Beginning band instructors spend a lot of their time at the end of the school year recruiting future ensemble members. Some tour to elementary schools to perform or invite the younger students into their classroom. However they choose to do it, the goal is usually the same; to get students excited about the opportunity to learn a wind instrument in beginning band. But what if the recruitment actually began in elementary school general music?
Starting Recruitment Sooner
One way to begin the process earlier is to use the recorder. The recorder is the standard elementary wind instrument and it has its benefits and drawbacks. The recorder is more difficult than many people give it credit. The openings are so tiny that the precision and fine motor skills required really is quite high. The amount of air needed to make a sound, or rather a squeak, is hardly more than the faintest whisper.
Get a student to actually try beginning band, and they suddenly realize that the transition from the recorder to these large, heavy and complicated metal instruments is a big leap. This can discourage many students, and a certain percentage drop out after only a year.
What if there was another option? A bridge of sorts that helped more students be successful.
Cue the pre-band instruments.
What is Pre-Band?
Pre-band is an opportunity for all children to experience – and be successful – playing a wind instrument before joining beginning band. Pre-band strips away the notion that instruments are only for a select few. No longer is band limited to the talented, the students who already take lessons on another instrument, and those who can afford it.
Pre-band instruments provide an easy transition from playing recorder to being in the band. Unlike plastic instruments of the past, today our options include well-designed instruments that look and sound much like traditional band instruments. Some are available in eye-catching colors that can draw students’ attention.
Plus, there are new emerging pre-band curriculums, such as Nuvo’s WindStars, that provide a terrific foundation in basic notation reading, breathing and tone production. It is a fusion of elementary general music and beginning instrumental instruction revolutionary in the music education field. And best of all, both Volume 1 and 2 of WindStars are now available in SmartMusic.
Provide Time to Succeed
Have you ever tried something for the first time that you were really excited about, only to have a “less than stellar” experience? Sometimes it takes a few tries, other times it can take a few hundred minutes of practice before we can see any progress.
I have been involved with many “petting zoo” events. On these evenings, students eligible to join beginning band come to try a variety of instruments to see what they would be most interested in playing. These nights are also an opportunity for the teacher to assess if the instrument the student picks would be a good fit for them.
I have worked at the flute station many times. Students come for 2-3 minutes each and try to make a sound on a headjoint. I saw many students get frustrated when they didn’t get a sound right away and based on this one experience, many students decided the flute just wasn’t for them. This breaks my heart; 2-3 minutes is just not enough time to decide if you really like something.
Reaching ALL Students
Educators know how difficult it is to create a classroom environment that supports, but also challenges, every student at the various levels they are at. Not to mention that it seems classroom sizes only continue to grow and teacher support can be difficult to find.
As I have become more involved with pre-band classrooms, I have witnessed some incredibly creative teachers. Some teachers use pre-band instruments, like the Dood and Toot instruments, as incentives in their recorder classrooms. Students that are excelling find them to be a wonderful challenge to learn a new embouchure and build more breath support than a recorder requires. These instruments use recorder fingering making it a breeze for teachers to integrate.
On the other hand, some students may be struggling with covering all of the openings on the recorder or have some mobility restrictions. A new instrument called the Recorder+ finally brings another option for these students. This recorder with silicone keys allows a student to press anywhere on the key and the opening will seal. Many teachers are finding great success with their students when used as an adaptive instrument. Some schools are even using these as the new recorder for the entire class as it benefits all students and helps them progress more quickly through the planned curriculum.
Creating A Global Community
Pre-band instruments are also an appealing option for low-income communities, Title 1 schools and community organizations because of the lower initial investment than traditional band instruments. Perry Ditch, a high school band director in North Carolina, approached me with an idea that shook up my current view of the possible applications with these instruments.
His idea? To partner with an elementary school in Nairobi, Kenya and teach their students music lessons online! He created a whole project to fund their school’s internet installation in addition to a progression of pre-band instruments for the different grades. He chose pre-band instruments because they were a lower price point, could stand the travel half-way across the world and would require very little maintenance once they were in use.
Once the school had Internet and instruments, my favorite part of the project came into play. His high school students took turns teaching the lessons to the students in Kenya. It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it. What a wonderful example of a global community made possible through small instruments and a generous heart.
Regardless of where you find pre-band instruments, chances are they are opening up new opportunities for educators and students alike. I’ve even seen a few elementary marching bands equipped with pre-band instruments participate in their community parades. As music tends to do, it seems these pre-band instruments are creating more community connections.
Don’t Replace – Enhance!
There are so many wonderful teaching methodologies and materials out there that it can almost be overwhelming for a new music educator. It is exciting to see new opportunities in instrumental instruction over the past few years, such as ukuleles.
The moment pre-band really clicked for me is when I realized that it doesn’t replace anything an educator is already doing, but rather enhances their program. Some pre-band instruments, such as the Nuvo line, are pitched in C and can be easily combined with xylophones, ukuleles, Boomwhackers and recorders in addition to percussion. Imagine the concert opportunities with such a mixed ensemble. This ability to mix instruments also allows for easy scaffolding to create simpler and more complex parts.
However you choose to use pre-band instruments, I hope that you find it to be as rewarding for you and your students as I have.