Tuning an Ensemble

3 common mistakes to re-think

We all want our ensembles to play better “in-tune.” We spend countless hours rehearsing and waving a tuner in front of our students trying to get that perfect pitch on a concert F or Bb. Why isn’t it working?

When students tune on a tuner, why do they still sound out of tune?

Here are 3 common problems I have encountered when spending time with different band programs.

1. The one note tuning process

This is probably the most common mistake.  Directors walk around with a tuner and say to each student “you’re sharp – pull out” or “you’re flat – push in.” What are we attempting to do with this process? It takes so much time and all to get one note to sound better. Instead, spend time helping students find the center of the characteristic tone with adjectives they can relate to and thoughts they can have in their head to achieve a more centered sound. Before going to the tuner, the first step should be getting a characteristic tone. You cannot tune a tone that is flat or sharp. If you try to do this, you will have a bad sound that registers in tune on the tuner, but will never resonate or project, and will always sound out of tune. The tuner should be a reference point after the tone is improved to make sure the student’s tuning slide is somewhat in the right position. A student can be “in-tune” on the tuner but still be sounding out of tune. Spend more time educating students on some helpful thoughts they can have going through their head to get to the core center, as well as teaching note and chord tendencies. I like to use: clear, centered, colorful, resonant and projection when teaching students to improve their tone and intonation. I ask them to think of certain colors to get to the center of the sound. They should also be listening to professional players to have a sound other than their own in their head.

2. Listen to your neighbor

In a world where your high school players are all playing at a professional level, this is a great thought, and the students should listen and blend, but what if their neighbor is -20 flat? What if the two people next to them have less than perfect tone qualities? When tuning each person, focus first on his/her best characteristic tone, without going to the tuner. I am certainly not saying this is not warranted, but the individual tone should be the biggest concern, and some very specific educational thoughts should be going through the young musicians heads before simply “listening to their neighbor”. When is this helpful? As the tone improves and as the ensemble matures but not as a complete means to get an ensemble “in-tune.” Instead of listening to just the neighbor, try to educate the students to focus more on listening to the way the notes fit in the chord and teaching the tendencies of the way notes respond both in the chord and with the specific instruments. Hear the waves of the way notes respond across the section/ensemble. Try having them listen to other individuals in the ensemble, and asking specific questions related to tone and pitch. Each question posed to your ensemble will help them think, and using others as an example can be helpful to all. Be a great player and play for your students. Sometimes just hearing it can produce amazing results. Students should always be aware of every musician around them, but not wrapped up in only their neighbor.

3. Tuning on the zero

I have found that most young musicians play flat. Simply put, the embouchures and air quality of younger players are not developed enough to produce a tone that is consistently in tune. Even when students are taken outside into the warm weather in the summer months, the sound of the band sounds flat even though the pitch rises. This is again because of the lack of focus and attention on a centered tone. The colors of instruments lie just above the zero on the tuner. It is more offensive to play under the pitch on the flat side, than missing just on the sharp side. When tuning try giving the student a bigger room to tune. I like to tune students somewhere in between the zero and +10 on the tuner. Beautiful bright colors will begin to resonate in the students tone (assuming they are first playing with a beautiful characteristic tone).

The philosophy that drives these suggestions is very detailed music education. I believe very strongly to work for higher level thoughts for young students. They are waiting for education that explains the WHY and the HOW of things. We mistakenly commonly say other phrases like “faster air” or “fill up” or “play to the crowd” without telling them HOW to do it. Think about how these phrases might sound to a young student who knows very little about music? HOW do you make your air faster? HOW do you fill up?

In your education have you heard or used these phrases? What higher level thoughts do you use in your own playing or teaching?

Place Less Emphasis on the “Test”

Now is the time to educate

It is safe to say that most if not all music educators want to be successful and have successful students. There are so many things that drive our schedules and our methods that we can become easily distracted. Marching Band competitions, rating festivals, student progress tests, band festivals, recitals, and the list goes on and on. In the midst of preparing for these events are we leaving time to educate?

I am convinced that in order for a student to be successful they need to  be passionate and have a teacher that is driven by educating, motivating and fostering that passionate student to be the best version of him or herself. All students are different and the needs vary from person to person. In order to get down to helping one succeed we need to understand that students are not numbers but real people with real needs.

Yes, there are certain standards and certain knowledge that we should strive to make sure students know and understand. I am certainly not saying we should not teach what is necessary, but I am asking the question, “Do we teach what the student needs, or to a list we have been fed through music school?” Does a young piano student that has an ability to compose and improvise need to spend most of their time learning Beethoven Sonatas? Yes, that is relevant and Beethoven’s place in music history is very important, but what will help evolve this student and build into his or her creative being?

Take time to care and take time to educate. 

It is as simple as that. Care about the people you are working with and educate them with information and a process that will stir up a crazy amount of passion.

Why do we teach to the test? Why are we so concerned about our “end of the process” assessment? Does it have more to do with us than our students. We sometimes don’t like these hard questions. Change is hard and it requires us to look at ourselves and swallow our pride.

Here is the thing. I am 100% convinced that if we take time to educate, take time to care and place emphasis on training young musicians that have thoughts running through their head when performing and practicing, we won’t need to worry about the test. That will take care of itself. The reason we are so concerned about the test is because we are trying to create some sort of magic or wizardry with our students when they haven’t been trained, motivated or educated to the fullest. We take time to worry about the overall product without taking time to develop the individual.

Take time to learn about the students. Do you know what drives them, what they like to do in their spare time and when their birthday is? People that feel important and included are more likely to enjoy the process and be open to the information presented to them. Help students build great character and foster their passions and abilities while giving them the necessary information.

Have you had a passionate, motivational teacher that made a difference in your life?

 

Marching Band Score Editing

Setting your kids up for success

With marching season upon us there are so many things to do and plan for. The music is being arranged, drill is being written and visual concepts are being finalized.  The planning process is extremely important in order to set your student musicians up for optimal success as we begin camps, but

Is there one step that you may be overlooking?

Many directors put a plan in process, choose music and have the music arranged for their ensembles by professionals that are excellent at what they do. This is certainly the first step to having a great product, but what many miss in the process is looking at the score and asking themselves, is this product exactly right for what will be successful on the field for my ensemble. Am I taking care of everything on the planning end so the final product will not cost the students in the end? Sometimes we blame the students for problems they cannot control.

The score editing process is one many overlook in the many stages of planning.  An arrangement that is written for your ensemble most likely has many issues that cause your students to have inherent problems on and off the field. This will also cause problems in the judges scoring because of what the kids can actually acheive. It is very important to have someone really comb through the score measure by measure so that a clean product can be presented to students at the start of the season. The beginning product needs to be free of issues that always cause directors to “pull their hair out” throughout the season.

Here are some problems that need to be addressed in order to present a product that can and will be successful from the very beginning of the season, without spending countless hours trying to rewrite and redo things throughout the season.

1. Pacing issues

When judges are looking at a show for the first time, they want to feel the show’s emotion and musicality without having their interest interrupted by segments of the show that are like run on sentences.  Judges are much like spectators. They want to be entertained. They want the show to move along and take them through a storyline. Much like a “slow” movie, if things do not move quickly, and present new ideas, we become bored and begin looking for things that are wrong. In order to score well, the judge cannot be bored. Also, how will the musical pacing work with the visual design? Am I giving the drill writer enough time to get his/her point across in a very innovative way?

2. Construction issues

Much the same as pacing, constuction is looking at how each section is incorporated in the show and how they fit in with each other. If 3/4 of the opener is woodwind contribution because your band has a strong woodwind section, the communication of the musical intent is not helping because of the one timbre that runs too long.  Along these lines there might be too long of a percussion feature without giving the ear another tidbit of music to spark an interest.  What about the way the opener feeds into the ballad and how we want to build a strong foundation to be ready for a nice slow down.  Are the introduction, plot, climax and resolutions in the right spots to feel secure in our story telling?

3. Rhythmic issues

There are just some rhythms that do not work on the field even if you have the best marching band in the country. The time is simply not there to rehearse things to death that most likely will not improve very much. Our time is so precious in the high school marching activity. It is imperative that rhyhthmic issues are looked at before passing your product out to your student musicians. Syncopation is an example of a rhythm that generally presents problems. I am certainly not saying you cannot use it, but how does it fit in with the other instruments, how much time do we have to rehearse and what tempo are they expected to master it? It almost certainly drags when being attempted at quick exciting tempi. Certain 16th note passages just for the sake of being flashy, or triplets that could be written as eighth notes.  Think about what is going to give your student a 100% chance to be 100% successful 100% of the time.

4. Breathing

Where do your kids breathe?  Breathing in the sport of the arts is the number one priority.  Students cannot be successful without proper breathing and time to take the proper breath. The score must be looked at from the standpoint of giving the musician the best opportunity for success, especially when we want to have very emotionally stirring big sections of the show.  We have all heard directors yell “louder”, “dont give up”, etc. Most of the time it is not because the students are not trying, they simply have not been given the opportunity to be successful.  They have nowhere to breathe.  I have also heard directors say “stagger your breathing.” While this is needed sometimes, unless very thorough attention in rehearsals has been done to show students where to “stagger,” just saying it will never happen.  Places for group breaths, and building breaths into each section strategically is a very large priority.

5. Dynamics

This is probably one of the most important things that is overlooked. Many arrangers write very surface dynamics in the music like f, mf or ff, but what about the in between where the music can be found.  As stated above, students need to be able to breathe, and adding dynamic interest is one way to add hidden breaths without really knowing they are there.  For an example, the bottom of a sfzp crescendo can allow a student to sneak a breath before coming back up to the large dynamic. Also, in order to score well in the music effect category we have to be very strategic at looking at what is the most important voice that needs to be heard, and add dynamics that will help this to sound like it should on a first or second reading. We want the score to be very transparent and basically spoon our intent to the judges. Not only these things, but having a clean score with very specific dynamics so the percussion writing can be written as a reflection of this.  Many bands have percussion sections that sound like they are doing one show, and the winds are doing another. Most likely, the percussion writer received a score with little to no dynamic editing.  The percussion writer needs to write very musically and know if he/she is writing with the woodwinds, or with the brass and how the battery and front ensemble fit into the overall product. This cannot be overlooked.

The one phrase that should be over every one of these categories is, “What can my students achieve and what allows them to be 100% successful 100% of the time. How many times have we said “I hope this section of the show goes well”. There should be no hope but confidence in the product given to the students that WILL allow success. No matter if you have a “young” band or a very mature ensemble, there are certain things that you can do before the season to make each sound and look mature and professional.

Choose a professional musician, possibly one who has done some marching arts adjudication, to look over your score and work with you on what will allow your students to be successful. Plan ahead so you do not waste time later.  Be proactive in your students success so you do not have to blame them for problems they cannot control later. Ask for help!

Do you use a score editor? If not I would be happy to help you look into this for your ensemble. Please contact me with any questions you may have regarding this process.

Band Directors are CEOs

It is hard to believe that after many years of school to become a music educator, a band director WILL become a businessman or woman, but that is exactly what happens. In band programs today, the budget and personnel that a music department operates with is not unlike that of a large corporation. In order to operate smoothly and successfully the head director must be the CEO and implement great business skills to have the company run smoothly and successfully.

What does that look like in a band today?

1. Hire the right people

Just like any successful business, it is important to surround yourself with team members that will be team players, are highly motivated, humble and not self serving, and are the best option for the task at hand. Far too often, there is not enough of a “hiring process” when staffing a successful band program. How smoothly do I want the program to run and am I getting the best product for the money?

2. Know how to manage money

How do we spend the money we have that will allow the program to run the smoothest.  In a world where we buy what we want, when we want, there is little thought to if it is really neccessary and if it is the best thing for us.  Far too often, I hear band directors say “we just don’t have the money for that”.  While that may be true, where is the money being spent, and is every dollar going for the sake of education and what is best for the musicians?  For example: Look for the best deals on instruments, instead of paying retail. Do we really need a brand new mat for our winter programs? Could we compete closer to home? Are these new uniforms necessary, or are the ones we currently use working ok? Are we really ready for Bands of America, or should we improve our overall product first?

3. Be a great leader

Be humble, be a servant, be intentional, be passionate.  The team members of an organization will only perform to the level of the leadership.  Have regular meetings with staff and the organization. Let them understand the educational goals of what is attempting to be accomplished.  Be someone that has an infectious work ethic and empowers everyone around to be better people.  Study how to be a great leader and what that looks like in the business world.  Be a constant reader and studier of the world’s best business people and how they are able to grow, market and run a successful organization.

4. Learn when and how to let people go

Not always are people a right fit.  Too many times people hire their friends to work in a program and it just doesn’t work out. What happens next? How do you let that person go.  A “partnership is the only ship that wont float,” says Dave Ramsey, a high powered entrepeneur and businessman. Ask yourself, “do I have the best staff, with the most intense work ethic, excellent leadership qualities, and master educators? It is ok to let people go and move on to another solution to what is best for the program, finances and most importantly the education of the students.

5. Be an effective salesperson

Too often, the numbers of a band program suffer because the lack of intent on being able to sell the students on band.  Simply put, we have to learn to communicate our product with potential buyers.  In the professional world, most people do not find work waiting for the phone to ring.  You have to leave the cave and drag home dinner. Learn to go after what you want and be able to show potential students why this is right for them.  Do not be afraid to leave the office and sell face to face.

6. Don’t micromanage or try to do everything yourself

Trust the folks you hire to do the job you need done.  Most band directors do not do much band directing.  Yes, they still conduct the band, and lead the program, but the percentage of time spent  educating becomes less and less as the program grows.  Be a motivator and place people in your program who are talented at their craft.  Teach others what is expected and watch them be successful in their positition.  They are a reflection of you.

Check out Dave Ramsey’s book Entreleadership for a good read on how to run a successful business.

Are you a director running a program?  Can you relate to being a CEO?

Gary Dafler is a True Artist

I cannot say thank you enough to Gary Dafler for the repair work he does on brass instruments.  In a world where it is hard to find great service and products, Gary provides 100% quality service with a smile.

Gary works at Hauer Music in Dayton, Ohio but could easily have his own shop with the amount of people that drive long distances for his magic in the repair shop.  I first learned of Gary from a referral by Alan Siebert while attending CCM in 2004.  I thought it was a long way to drive to get a trumpet repaired, but soon found out why he was highly recommended.

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Cincinnati to Dayton is never too far to drive for great service.

He will usually fit me in while I wait, even when I bring multiple instruments with me. He allows you to come up to his workplace, watch him work, and talk about life.  He also has a “wall of fame” where he proudly displays the professionals he has met and done work for in the past, including but not limited to Wynton Marsalis.

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His workshop has all the tools needed to create beautiful works of art from putting horns togethers to repairs of the worst magnitude.  He always creates a masterpiece and it is truly amazing what he is able to do. He is the only person I trust with my instruments and the only person I refer.

Thanks, Gary for your quality work, professionalism, and for being such a great guy.

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Has Gary done work on your instrument? Leave a comment about a great experience with him.

 

Schools Celebrate Chamber Music Programs

Recently two schools in Kentucky celebrated the power and educational benefits of students learning in a chamber ensemble setting. Dixie Heights High School and Madison Central High School have taken the leap to implement professional, organized and weekly chamber music programs.  I have been excited to help both schools implement these programs into their daily curriculum. All ensembles performed without a conductor and with only 1 hour per week rehearsal time.  Rehearsing less puts more personal responsibility on the students to prepare outside of class and motivates the student to learn the importance of professional practice and preparation. They take pride in their ensembles and learn to communicate non verbally tempo, musicality and how their part fits into the overall big picture of the ensemble.

If you are interested in building a chamber music program into your school music program, please visit my chamber ensemble page for more information. There are many possibilities available and the educational benefits for your program will be invaluable.

Recent Post:

Band, Meet Chamber Music

Thoughts on the New WGI Winds

The marching arts are hugely popular and can teach so many beneficial things to musicians involved.  There are varying degrees of learning that takes place when involving oneself in marching arts activities and they certainly have their place within music education. This post is in no way meant to take anything away from the marching arts but simply an attempt to offer some thoughts on a new program called WGI Winds.

Yes it is true that until now, wind players have not had an outlet in WGI winter programs, and I believe that there is a reason that it has not happened. With all that happens in a year of school for young musicians, is there really room to add another marching activity in an already busy schedule of pep band, concert bands, jazz bands, chamber music, private lessons, etc.? Do we need to add more marching activities to an already “marching heavy” curriculum? Those of us that are involved in competitive marching band realize that from the months of July until November, marching band is a way of life, and if not careful, can take over a band program causing things to be over balanced in a facet of music education that can ONLY exist because of the winter/spring training.

What is the most important part of a wind players musical training in the school system?

I believe it is broken into 3 main parts: Chamber Music participation, Private Lessons and Band Activities with multiple performances in each of these parts of the education process.  Each of these adds value to the educational process and helps to form the total musician that is the best version of him or herself. Most of these activities take place from January-May, with some band programs spending time on concert band music during marching band season.  Because of the time and competition in marching season, private lessons, chamber ensembles and sometimes concert band reading can take a backseat as we prepare for “important” contests.

So, where does WGI Winds fit into this curriculum. Please, do not hear me saying it cannot fit, but my biggest questions is WHERE and if so, why is this needed? Hear are some arguments against another marching program for winds during the winter and spring.

  • Rote teaching – we continually teach the same pieces of music for months at a time which does not present a “real-world” experience for these young musicians.  As a professional, we rehearse once for multiple concerts, not months for a few concerts.
  • Sight-Reading – If we are practicing for competitions and performances, we are in a sense preparing for the test. When do we get to focus on sight-reading when students are playing the same music for months at a time.
  • Time – When do the students get to practice and be able to take individual responsibility to improve their playing outside of competitive activities? If we are constantly preparing a “show” when do the students practice music other than the show music?
  • Money – many programs are spending thousands of dollars on fall  marching programs, when their students cannot play their instruments, or have not trained knowledgable musicians. How many masterclasses, lessons, chamber ensembles, trips to the symphony could we purchase instead of a winterguard mat, new marching costumes, transportation, etc.
  • The love for marching takes over – it is already difficult enough in some programs to instill a love of the “concert season” in parents and students because they love the competition so much. Adding another competitive wind activity can create even more animosity to an already slippery slope. Some parents call the concert season the “off season”. I would not want to create another organization for parents to attempt to be only involved in instead of the concert program.
  • Priorities – Shouldn’t our priorities be trying to create a love for music and creating the best musical versions of our students? If we compare and mirror our music programs after the professional music world, which is what we should be doing, isn’t it important to train students to be able to perform, practice and fit into the professional world? In order to create impeccable young musicians with an ability to sight-read and perform many different genres, just about all the time we have in our schedule is what is already in the curriculum for a wind player. Masterclasses with high level professional musicians, chamber music programs with multiple performance opportunities (with a book full of music to choose from), improvisation and jazz opportunities, private lessons and lastly trips to hear professsionals perform.
  • Educational process – The problem with the system that is in place is just about every part of the school day the students are given multiple opportunities to get things wrong. Even in our band classes, students play 3 on a part, and practice the same music for months at a time, and subconsciously know that they can mess up because they will always have tomorrow. I believe we need to create more opportunites to get things right quicker without presenting another opportunity to have multiple rehearsals. I am sure with WGI Winds preparations, there would be multiple rehearsals per week.

Is there any time when WGI Winds could be beneficial? I believe there are certain instances where it could add nicely to the curriculum of certain music programs:

  • Very small band – it could work nicely if there is a very small band program that feels the football field is too large of a venue for them to sound resonant and full. The Gym would be a nice space for them to connect with the audience on a more intimate level.
  • No fall marching band – If ensembles choose to train their musicians in the fall with concert band activities, the winter could be a nice time for the program to get their marching experience.

While  WGI Winds does present a chamber music avenue for young musicians, it does not allow students to work on reading and generally consists of instrumentation that is not normal to the professional chamber music idiom. Maybe having a rehearsal limit, and having to perform multiple different shows would help the educational benefit, but there are still many issues that cause it to present problems in today’s music education system.

I am a large supporter of the marching arts, and think there are huge benefits to students participating in the marching arts. I am a consultant, brass instructor and active adjudicator as well as a professional musician and value the time spent on the preparation of the WGI Winds program. I am in no way criticizing the people involved and am just expressing my thoughts on a brand new outlet in the marching arts.

What are your thoughts on WGI Winds?

 

Why Should I Learn My Scales?

We have all heard this phrase many times as music educators, especially if we do private music lesson teaching.

Why do students fight so hard against learning scales and why is it so hard for them to grasp why they are important?

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I guess it is like anything in life that really isn’t that much fun, but is really good for us. Human nature is to rebel against things that do not provide us with instant joy as we want everything right now.  It takes a good deal of training and experience to realize how to achieve our goals and the tough work that lies in between point A and point B.

I try to answer the above question for students before they even ask it. I try to motivate them with the knowledge to understand that learning scales is not busy work, but provides them with the power to become the best musical version of themselves. 

Since we are in the middle of march madness, and everyone has a busted bracket at this point, no doubt, I will equate scales to free throws. Many basketball teams do not work on free throws in their practice sessions but then expect to hit them when the pressure is on. It just isn’t possible. Without that training of the basics and fundamentals, and taking individual responsibility to go through the “basic training”, the game cannot be won at the end.

The same is true in music. Without the fundamental training of scales and patterns, true mastery of music in pressure situations will never happen. There is something that happens to us when we decide to take the initiative to spend time on basics and fundamentals instead of jumping right into a piece of music. Our minds become focused, our character becomes stronger and our mastery of our craft takes on a new form. Can you imagine jumping into the Ohio River and you have never been to the pool? Can you imagine running a marathon with no training? That is exactly what happens when students jump into solos or etudes without the tools from fundamental scales first.

Of course personal responsibility is only one reason to learn your scales, but there are many many more. In fact, there are so many reasons that this post could become very long and boring, so I will just list a few that I use with my students.  I always tell my private music lesson students that they could be excellent musicians if they just practices their scales and only scales in their practice sessions.

Here are a few things scales will improve:

  • sight reading
  • tone quality
  • technique
  • range (for instrumentalists)
  • air flow and evenness in all registers (instrumentalists)
  • key signatures
  • articulation
  • volume control
  • breathing
  • rhythm
  • tempo
  • musicality
  • intonation

Do you focus on scales in your lessons and if so, what are ways you motivate your students?

Six Steps to a Better Brass Section

There is nothing more exciting than hearing a drum corp or marching band with a big, full rich brass sound that resonates in our soul.  I can remember watching the Star of Indiana rehearse when I was young and the sound of the brass wrapped around me like a warm coat. I was hooked on THAT sound.

How do we produce impeccable brass section sounds at the high school level?

It obviously starts with the training and the right decisions being made during the concert season. But, lets say care has been taken in this area and we are ready to improve our brass sound for the upcoming marching season.

Here are 6 things that I do when working with brass sections to get that “wrap around warmth.” Again, this is assuming proper brass training, private lessons, and correct decision making has been made prior to the marching season beginning.

1. Begin with Breathing

Training students in the fundamentals of correct relaxed breathing and tone production to create resonance and projection are paramount to the overall brass sound. The key word is RELAXED. Breathe like a pendulum, the same back and the same forward.

2. Discover the Center

Help the student musicians understand how to discover the core center of the characteristic tone. I like to have the students all say “ah” and sing a pitch with that syllable.  Then I will have them close their mouths and hum the same pitch.  We then discuss which one “resonates” more and why? The students begin to hear the core “buzz” that is at the center of the “ah” syllable. I will have all students play at a F volume with a breath attack, staying relaxed. It is easier to hear the core buzz at bigger volumes.  We then take that sound and bring it down in volume, after the “buzz” is realized. The center is where the resonance, projection and color lives.

3. I + B = V

Intonation + Balance = Volume.  So many brass sections just play loud.  I do not use the word loud.  We say full, big, resonant, in tune, balanced.  High School brass players only have a certain limit to the volume they can produce.  Most are not playing with a 100% characterstic tone, so when they try to force a bad sound it hurts the overall volume of the section. Instead, focus on playing in tune and balanced to create more volume all while staying relaxed.  Oh, and be very mindful of how many people are in your brass section.  20 cannot sound like 70.  Be realistic with your volume expectations.

4. Understand Intonation

Thorough education on the fundamental issues involved with intonation and the tendencies of notes and chords.  Students must understand how the tuning changes depending on what note of the chord they play.  They need to understand the valve or slide tendencies of their instrument.  They need to know their own tendencies as a player. For example, do they play flat or sharp in the upper register? Do they play in tune in the middle register? Please do not tune every person with a tuner on one note! There is so much more to each persons individuality in tuning than the old one note tuning.

5. Understand Balance

Helping the section understand and acheive a balanced/cohesive sound. This balance needs to be realized within each section as well as within the larger brass section. It always seems like trumpets take over a brass section. Most bands let their first trumpets go crazy and hang out above the entire band. Think of the 1st trumpets as the sprinkles on the cupcake.  A few sprinkles are just perfect, but a bucket of sprinkles would ruin the cupcake.  A balanced trumpet section might look like this depending on how large your section is and how competent your musicians are. If you have 20 trumpets and 3 parts.  1-3 on first part (they should not all play 1st at the same time) 7 on 2nd part and 10 on 3rd part.  We really just need to feel the 1st trumpet part most of the time, not really hear it. Other issues are getting a beautiful middle sound from the mellos, and helping the lower trumpets understand how they can help bring that sound out instead of taking over it.  Help students learn how to crawl into each others sound and create a homogenous brass sound. There is so much more to discuss, but this is a beginning. Understanding balance, making correct arranging decisions (a whole other discussion), and making correct choices on part assignments are a good start.

6. How to articulate

Very detailed instruction on the fundamentals and techniques involved in performing different articulation styles. What is the difference between an accent and a marcato, and how do we achieve projection and a clear front to these articulations. Spend many sessions in a very detailed rehearsal playing legato, staccato, accent, marcato and sostenuto articulations and focusing on the front, middle and ending to each note.  Keep the focus on staying relaxed and work different dymnamic levels.

If we create the most competent  and knowledgable students and have them be the best versions of themselves, success will be realized.

Interested in work with your brass section? I am available for Music advising and brass education.

What are your thoughts about brass in marching band?

Off the Beaten Path

Down I-75, off Exit 90, is a town called Richmond, Ky where a band program exists that is just “off the beaten path” called Madison Central High School.

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I had adjudicated the MCHS Marching Band on several occasions for many years, and was excited about the opportunity to do some consult work with them in 2011. I had no idea the musical fulfillment, relationships, musical growth and pure joy that would evolve over the past 4 years.

They do things the right way in Richmond.

All parts of the band program are successful because of special care in each area that ensures students are receiving a top notch music education. They understand that to have a successful marching program in the fall, the concert program must be the primary focus. They understand that to have a successful concert program, they must limit the amount of “spoon feeding” and focus on creating knowledgable individual student musicians with high personal responsibility. They understand that in order to create and foster student musicians with large amounts of personal responibility, they must trust their educational process and do more than play in a band and rehearse a lot.  They are constant learners and thinkers and are humble in their approach, therefore not afraid to incorporate new ideas, some that might be scary or “off the beaten path”.

What else are they doing right?

They have a growing and evolving chamber music program that the students enjoy and thrive from. The directors are  not afraid to turn the students loose out of the main ensemble to learn and grow without a conductor.

They do not over rehearse the students. In December, the Madison Central Music Department put on a concert with only 3 weeks of prep and not your typcial music concert. They partnered with the choral department and put on current arrangements, some in keys that are not common for the high school muscian, and trusted the students to do the preparation outside of rehearsal. On the cusp of a KMEA performance, they saw the benefit of performing and preparing this Christmas program, in which thousands from the community enjoyed at the EKU Arts Center.

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Speaking of KMEA, the MCHS Wind Ensemble is performing at the KMEA State Convention on Thursday February 5, at 1:00.  They began rehearsing for this ever important concert on January 4. One month of preparation is all the students were given, and really, all they needed. The directors understand that students want to succeed, and the less chances they give them to get it wrong, the faster they will get it right. I was there 2 days before this event to witness this band rehearse.  These young musicians were so competent that there were no “high school” level comments being made. The rehearsals were about style and emotion, listening and communicating, phrasing and beauty of tone. It was a huge confirmation of what happens when music is educated and students are trusted, instead of fed with a large spoon.

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Yes, they won the KMEA 5A State Marching Band  Championship this year, but that award comes from doing things the right way.  The students love the band program and thrive from the many experience that are given to them. They love the concert program and making music with each other and they trust the staff to provide musical experiences that are unparalled at the high school level. They have passion and a huge work ethic that comes from a high level of  importance placed on each individual’s training.

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I must also mention the amazing Directors who are never afraid to learn, ask questions and evolve and grow as musicians and educators. Both Brent Barton and David Jaggie are passionate, humble, hard working and selfless. Who knew that in 2011 from a few marching band consults, that I would be able to form relationships with two of the finest music educators in the business, and all would happen just a little “off the beaten path.”

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I could not not be more impressed with a band program, and what these students from rural Richmond, Ky are able to accomplish with less resources than that of larger areas. Keep up the good work Madison Central. I look forward to being part of this stellar band program for many years to come. Thanks for your commitment to musical excellence.

Music Advising for your Marching Band

What are your thoughts about MCHS’s band program?