Are Your Students Thunderstruck?
It's always hard to start back in with music classes after a break – kids minds are still in “vacation mode” and are rarely on their instruments. So what can school band directors do to get them engaged, excited, and back in practice mode?
Here are just a few ideas to help you get the ball rolling.
Change the Tempo
Especially in a song students have heard over and over (as they undoubtedly will by the time a semester is done), messing with the tempo is a great way to capture their attention. Slowing a song way down can help cement muscle memory and fix many playing problems students have. Sometimes though, there's an energetic speed demon or two in class – they just want to play the song as fast as possible. This can be a fun exercise too – how fast can they play it without messing up? It's a great way to keep students on their toes.
Add Drum Tracks
What better way to spice up a practice than playing to a drum track? It not only helps give the practice a little extra energy, but can help them with timing as well. It can even give students a psychological lift when what they're playing sounds “cool”. What's more, if you can build your own tracks, you can get as fun with it as you want – it's much more exciting than a click track or metronome.
Odds are, you're going to have a few absences here and there – heck, you might even be missing whole sections. Needless to say, it can really throw the other sections off when they don't hear the parts they're used to – not to mention the fact that it's kind of a downer. But what if you have your students play with a pre-recorded track? Then they not only hear how it's “supposed” to sound – but it's in tune and on time. Even if you're lucky enough to have full attendance, it can still be useful to fine tune each section individually – and tracks can help with that as well!
Once students have the whole song under their belts, it's time for the rubber to meet the road. Often, struggles center around a specific section – and sometimes more than one. So hone in on those few measures and loop them. Don't be afraid to slow them down either – it can make the difference between a song sounding just okay and being stellar.
Sometimes learning a whole piece can be overwhelming, particularly if it's a difficult one. One answer is to break a piece down into units – maybe four or five of them. Each unit is a section of the song they're learning and by the time the semester is done, they've learned the whole song. This allows students to perfect each section and not get overwhelmed.
As just one example of some of these techniques, take a look at band this lesson plan arranger and orchestra teacher Eric McGuire Wenstrom came up with. Students can even follow along with a cursor that moves through the score, right in time with the audio. Prepare to be Thunderstruck!