on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby. For more info, visit Dr. Rodriquez’s website.

[1] Irons, Earl. Twenty-seven Groups of Exercises for Cornet and Trumpet
[2] Ibid.
[3] Schlossberg, Max. Daily Drills and Technical Studies for Trumpet
[4] Colin, Dr. Charles. Advanced Lip Flexibilities for Trumpet (Complete Volumes 1-3)
[5] Vizzutti, Allen. The Allen Vizzutti Trumpet Method – Book 1, Technical Studies
[6] Frink, Laurie and McNeil, John. Flexus: Trumpet Calisthenics for the Modern Improvisor
[7] Lin, Bai. Lip Flexibilities : For All Brass Instruments

Manhattan Beach Music Partnership Announced



Here’s a recent tweet to @SmartMusic:

Frank Ticheli Request Tweet

This is certainly not the first time someone has requested the music of Frank Ticheli!

We created the  SmartMusic Repertoire Request page to provide a means for educators to let us know what titles they’d most like to see added to the SmartMusic library. Several of Frank Ticheli’s concert band compositions (many of which are considered standards and appear on many state lists) are among the most popular requests we’ve received. To date this music has not been available for digital practice and assessment of any kind.

Today we’re excited to announce an exclusive partnership with Manhattan Beach Music, publishers of the music of Timothy Broege, Bob Margolis, Michael Markowski, Steve Rouse, Frank Ticheli, and many other fine concert band composers and arrangers. Under the terms of the exclusive agreement, MakeMusic will make this music available for digital practice and assessment within SmartMusic; these titles will not appear in any other practice software. The full press release can be viewed here.

We’re looking forward to make this music available in SmartMusic soon, and we’ll publish updates on this blog as more details are available. In the meantime, if you’d like to request the work of David Dzubay (or any other fine composers and/or arrangers) please visit the request page, and we’ll continue our work on building relationships with the world’s greatest music publishers.

Teaching Jazz Improvisation with Accompaniments



Teaching Jazz Improvisation with Accompaniments

For decades, jazz educators have been using play-along recordings to help students practice jazz improvisation. These recordings have been a huge success, helping students learn jazz standards, practice jazz styles, and providing rhythm section backing tracks to help with improvisation. The problem with these traditional tools is that students can struggle to make the leap from a simple melody to improvising over a complete tune. Even if a student understands the chord-scale theory involved with each individual chord, solos over complete progressions can sound forced or boring – patterns, not solos.

Students at this level should have a step between basic single chord exercises and complete tunes. They should practice “mini-progressions” – 2 or 3 chord patterns that are common throughout jazz. Obviously, students have been told to practice II-Vs for a long time, but not every tune is only II-Vs. The number of variations in jazz are huge – some II-Vs have Trane changes, some have tritone subs, and some are common in Latin styles but not in swing.

Practicing all the variations usually comes down to learning so many tunes that things become second nature, but in the meantime students can benefit from practicing these progressions as though they were technical studies or etudes. Even though these situations are canned, students should avoid running patterns and actually improvise along with a live rhythm section – vamping the chord progressions that need work rather than complete tunes. Learning the harmonic vocabulary of jazz while also practicing the composition and style required to improvise means that students are learning complete harmonic concepts (“how to think”) rather than one tune (“what to think”).

This is where traditional play-alongs don’t offer a complete solution. The accompaniments these tools provide are so important for helping students with style and feel, but typically aren’t included for exercises or short progressions seen over and over again in the repertoire.

The Solution

The Latest SmartMusic Repertoire release included two new method books from the MakeMusic Improv Series, which are designed to address this problem. The first has basic melodies in a number of styles to help students with time and feel without requiring improvisation. The second has studies designed to help students progress to complete tunes by offering loops of common II-V, blues, and rhythm changes variants. Students can loop these common progressions and even change styles or choose which accompanying instruments to hear on each exercise. Tritone substitutions, for example, can be practiced over a montuno or over a swing feel, reinforcing style while also building confidence with this common II-V variation.

SM improv book example 2

Both books include accompaniments made with PGMusic’s Band-in-a-Box accompaniment software. Because the accompaniments use real musicians, students will find them more inspiring to play with than MIDI files, and they can help students hear what it would be like to play these styles with a live rhythm section. You can access these method books by clicking on the “MakeMusic Improv Series” tile in carousel on the SmartMusic Home Screen:

MakeMusic Improv Series

Let us know how these exercises are working with your jazz improvisation students in the comments section below.

Ryan SargentIn addition to his role as MakeMusic’s social media manager, Ryan Sargent is an active teacher and performer in the Denver-Boulder metropolitan area, and a member of the music faculty at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

A graduate of Baylor University, he has studied jazz composition and improvisation with Art Lande and Alex Parker.

Using Improved SmartMusic Accompaniments with Students



Mark Adler and Student

We recently added an exciting new SmartMusic feature to Finale 2014.5 that lets you create improved SmartMusic accompaniments (SMPX files) that can include the sounds of your favorite sound libraries, like Garritan, and/or live recorded audio. Previously, when you made your own SmartMusic files you were restricted to using general MIDI sounds. While you could certainly create great SmartMusic files, sometimes the audio quality was lacking. Now when I create an SMPX for a trumpet student, I can incorporate audio that will inspire them to be a better musician.

I’d like to share some of the SmartMusic files I’ve created for students that demonstrate how I use this new feature in my studio. Click here to download a .zip file of the four examples described below.

Most brass players are familiar with Herbert L. Clarke’s Technical Studies. While I may enjoy playing these everyday as part of my warm-up, some of my students might be less excited at the prospect, thinking them rather dry and boring. For examples 1 and 2, I have created SmartMusic files for two common Clarke studies which incorporate backing tracks that make these much more enjoyable to play and help to keep younger students engaged.

I suggest that students start at a slow pace, working on playing very evenly, then challenge them to slowly increase the tempo, always striving to play as evenly as possible. The audio for these files was created using Band-in-a-Box, then imported into Finale. Band-in-a-Box provides a great means for easily creating backing tracks for virtually any style of music and the audio they provide is recorded by top notch musicians. Click here for a closer look.

This next file will be familiar to anyone that has used the Arban Method. In example 3 I have imported a recording of one of Arban’s easier rhythm studies. While I would typically play this for students in their lesson, I also want them to be able to hear it when they practice at home and be able to practice along with the recording.

Example 4 is a file I made for a more advanced student who wanted to learn the Fanfare Abblasen, familiar to those that watch CBS Sunday Morning. I transcribed the piece featured in the famous portrait of Bach’s trumpet player, Gottfried Reiche, for piccolo trumpet in A. I imported a solo trumpet track recorded at a reasonable tempo (not too fast) for someone learning the piece, giving them room to work on incrementally speeding up.

These are just a few examples made possible with Finale’s new functionality. If you’d like to create your own SMPX files from Finale 2014.5, here’s a short video that demonstrates how to create a SmartMusic file with audio accompaniment, and another, broader overview video on creating SMPX files.

Are you using SMPX files? Let us know how by clicking on “Comments” below, or come and chat with me in person at the MakeMusic booth at the 2016 TMEA convention, February 10-13.

Mark Adler SmartMusic AccompanimentsSome of you may be familiar with my posts on the Finale Blog, but as this is my first appearance on the SmartMusic blog, a brief introduction is in order. My name is Mark Adler, I am the Finale Product Manager/Sr. Editor at MakeMusic. Before moving into this position, I was responsible for supervising music engraving for SmartMusic. I also supervised and wrote much of the MakeMusic-created content found in SmartMusic, writing hundreds of sight-reading etudes and such memorable SmartMusic classics as Frankenstein’s Monster Goes Jogging, and Jacque’s Unfortunate Boat Ride. Outside of MakeMusic, I am a professional musician and trumpet teacher who uses SmartMusic in both my daily practice and teaching studio.

SmartMusic Repertoire Update: February 2016



February Repertoire Update

This week we added 28 new ensemble titles to the SmartMusic Repertoire Library. Included are new pieces for choir, concert band, jazz ensemble, and string orchestra (a full list appears below). The SmartMusic carousel has also been updated, and in recognition of February being Black History Month, we have added a Black History Month category, as well as the MakeMusic Improv Series, which we’ll feature in greater detail next week.

Title Comp/Arr Publisher Music Type Pepper Level
All Aboard! Conaway, Matt C.L. Barnhouse Co. Concert Band B
Aura Lea Smith, Robert W. C.L. Barnhouse Co. Concert Band VE
Divine Image, The – SATB Shank, Joshua; Blake, William Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir ME
Dona Nobis Pacem – SATB Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus; Liebergen, Patrick M. Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Choir ME
Drummers Rule Balent, Andrew LudwigMasters Concert Band VE
Hold On – TTBB African American Spiritual; Brown, Jr., Uzee GIA Publications Inc Choir ME
Kitchen Poltergeist (A Rondo for String Orchestra and Kitchen Utensils) Sharp, Thom LudwigMasters String Orch. ME
Legend of Crystal Lake Shaffer, David C.L. Barnhouse Co. Concert Band E
Let’s Keep a Good Thing Goin’ Clark, Paul C.L. Barnhouse Co. Jazz Ensemble ME
Little Dipper, The Carubia, Mike Smart Chart Music Jazz Ensemble M
Maybe Someday Sherburne, Erik C.L. Barnhouse Co. Jazz Ensemble E
Mother Goose Tales McBrien, Brendan Kendor Music, Inc. String Orch. E
Mozart Canon, A – 2 Part Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus; Moore, Donald Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Choir E
National Emblem (March) Bagley, E.E.; Conaway, Matt C.L. Barnhouse Co. Concert Band E
Sedum trubacu (Seven Trumpeters) – SSA Lukáš, Zdenek Alliance Publications Inc. Choir M
Serenade Sheldon, Robert Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Concert Band VE
Sharks of Seville, The Monday, Deborah Baker Kendor Music, Inc. String Orch. E
Song of the Ocean Winds Gordon, Adrian Leap Year Music String Orch. ME
SOS Shutack, George Doug Beach Music Jazz Ensemble ME
South Street Blues Jarvis, Jeff Kendor Music, Inc. Jazz Ensemble ME
Squares Be Gone Sabina, Les Kendor Music, Inc. Jazz Ensemble E
Sunrise Over Kilimanjaro Huckeby, Ed C.L. Barnhouse Co. Concert Band ME
Swing There, Done That Norgaard, Martin FJH Music Company String Orch. ME
Swing Thing Story, Mike Belwin Jazz Ensemble E
TechnoStrings Lieberman, Julie Lyonn Kendor Music, Inc. String Orch. M
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Gordon, Adrian Leap Year Music String Orch. VE
What Do the Stars Do – SATB Porterfield, Sherri; Rossetti, Christina Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Choir ME
Zelenaj se, zelenaj – 2 Part Dvořák, Antonín Alliance Publications Inc. Choir M

You can request a piece for a future SmartMusic release here.

Developing a Young Mallet Player



Developing a Young Mallet Player

A student’s first year in band or orchestra is arguably the most influential and critical time in their musical life. Rather than teaching a beginning student all of the things they need in music, I tend to take the approach of teaching a small number of concepts and focusing on preventing the development of bad habits.

Technique

We can all agree that starting a bad habit at a young age is very easy to do, however breaking that habit down the road is exponentially more difficult! With beginning mallet students, I use the practice pad to develop technique in the hands, as the keyboard is largely used to develop the musical mind. We simply transfer our basic “piston stroke” over from the pad to the bells with the understanding that the bells are not providing rebound. Further instruction on keyboard tone quality is delayed until the second year of instruction when we are able to play on a variety of keyboards, rather than just beginner bell kits.

Through years of being a “struggling” mallet player, I have developed a teaching strategy that has yielded positive results in a short time. When learning a mallet piece at a young age, I would spend ten minutes on just one measure to make sure I was playing all the right pitches. Talk about inefficiency, not to mention sight reading skills in the basement! I have absolutely used my personal struggle to help my students not fall into the same trap and the new strategy has done wonders for my own playing, even at a more mature age.

Gamification

With beginning mallet players the first step is internalizing what notes correspond to the lines and spaces on the staff. Luckily, most of my students have been exposed to this in their general music class before they get to me. The next step is to know where all of these notes are on their keyboards. This one can take a while. One of the best tools for this is a speed note reading game such as this free one online. When youngsters play a game, they are SO much more willing and excited to learn. It is during this time of finding notes on the keyboards that half steps and whole steps are introduced. I find this concept to be very important to the next steps.

Bb Major Scale Note Positions

Early Reading and Avoiding the Sun

Once we can find our notes on the keyboard fairly well, we start the reading process. The first thing we do when “reading” is count the rhythm out loud. Next, we say the names of the notes (in rhythm) and touch the note as we say it. This step is the most crucial step in my opinion. This is where the connection between the music and the keyboard happens, which is where I always derailed as a young musician. We will repeat this step until everyone is comfortable and feels successful, and then we play!

While the students play, I am on high alert in search of the beginnings of bad habits, the biggest culprit being looking down at the keyboard! One of my favorite analogies is telling students to treat the keyboard like the sun. You can glance at it, but if you look for longer than a glance, you’ll go blind!

Now, the big issue with fighting this habit is that students are also developing technique at this time which increases their note accuracy. So when a student hears a wrong note, they instantly want to look down instead of understanding that it is likely just an accuracy issue that will get dialed in over time. My students start on bells, which is difficult for even experienced players to be accurate on, so I stress that missing a pitch on the bell kit is an acceptable mistake, whereas missing a rhythm is not. Most method books do a good job of starting with one or two notes and expanding the reading range little by little, which is helpful in building accuracy.

Scales

Before we start introducing the concept of key signatures, I introduce scales. I have really come to embrace the power of scales. The better students know and understand them, the more dangerous they become as musicians. I have tried several different approaches when teaching scales; here’s what I like at the moment: learning scales without music.

I understand the irony. Scales are the one thing that I would like my students to have memorized. Most other instruments have some sort of tactile reference in playing a scale, whereas on a keyboard instrument all of the notes “feel” the same when you play them. For this reason, I find it VERY difficult to play scales on a keyboard without looking down and my students are taught that they may look at the keyboard ONLY while playing scales.

So, we learn them in patterns. First the wwhwwwh formula (whole steps and half steps), and then we “block” them out. Meaning, grouping the naturals and accidentals to see the pattern created (ie for Bb: 1,2,1,3,1).

We organize the scales in the circle of 5ths/4ths, or as my students deemed it, the “circle of life.” This concept of understanding that all music is written in a series of scales and the circle is absolutely not above a beginning musician. I love seeing the “light bulb” moments when students begin to see all of the patterns that surround scales and the circle. Then with this understanding, when a key signature is present, the students know that all of the notes are just patterns in whatever scale is dictated.

That’s All

This is all I teach a young mallet player for the first year; all major scales and reading as much as we can get to. The finesse and nuance of mallet technique is reserved for the second year of instruction. Teaching finesse on a bell kit is a pretty tall order and it’s hard enough to hit those tiny keys as a 6th grader!

Nick FernandezNick Fernandez is the director of percussion at Bentonville Public Schools in Bentonville, Arkansas, where he teaches percussion students from 6th grade through 12th. Previously, Nick served as the director of percussion at Owasso Public Schools in Owasso, OK.

He has performed with the Colts Drum & Bugle Corps, the North Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Tulsa Signature Symphony, and various local bands in the Tulsa and Northwest Arkansas areas.

Flipping the Ensemble Classroom



SM_Flipped Classroom_blog

“Flipping the classroom” is all the rage in education right now. Advancements in technology have changed how teachers teach by making the distribution of education no longer dependent on being physically present with a teacher in the same time and space. Traditionally, flipping the ensemble classroom means that the students learn the content outside of class time and then come to class to apply the content.

So, how can we “flip” our ensemble rehearsals? When I was in graduate school, the conductor of our Wind Symphony told us, “Learn your parts in the practice room and come to rehearsal to learn everyone else’s parts.” Anyone who has taught an ensemble at any level knows that that would be quite a lofty and idealistic goal in most settings; however, a flipped-class approach can make this more of a reality. Flipping your ensemble can make your rehearsals more efficient and help your students take more ownership of their learning, leading them to develop skills that will help them be able to be life-long musicians who can continue to explore music on their own once they move on from a formal music program.

Concert Passages as Audition Material

My first suggestion is most applicable to situations where students are auditioning for chairs. Select the most difficult passages in the music you want to perform on the next concert as audition material. This will give your students impetus to practice the difficult passages to earn a higher chair. This approach is very efficient because the students need to prepare something for the audition, so they might as well be practicing something that will help the general cause within the ensemble! When they are practicing the parts of the music that is going to be most challenging in the upcoming rehearsal schedule, they will simultaneously be preparing for the audition and the concert. Remember to include challenges in both lyrical and technical areas to encourage extra focus on both important aspects of music.

Self-Evaluation

Another helpful way to flip your ensemble is to give students the opportunity to evaluate their performance outside of rehearsal time. Posting recordings of your ensemble and links to the best recordings you can find of the same repertoire can provide the students with a model of the ultimate goal, as well as a snapshot of where they are right now. Give students an assignment to compare and contrast the performances. This can be done at any level, from elementary to college, very effectively.

At any level, students can listen to two recordings, one of their group and one of another, and make observations of what is the same or different. One major benefit to doing these types of comparison exercises outside of class is that it gives students the time they need to think and evaluate. Some students take longer than others to respond, and because of that, those students might be less likely to participate in an in-class discussion, even when they have great ideas.

Completing this comparison outside of class will give every student the opportunity to provide you with his or her feedback, not just the students who are always raising their hands. This also puts some responsibility for learning on the students by allowing them to engage in critical-thinking as they discover ways to improve. If some students do not have internet access at home, perhaps copies of the music can be provided on CD, being sure to remain in compliance with copyright. Another option is to occasionally use station activities in class, which allows a similar approach to flipping the classroom, where the recordings are just be one of the stations.

Learning More about the Music

Besides learning how to actually perform musical works, most ensemble directors like their students to get to know more about the musical style, the composer, and relevant music theory. All of this can very effectively be done outside of class, using the flipped approach. Most schools use some sort of learning management system (LMS) now, which means that there is somewhere that the teacher can create a module, or collection of activities, for the students to complete outside of class.

A module for an ensemble might include a link to the composer’s website, a link to a YouTube video performance of the piece, another piece in the same musical style, and a relevant music theory lesson. The students could be asked to complete activities along the way that can provide evidence that they completed the activities and that can be used for assessment. Many schools now use Google extensively, so answers could be collected via a Google form, which allows for easy sorting and grading. A quick Google search on how to create Google forms can help anyone unfamiliar with the process.

A module might look something like this:

  1. Visit the following website for the composer of the piece we are performing in band. On the Google form, note one thing you have in common with the composer OR one thing that surprised you about the composer.
  2. Listen to the YouTube video of the high school band performing the piece we are also performing. On the Google form, note one thing you think our ensemble does better than this ensemble and one thing that their ensemble does better than we do.
  3. Listen to this recording of another march similar to the march we are performing on the upcoming concert. On the Google form, note what is similar and what is different about this march?
  4. Watch the video lesson on counting rhythms in cut-time and then complete the questions on the Google form.

I was purposely rather vague in my examples here to allow this to be relevant to any situation, but there are many ways you can use the resources available through technology to provide the students with the opportunity to engage with content outside of class. I spend a lot of time, especially in the summer, looking at technology and thinking about what technology could enhance my courses and my students’ learning experience, and much of that technology ends up being incorporated in my own flipped classes.

I hope these suggestions will help you help your students achieve the goal of learning their parts at home and coming together to make music, which is exactly what the flipped-classroom approach would achieve in an ensemble setting. The bottom line is to critically think about the elements of teaching that can be done by the students without all being gathered together and then consider the best way to do that. Then, ensemble rehearsal time, which has to occur with everyone in the same place at the same time, can be most productive and focused on bringing everything together and applying what was done outside of class.

Do you have a suggestion for flipping the ensemble classroom? Share it in the comments!

Kathleen MelagoKathleen Melago serves as Assistant Professor of Music Education at Slippery Rock University. She has taught music in Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Ohio, both in schools and privately. Kathy frequently presents at state, regional, and national conferences, and remains an active performer.

Her book, Modal Exercises for Double- and Triple-Tonguing Mastery, published by ALRY Publications in October 2012, received distinction as a finalist in the National Flute Association’s Newly Published Music competition.  She can be contacted by email at [email protected].

 

Band Student Leadership Benefits Everyone



Band Student Leadership Helps Everyone

Student leadership in the band is the backbone of the program. This is especially true for the high school and college programs but student leadership can also benefit middle school music organizations. During my high school career, I noticed good and not so good student leadership. The best type of leaders had a vested interest the band program. That vested interest starts with educating the potential leaders about leadership and habits of successful people.

Why is Student Leadership Essential?

Student leadership is important because no successful band director can do it all by him or herself. If the band director attempts to perform all of the tasks that are necessary for the program, the likelihood that he or she will “burn out,” especially if they don’t have an assistant band director, is greatly increased. In addition, students will have missed an opportunity to have responsibilities for logical tasks that will help them in their personal and professional growth. The fact is that there is just too much to be done! Training student leaders can not only make a band director’s job easier, and greatly reduce stress, it’s better for everyone involved.

Successfully managing logistical tasks such as the maintaining the classroom environment can have a tremendous effect on the band program. At the 2015 Midwest Clinic, I gave presentation on teaching techniques in Title I schools. In my presentation I described how Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point,” suggests that small things lead to big things. I believe that training section leaders how to maintain a clean and structured band room can result in not only in a better learning environment for students, but also a more disciplined band. Why? Because student leaders will begin to take a vested interest, first in maintaining the band room, and eventually in the program overall.

In the process, the student leaders will also influence other band students to maintain a structured room, further encouraging these students to also have increased pride in the organization. Training student leaders to do a small thing in maintaining the band room leads to a big thing in providing a structured learning environment and more pride in the organization. This kind of pride really contributes to making teaching more fulfilling and rewarding.

Year-Round Leadership Auditions

In my high school band program, I informed all potential leaders that their audition begins on the first day of school. Which means auditioning for leadership is year-round. I learned this lesson the hard way when auditioning student leadership during my early band directing days. My high school band included drum majors, dance/guard captains, section leaders. Two weeks before the leadership audition, I held two weeks of leadership training. The leadership candidates were required to fill out an application that included things like:

  • Their current G.P.A.,
  • Recommendations from four teacher and two administrators,
  • A list of the ensembles they had performed in (including those outside of school), and
  • An essay that featured questions such as “Why do you want to become a section leader/drum major?”

Then the leadership went through an interview process with the band staff. After the two weeks, the leaders performed a playing/dance audition, and the drum majors demonstrated training learned during the training. At the audition, two outside expert observers along with the band staff were called to judge leadership candidates.

After this lengthy process I announced the new drum majors. Within an hour of my announcement, I heard a student shout; “Mr. Arnold, Johnny’s mother is waiting for you at your car in the parking lot!” Of course, Johnny was a candidate who was not selected that year. From all appearances, Johnny’s mother was about to have it out with me because her child did not make drum major. While she eventually left, she did email the principal stating that I was “the worst person on earth,” and the audition was unfair to her child.

Years later, I can look back at this story with amusement, but it was not funny at the time.

One of Johnny’s issues was he decided to start showing leadership skills two weeks before the audition, not during the year. The whole experience taught me the importance of making leadership selection a year-round audition process.

I believe band directors should identify candidates early in the year and notate grades, good habits, demonstrations of leadership, and behaviors that need improvement. Then periodically during the year meet with the candidates and discuss what you have learned. I also took the next step and had the candidates and parents sign the meeting document. Not only does this help determine potential leaders but helps the student improve as leaders. Now, by the time the two-week leadership camp begins, both students and parents are fully aware of each student’s leadership status in the program.

How to Train Leaders

One resource I have found to be invaluable in working with prospective student leaders is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey. It’s vital that students learn how health/unhealthy habits influence human behavior. Reviewing this book with students not only helps me get to know band student leadership better but also helps the student in their personal lives. I have always believed that the place for successful music teachers to begin is with learning about each student. By doing so, the window of learning and growing becomes indefinite.

The concepts in this article were conceived to stress the importance of student leaders and their value to the band program. Student leaderships can assist the band director with administrative tasks, help reinforce rules, and promote pride in the band program. Additionally, selection of leadership should involve a yearlong process of candidate evaluations and conferences. By applying the concepts discussed, the band director will promote a more mature and prideful band organization.

Gabriel ArnoldGabriel Arnold received the B.M.E. and the M.M.E. from Florida State University. Before receiving his undergraduate degree, he served four years in the United States Marine Corps, where he played tuba with the Marine Band. In December 2015 he presented an in-service “Effective Band Director Techniques for Teaching in Title I Schools” for the Midwest Clinic.

Mr. Arnold is in his final year as a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University.

The College Audition



The College Audition

Editor’s note: When the subject of student auditions for college music programs came up, we turned to Tom Myer, the professor of saxophone at UC Boulder’s College of Music. Below Tom provides audition tips, from his perspective, for you to share directly with your students.

Your college audition is extremely important. In most cases, your audition for acceptance into the college or department of music is also your audition for a scholarship. My single best word of advice is to make contact with the college professor of the specific studio (flute, violin, percussion, etc.) for which you are auditioning WELL IN ADVANCE of the actual audition.

A ten minute audition simply is not enough time for faculty to get to know you or for you to get to know faculty. Making contact and/or taking a lesson prior to your audition really allows faculty to know if you are someone who will fit into their studio: the best candidate is not always the single most talented performer. I always encourage visiting students to observe rehearsals, lessons, and our weekly studio class as well as meet other saxophone majors, and take a lesson to help everyone to get a sense of whether this might be the perfect fit.

What to Play

Play something flashy. Wow everyone. This of course implies a great deal of preparation and a high level of performance. Play solo repertoire for your instrument. College websites often list suggested pieces and occasionally indicate required repertoire. Generally, a few movements from solo repertoire is appropriate.

Make an effort to show contrasting styles. Play repertoire that sounds good when played alone without piano accompaniment. A short etude can be effective but playing ONLY the all-state audition music will not show us your knowledge of the repertoire for your instrument. Jazz is appropriate only if the degree in which you intend to pursue has a jazz component. Orchestral excerpts may be appropriate depending on your instrument. Contact the professor ahead of time and ask them if your repertoire selections are appropriate.

The Audition

Your job is to convince your hosts that you really want to join their program. Smile sincerely. When a student enters the room for an audition, I always ask, “What do you have prepared for us today?” If you answer by providing a list of selected movements from five different pieces, the evaluation committee will likely be very impressed. If you prepare only the 2nd alto part from your high school’s last marching band show (I have actually experienced this) the committee will not be impressed. I almost always say, “Please play whatever you would like first.” Put your best foot forward by playing something you are comfortable with.

Of course, it’s normal to be a bit nervous. Practice playing through your audition material for your friends, teacher and family. There is no substitute for good preparation. Take private lessons and have your teacher help you with the audition material. Remember, audition committees are on your side. They want you to do well. They are rooting for you.

From the Evaluator’s Point of View

You must realize that most students will come into an audition and play the right notes and rhythms etc. However, what can separate you from others is playing that consists of clear and accurate rhythm (this is often difficult for many high school students when asked to play alone), beautiful tone, characteristic vibrato (if appropriate), and most of all, mature musical phrasing.

Audition in Person

A live audition gives the audition committee a chance to meet you, gives you a chance to visit the campus and shows faculty that you are serious about considering the school. Students from out of state sometimes send in an audition on video. Last year, a high school student submitted an audition video of what I consider to be graduate level repertoire, and the quality of his performance was “off the charts.”

However, this potential student had not previously contacted me at all, not even an email. It was obvious that he was sending his recording off to many schools just to see what kind of scholarships he would be offered. Clearly, he did not have much interest in my school. Both because I had a large pool of applicants and because I knew this student would be highly recruited by other schools, my financial offer to him was exactly zero dollars.

Also, please understand that there is no advantage in waiting until the last audition day. Many faculty make a video recording of your audition so that we can go back and compare auditions later. The last possible day for auditions is always booked solid with 10 minute auditions for several hours. By the end of the day the committee is often exhausted.

For the Saxophonist

Most saxophonists audition on the alto sax because the vast majority of quality repertoire is written for alto. A well-played baroque piece on soprano or baritone saxophone can be lovely. Be aware of the room you will play in. If you audition in a small room, it may not be appropriate to play the altissimo section from the Dahl Concerto. If you are considering playing a jazz piece, check with the teacher about whether this is appropriate or not for the audition. Not all schools or teachers are interested in hearing this. Consider playing a jazz transcription. This will tell the audition committee a lot about your jazz playing. Jamming along with an Aebersold recording is generally not recommended. It is appropriate to change mouthpieces to play jazz on a jazz mouthpiece and classical on a classical mouthpiece.

In closing, the most important thing for you to do is to directly contact the teacher of the school you are hoping to attend. The teacher will give you very clear expectations, recommendations, and information to make sure you audition will be as successful as possible.

Tom MyerTom Myer is the professor of saxophone at the College of Music at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his MM in woodwind performance and jazz studies from North Texas State University and his undergraduate in music education from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. He’s worked for Woody Herman, Nelson Riddle, Dave Grusin, Doc Severinsen and many more, premiered new works at the World Saxophone Congress, and has commissioned pieces in both classical and jazz. His recording Harbison, San Antonio was recently released by Albany Records.

Audition photo courtesy of the College of Music, University of Colorado Boulder

Earn CEUs at MakeMusic University



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