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Rachel Ollestad

MUSE 355

Dr. Palmer

12 December 2016

HAT Journal Essay: Final Project

One of the biggest mistakes made by beginning instrumental teachers is to begin

their ensembles with reading music notation and playing their instruments from the very

beginning of the school year. There can be several valid reasons as to why teachers feel the

need to start students with playing instruments and reading music. Oftentimes, band

teachers feel the need to start preparing for concerts to showcase skills to administrators

and to parents. Teachers could also get swept up in the excitement and chaos that is

beginning band. Students want to play from the very beginning, and in order to please the

students, teachers can sometimes forego important instruction that help create well-

rounded, musically ready students. Some of this instruction includes the use of sound-

before-sight methods, movement, and audiation methods in early classes. Teachers also

have to keep in mind how their program will be run: everything from physical room set up

to recruitment and classroom management. Only when thinking about these things in

addition to everyday instrumental rehearsal will a beginning instrumental ensemble be


Because the average beginning instrumental teacher has a lot on his or her plate, it

can be difficult to justify spending a lot of time in the beginning of a new school year

assessing musical readiness and planning instruction that will best help students become

well-rounded musicians in the future. Planning this time into early lessons, however, is
vital as it sets the foundation for the rest of the school year. Before even beginning to play

instruments, teachers should devote sufficient time to assessing musical readiness by

having students complete basic rhythmic and tonal exercises designed to identify whether

or not they can keep a steady beat, hear a tonal center, and feel division of the beat.

Teachers also have to keep in mind that music learning is very closely related to

language acquisition. If students do not understand how to listen to, comprehend, and play

music they cannot be expected to read and notate music. Much like a child first learns how

to listen to and understand and then to speak language, she should also learn music in the

same way. A great way for a beginning instrumental teacher to do is to incorporate sound-

before- sight instruction into as many lessons as possible. Students should start by learning

how music sounds and feels to them. They should be mimicking the teacher and then

starting to form their own ideas with beginning improvisatory exercises. A beginning band

teacher is hopefully communicating well with the music departments from other schools in

the district, so that, by the time students reach middle school beginning band, they are

largely musically ready. It is important to remember, however, that if students are not

musically ready, it is better to take the time and teach them musical readiness skills before

introducing notation than to flood them with notation at the beginning and have them

struggling to keep up with musical ideas and concepts for the rest of the year. A wonderful

concert can always be performed using songs taught by rote in a variety of keys and


In addition to saving valuable instructional time in the future, teaching students how

music sounds before teaching them exactly how it works helps create musically literate

students. Musically literate students are those students who are able to understand music
on a deeper level instead of simply deciphering notes and pushing buttons. Button

pushers are all too common in beginning bands, largely because teachers do not take

adequate time to teach musical literacy at the beginning. Teachers should be incorporating

movement activities and audiation activities into their lessons, choosing instead to focus on

rehearsing repertoire. Beginning instrumental instructors should also be aware of a couple

of other teaching methods including teaching in chunks and addressing the true roots of

issues. Teaching in a whole-part-whole fashion is a great way for students to exercise their

melodic memories, and it is a great way to prepare students to read notation of a new

piece. Similarly, by addressing the true roots of issues, teachers can more accurately take

care of any problems with the music during a rehearsal. If a student is playing wrong notes,

it may not be because he is pushing down the wrong fingers or there is something wrong

with the instrument, it may be because the student cannot audiate or keep a steady beat.

A sound-before-sight technique can even be applied to the recruitment process. All

band teachers understand how important the recruitment process is, and one of the most

effective ways to recruit new students is to let them hear what they will sound like when/if

they join the band program. Directors can apply this method by taking older students to

play for elementary schools or inviting the community to a concert. After the recruitment

process, the teacher has to consider the logistics as to how the band program will be run on

a daily basis. The classroom has to be set up in a way that maximizes learning by providing

ample space for a variety of activities other than simply large ensemble rehearsals.

Similarly, the teacher has to consider how best to manage a classroom. It is important that

the teacher communicate goals, expectations, and consequences very clearly to students

and teachers. Classroom management issues can largely be avoided with good
communication and the establishment of a daily routine from the very beginning of the

school year.

The last consideration a beginning instrumental music teacher must take is how she

will assess the students in her ensemble. Many times, band class can become a

participation grade, and, therefore, carries little weight with administrators and parents. It

is important that the teacher take the time to include a variety of assessment opportunities

throughout the school year to document activities and classroom and individual progress.

These assessments can take the form of concerts, written tests, playing tests, pass-off cards,

homework assignments, or even daily warm-up activities. By having a paper record of the

students work, the teacher will be better prepared to discuss curriculum with parents and

administrators, and she will have a better idea about how to deliver instruction in the best

possible way to ensure the future musical success of her students.

There are so many aspects of teaching for a beginning band teacher that it can be

overwhelming to consider at first. Carefully thinking about how to incorporate the topics of

musical readiness, sight-before-sound, audiation, movement activities, and the logistics of

running a daily band class will help to give students the best, most comprehensive, and,

ultimately, most enjoyable beginning band experience. Teachers should always strive to

find new and interesting ways to make lessons engaging and relevant to beginning

instrumentalists. The ultimate goal of beginning music teachers should be to provide

students with the foundational skills they need to be successful in later ensembles, but it

should also be to instill a love and passion for life-long music making.