Hitting the right note

February 2012


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CLARE HITCHCOCK shares her tried and tested top 10 tips for starting a school concert band.

Learning a musical instrument and playing in the school concert band can be such a rewarding experience for a child. Much enthusiasm and dedication are needed to set up a concert band that maintains the children’s interest and enjoyment. Here are a few pointers from my experience of establishing music programmes in several Waikato schools.

  1. Test ’em out. Give all children a ‘Selmer’ or equivalent ear test to determine who potentially has a good musical ear. A score of 100 out of 120 would indicate a person with a musical bent.
  2. Hold a parents’ evening. Hold an evening for parents and caregivers (and students) and encourage them to get their child to learn a musical instrument. Give statistics on how many academically high achievers also learn a musical instrument. Invite personnel from an instrument store like KBB music who can display a range of musical instruments suitable for a concert band and give parents options for hiring or buying instruments. Have short items from players of each instrument so potential band members can be inspired to try an instrument that appeals to them. Encourage students to try out the various instruments.
  3. Put tutors in place. Provide tutors for each instrumental group. Teach five notes in the concert pitch B flat. This puts clarinets, trumpets and tenor saxophones in the key of C and alto saxophones in the key of G. Flutes and trombones would play in B flat.
  4. Nurture. A nurturing first band conductor is paramount. Children need to feel successful and excited by their own progress.
  5. Perform often. The concert band needs to perform often. After all, a sports team performs every week! Invite families along to a first performance after two months. There is great, easy, catchy music available from music stores.
  6. Collaborate with other schools. Have a workshop with a neighbouring town’s concert band that culminates in a concert. Start a band camp involving several schools.
  7. Selection is the key. Choose your musical repertoire carefully. Simple, catchy music is best to begin with – especially well-known tunes.
  8. Aim for variety. For performances, have variety. For example, get the flutes to stand when they have the main tune, then the clarinets when the melody is theirs and so on. Use audience participation. For example, invite someone up to conduct a song and school the band to play out of time! Make it fun. Get a supporter dressed up to participate in a song like ‘George of the Jungle’.
  9. Keep parents involved. Send a questionnaire home to parents and caregivers with questions like: I hear my child play their instrument a) every night, b) two or three times a week, c) occasionally, d) seldom. This helps parents take an active interest in their child’s progress with their instrument and encourages more practice.
  10. Don’t put music against sport. Schools often make students choose between sporting and musical activities, by putting them head to head on the timetable. It isn’t fair to expect students to miss out on either.