This has been the best FIRST week of school EVER! I usually despise the first week of band and orchestra because of how crazy it feels. Here is a short list of the things that must be done with beginners:
1-Check out lockers
2-Pass out class documents
4-Check out school instruments
5-Teach how to hold & care for instruments
6-Teach how to create a good first tone
7-Teach the basics of music notation
8-Get students playing their first 3 notes
9-Establish class rules and norms
Can anyone truly accomplish all these things in one week?! I have always hated the feelings of frantic CRAZINESS attempting all this in the first week, along with the inevitable feelings of FAILURE that accompany the effort.
I know that many music teachers say, "That is why I have a summer program", and I agree that starting students in homogeneous summer classes can be extremely beneficial. However, I have personally never been able to get more than 60% of incoming students to attend my summer band or summer orchestra program, and I have really disliked trying to make the first month of school feel successful to each student when there is such disparity in between students' prior musical experience. I determined this year to solve the "HAVES vs HAVE NOTS" problem by eliminating my annual summer program (my family sure enjoyed the extra time we spent together) and starting the school year with a revolutionary approach to teaching heterogenous beginning instrumental classes: NO INSTRUMENTS for 2 WEEKS.
I can hear plenty of outraged voices from my respected colleagues at this absurd notion: "Students NEED to get playing on instruments as soon as possible to be highly motivated"..."I want to get them making successful sounds as fast as possible"..."Parents become awe-struck, devoted supporters when they hear music after the first day of band".
I know, I know! There are many reasons to attempt the impossible, but let's consider some reasons for WAITING to get those sticky fingers all over the instruments in an insanely short amount of time. When students are told that there is much to learn before they can begin to play, the teacher is endowed with PLENTY of time to:
1-Establish clear, well-practiced class rules and norms
2-Explore the basic elements of music and notation
3-Engage in "get-to-know-you" activities with the students
4-Prepare students to handle and care for their instruments
5-Teach posture, breathing, embouchure formation, and tone production
6-Handle instrument rental and purchasing issues
7-Make sure each and every student becomes a successful musician, even in large classes
Yes, the students keep asking, "When do we get to start playing our instruments". Isn't that great?! Aren't they highly motivated to do whatever it takes?! Why would that be a hard question to answer?! My answer is: "As soon as every student accomplishes THREE things: 1) Learns to follow the rules, 2) Learns to note names on the staff, and 3) Learns the first 5 notes and fingerings on their instruments." Meanwhile I teach so much more than these things. So much more!
Oh, I LOVE IT!!! This has been a wonderful week. I have throughly enjoyed teaching. I have shared and played and explored. I have established clear, rock-solid classroom norms. I have won students' hearts and minds. I have had gobs of time to "teach music", and I have done it all with NO INSTRUMENTS.