2003 Illinois Music Educators Association All State
Chip De Stefano, clinician/conductor, with Middleton Elementary School
Fifth Grade Band
Welcome, and Thank You for attending our session.
Thank you for attending our session. Since this is a music education
conference we’d like to start today with music. This is The
Crusaders by Frank Erickson, published by Belwin Mills. It’s
an easy Grade One, and homophonic throughout. As you’ll hear,
it’s based on the traditional Crusaders’ Hymn. In fact,
it’s so similar you’ll wonder why he just didn’t
arrange the original melody.
PERFORMANCE - “The Crusaders” by Frank
Statement of Purpose
It is the purpose of this performance demonstration is to discuss
strategies for tackling common issues in teaching beginner band.
Along the way, the students of the Middleton Elementary School
5th Grade Band, from Skokie, Illinois will assist me in demonstrating
various teaching techniques and we also have a few other works
to perform for you as well.
Topics to be covered include:
The topics to be covered will include: Goals for instruction, student
vocalizations, teaching musicianship, developing technique, selection
of materials, discipline and student motivation.
Topics that will not be covered:
I’m not here to discuss instrument specific instruction or
specifics regarding recruitment and retention. The are so many good
sessions at IMEA and Midwest covering these issues each year, that
it doesn’t make sense for me to stand up here and talk about
clarinet embouchures and trumpet hand position.
Much of our discussion should apply to working with older
and more experienced bands
Although I begin my students in the fourth grade, I do feel that
much of our discussion will apply older beginner bands. Hopefully,
what we cover will also be very applicable to more experienced bands
as well. I truly believe that rehearsing the beginning band should
not be approached any differently than rehearsing an ensemble of
professionals. It is the explanations that we want to keep simple,
not the concepts.
Setting High Expectations
Although you hear this at virtually every session, it bears repeating
for the millionth time. It is important to set high standards for
you students. The expectations that are set the first year of instruction
will be carried by the students for many years. Students are a
reflection of their teacher. Students will not work any harder,
care any more, or practice any more that you do. We have to prepare
as if we’re rehearsing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The
standard of professionalism in performance and behavior must be
set in this first year.
The primary goal for instruction in beginner band is to
get the student into the second year
The primary goal for instruction in beginner band is to get the student
into the second year. Most students are lost between the first and
second year of instruction. Kids, particularly 4th Graders, start
band thinking that they’ll play forever. Some parents may begin
thinking that their kid will only last a couple of months, or that
their kid is going to “give it a try” for a bit. The
kids don’t approach it this way though. The second they open
their case for the first time they are hooked. We have to get them
from the shine of the instrument to being intrinsically motivated
to practice as quickly as possible. I don’t need to tell you
that the student who practices is most likely to be successful, and
students who are successful are more likely to stick with it long
If a student is struggling, don’t be afraid to return him or
her to page one of the method book. If you’re worried about
a student might react to such a move, give them a different book.
I do this with all of my students at the beginning of their fifth
grade year. We start over in a different method book, one that moves
at a quicker pace, just to make sure that there are no gaps in their
learning. It also helps those kids who did not practice as much as
they should have over the summer to ease back into it with a minimum
This is one of the big advantages of starting kids so young. Time.
There is also plenty of time for a student to switch instruments
and still catch up to their peers. Don’t hesitate to change
a student’s instrument if it improves their chances for success,
improves instrumentation, and their parents are supportive of the
A “band mentor” program can be extremely beneficial to
your program without adding time to your already busy work schedule.
There are many advantages to such a program for both the mentor and
the mentee. This type of program is a wonderful way to find that
time that the struggling student, student who just switched instruments,
or the kid who needs just a little extra help on a certain aspect
of their playing needs. The mentee receives these lessons and guidance
from someone you trust and someone who knows what your expectations
are. The mentee gets to work with someone close to their age who
performs at a high level and provides a wonderful model that they
can aspire to achieve. Mentors, with your guidance, get valuable,
real world teaching experience at a young age. They become excited
about teaching, often coming back to you asking how to handle certain
performance problems that their student had during the lesson. Sometimes,
I think we underestimate how much our younger students learn from
our older students in rehearsals. This type of program takes this
type of learning, amplifies it at a younger age, and uses it to our
I’m unable to use band mentors for my beginners because of
the rehearsal schedule at the elementary school and middle school
that I teach. It is, however, extensively used with my 5th graders.
Everyone loves it. I’ve had almost twenty students from my
top band volunteer their time to give lessons. The fifth graders
are constantly asking me if they are getting pulled for a lesson
that day. More importantly, both mentor and mentee grow as musicians.
Finally, performance is a wonderful motivator for students. One of
the few things that matches that initial excitement of opening the
case for the first time is the excitement students feel as their
first performance approaches. Have your students perform as much
as possible. Formal concerts…school assemblies…performing
for the primary school students. To sooner they are ready for the
first performance the better. That first concert can be as simple
as several lines out of the method book…something that the
students will perform successfully.
Each of your ensembles must be treated with the same “specialness” that
you treat your top band. Your beginners need something to look forward
to in band the following year. Bring in guest clinicians, have special
performances for them to participate in. It probably goes without
saying that my best retention percentage from fourth to fifth grade
was this past year. We started 42 students last year and lost only
four students in the summer months (one moved).
The next selection we’re going to perform for you today is
Chant for Percussion by Andrew Balent published by Kjos. This is
also an easy grade one work. It is mostly homophonic with lots of
call and response between the winds and percussion section.
PERFORMANCE – “Chant for Percussion” by
One of the things I like to with my younger students is to teach
them concepts before they realize that they are difficult. For example,
one of the things we did with this work is discuss cut time. Without
going into too much detail, I show them the symbol for cut time,
explain that the note values receive half of what they are used to
giving them, and off we go. (DEMONSTRATION)
By the end of their first year, students should be able to produce
a characteristic tone on their instrument. Instructionally, tone
should take precedence above all other skills. What blows me away
year after year at Midwest and IMEA when listening to the fine
middle school bands that play each year is the quality of their
Of course, for a student to have a good sound, four things need to
be in place. The student needs a quality instrument in proper working
condition, the correct embouchure, breath support, and the aural
concept of a good tone.
The typical young student breath is shallow and provides a minimal
amount of support for their tone. Because of this, breathing exercises
are essential in helping students develop their tone quality.
Conceptually, students should think of their lungs as being divided
into two halves. The bottom half controls the quality, the upper
half controls the quantity. Filling up the top half of the lungs
is never a problem. Getting students to take a nice relaxed breath
that fills the bottom of the lungs takes training.
We begin every rehearsal with breathing exercises. Teaching students
what the proper breath “sounds like” will help them keep
the breath relaxed, particularly when they need to inhale quickly.
The way I think of this is same way I was taught as a young high
school trombonist. That is to think of the word “HO” backwards.
Students stand so that posture is not an issue. By placing their
hands on their head air is forced to the bottom of their lungs when
(BREATHING EXERCISES DEMONSTRATION)
By adding resistance, we can practice using our air efficiently while
taking in enough air to play long phrases.
(SIZZLE/BREATHING EXERCISES DEMONSTRATION)
Air temperature also affects tone quality.
(AIR TEMPERATURE DEMONSTRATION)
Generally, we want everyone blowing warm air through their instruments,
except for the saxophones who should be blowing cold air.
Developing the aural concept
Kids are not able to produce a good sound unless they know what a
good sound sounds like. Using words such as dark, warm and full
are not enough for the younger student. Even just a few minutes
a month of guided listening, in rehearsals or lessons, will be
enough to help students develop this inner hearing.
Everything they hear must be outstanding. If you’re not proficient
in secondary instruments, DO NOT PLAY THEM FOR YOUR STUDENTS. If
we want our students standards to be high, then excellence needs
to be the norm. If they hear their teacher playing with a stuff clarinet
sound, that is the sound they will try to model…simply because
you are their teacher.
I follow my own advice in this regard. I never provide a model for
my students on any instrument other than trombone. For the other
instruments, I bring in guests, play recordings, and if there is
a good recital at Northwestern I’ll bring interested students
(and parents) along.
In rehearsals, the concept is reinforced through student vocalizations.
Long tones, long tones, long tones
Although they are not the most exciting things to practice, long
tones are essential to developing a characteristic tone. Because
they are not exciting, young students cannot be depended upon practicing
them regularly, although it is important to make sure that long
tones are included in the practice routines you develop for you
students. Make sure long tones are done each time you see them.
They don’t need to be anything fancy.
(LONG TONE DEMONSTRATION – FLUTES)
In rehearsal, slow scales and chorales are extremely effective.
I would be remiss to forget to mention lip slurs for flutes and brass,
and mouthpiece buzzing for brass as vital exercises to developing
tone and lip flexibility in our students.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for our youngest students is sustained
playing. I seem to fight this battle daily and have resigned myself
to the fact that it’s a long-term process. It’s usually
not until 6th or 7th grades that my students really seem to grasp
this as well as I’d like. We use homophonic chorales to work
on this in rehearsal.
(FIRST FOUR MEASURES OF CHORALE DEMONSTRATION)
As you can hear these are simple chorales. Each instrument has the
soprano, alto, tenor, and bass line on their sheet so that everyone
can be actively involved in the rehearsal.
(FIRST FOUR MEASURES SOPRANO LINE DEMONSTRATION)
Singing is an essential tool in teaching sustained playing.
(FIRST FOUR MEASURE SOPRANO LINE SINGING DEMONSTRATION)
I always find it interesting to see how naturally kids sing sustained
without any instruction. Getting that to transfer to their playing,
however, is certainly another story,
We use the syllable “da” because it most closely duplications
the articulation we want when they are playing.
Some groups are reluctant to sing. For the purposes of sustained
playing, it is equally effective if the students “say the line” on
the syllable “da.”
(FIRST FOUR MEASURES SOPRANO LINE SAYING DEMONSTRATION)
You’ll notice that most of the kids sang anyway. This is a
good way to get kids to start singing without them even knowing it.
The reason kids don’t play sustained is because they tend to
stop the air between notes. What we need is for the air to be constant,
with the tongue lightly breaking the air for each attack.
Performing without the use of the tongue allows the students to get
to know what the air should feel like.
(FIRST FOUR MEASURES NO TONGUE DEMONSTRATION)
Now, hopefully now that we’ve done all this, they’ll
perform the chorale in a much more sustained style.
(FIRST FOUR MEASURES CHORALE DEMONSTRATION)
By having students precede attacked notes with whole notes, they
begin to keep the air moving while attacking notes.
(WHOLE NOTE – FOUR QUARTER NOTE DEMONSTRATION)
Finally, it may be helpful to visually show what the music should
sound like. We want the notes to touch…with no break between
Intonation with the beginner band is not a lost cause, although,
to be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time on it. I try to
keep things simple and get the kids to start to develop the skills
necessary for adjusting on their own.
As I spoke about previously, we spend an enormous amount of time
on tone. Good tone masks intonation problems, and if the students
are doing the things necessary to create a good tone…decent
instrument, proper embouchure and air support…then intonation
problems should be minimal.
Don’t waste time going around the room tuning each kid individually…really
at any level, but particularly with beginners it doesn’t improve
things significantly enough to spend the time. It’s a rehearsal
killer. Most of the ensemble is doing nothing. Not actively involved
in playing or listening.
What we do want to spend our time on is getting the students to listen
to their neighbor, not themselves, listen down to the lower voices,
and to hear the notes in their head before they hear it. You should
be able to spot check tuning throughout the course of rehearsal to
make any necessary tuning slide adjustments. If we do this, by the
end of the first year, students should be able to distinguish between
pitches that are in tune and out of tune. Once this happens, we can
start to delve deeper into intonation skills (bending the pitch,
alternate fingerings, shading/venting for woodwinds, instrumental
pitch tendencies, etc).
There are many different methods to teaching rhythm: Counting, the
Foot Up – Down method, and the Orff method using Ta Ta Ti-Ti
Ta. Regardless of which method you chose. I think it’s important
that you remain consistent throughout your teaching. Your students
must also be able to develop an inner sense of pulse and develop
a vocabulary of rhythms. Your method must also give students the
skills to be able to figure out new rhythms for themselves.
In teaching rhythm to my beginners, I spend considerable amount of
time discussing releases. My guess is that we save a ton of rehearsal
time when they are 7th and 8th graders by spending a little more
time on it at the beginning.
Students need to understand that the beats happen between the counts.
If we have a dotted half note followed by a quarter rest and the
students count “one, two, three” and release on three,
then they have only held the note for two full beats. The must release
the note on count four to hold the dotted half note for full value.
It also takes less than a second for them to write “-4” there
so that they make that release consistently.
Having the students count out loud reinforce these concepts.
(COUNT OUT LOUD RELEASE DEMONSTRATION)
I’m a big fan of the music of John Kinyon at this level. In
addition to his many compositions, under his name and many pseudonyms,
he also was fond of taking traditional folk songs and children’s
songs and arranging them at the grade one level. Especially with
Mr. Kinyon’s passing last spring, it’s only appropriate
that we perform a couple of his works today. Grandfathers Clock is
published by Luverne Publications.
PERFORMANCE – “Grandfathers Clock” arranged
by John Kinyon
Playing Musically and Stylistically
The building blocks of getting students to play musically and stylistically
are very straightforward. Students need command of all articulations.
Again, I like unison exercises for this purpose.
My favorite concept when teaching musicianship is one I call “volume
painting.” Basically, volume painting is crescendo as the phrase
rises, decrescendo as the phrase falls. Repeated pitches must also
(VOLUME PAINTING DEMONSTRATION)
Students need to understand that phrases must have shape and direction.
The metaphor I like to use is an EKG machine. If that EKG flat lines,
it’s a very bad sign. By the same token, if our music flat
lines, it’s dead as well.
Ultimately, however, having students play musically, regardless of
their age, is the director’s responsibility by pulling back
at cadence points and showing phrase shape. As I mentioned previously,
students are a reflection of their director. If the director takes
a musical approach, it will sound in the students’ performance.
Proper hand position is essential to the development of technique.
The fingers must remain close the keys, and pop. They should move
like little machines.
One concept that must be taught early, because it’s an essential
part of the practice routine is that motor memory and tempo are mutually
exclusive. I rehearse technical passages as follows:
(DEVELOPING TECHNIQUE DEMONSTRATION)
The work we have been performing excerpts of is my all time favorite
grade one piece entitled A Touch of Baroque by Sandy Feldstein and
John O’Reilly published by Alfred. There’s just something
about it. It has a very catchy tune, technique gets pushed…not
so much for these students, but my beginners have to do some serious
time wood shedding.
PERFORMANCE – “A Touch of Baroque” by
Sandy Feldstein and John O’Reilly
Setup and seating
Don’t underestimate the importance of the way you setup your
ensemble as a tool to help students get better. Give your self plenty
of room to move around. If there is enough space, seat your beginner
band chairs in groups of two so that every student is accessible.
Most of your time should be on what I call your “moving” podium.
Standing up in front of 60 4th graders who have only had their instruments
for 3 weeks and waving your arms is a waste of time. They aren’t
watching, nor do they need to. By moving around, however, it’s
very easy to correct posture, hand position, embouchure while the
band is playing.
I’m a big fan of seating the horns in the front row in the
model of Pete Pappas’s old Kelvin Grove Bands and Doug Akey’s
Hendrix Jr. High School Bands. By seating the saxes right behind
them it become easier for the horns to hear their part. By seating
them in front they are also much easier to hear in rehearsal and
Students learn a lot from each other, strong students can really
pull along the weaker ones. By being flexible with your seating,
the two extremes can be seated next to each other so that the stronger
student can provide a constant positive model throughout the rehearsal.
I think that at times, we over complicate things. Discipline can
sometimes be one of those times. Don’t overwhelm your students
with rules…keep things simple. I have one expectation for
my students…that they be professional at all times. This
means, of course, that to do this they must follow through with
everything else that I’d like them to do. These kids have
heard this so many times that they can probably say it for me.
They’re expected to show up, show up on time, show up with
their stuff, practice, and behave.
By using the word professionalism, the bar has been set at it’s
highest point. Of course if we want our students to behave professionally,
we must also do the same. That’s a topic for another session,
In rehearsals, unprofessional behavior can be handled by taking away
what they love most…their instrument. By playing or talking
out of turn, students are asked to place their mouthpiece or sticks
on their stands for the next five minutes of rehearsal. I rarely,
in fact I think I can count on one hand the number of times that
I’ve had a repeat offender.
The Silver Scepter by John Kinyon, published by Alfred is another
great grade one work. It begins with a short fanfare that is followed
with a processional type tune. The B section begins with a snare
solo, and dance tune in the clarinets and saxes. The processional
theme comes back to end the piece.
PERFORMANCE – “The Silver Scepter” by
Getting students to practice
We could certainly devote an entire session to student motivation.
If students are a reflection of their teacher, then we need to
make sure we practice as well. Our rehearsals need to be structured.
We need a plan and set goals for the time we have with them.
To give some background to my philosophy of getting kids to practice,
we need a bit of a refresher of our good friend Abraham Maslow. Maslow’s
Hierarchy of Needs states that individuals are motivated because
they must satisfy needs. Although he’s added some needs since
his original theorem, we’ll keep things simple here and only
use his original five. Physiological Needs (food, water, sleep),
Safety Needs, Belonging Needs (why some students may join band in
the first place. Esteem needs both in terms of how others think of
you and self-esteem, and Self-actualization (the desire to become
the best that you can be).
Ideally, we want students to practice because they are motivated
to become the best musicians that they can be and because they want
the band to be successful. If we look at the typical ways that we
as directors motivate kids to practice, they don’t achieve
this goal. Grades (esteem),Chair Placement (esteem, belonging, safety),Playing
tests (esteem),Challenges (safety),Fear (safety),Intimidation (esteem,
safety),Guilt (belonging),Superficial rewards (physiological). These
methods absolutely have their place, but the work mainly through
motivating the student through the lower needs. The answer then is
something we as educators talk about all the time. We must get our
students to take ownership of their own learning.
For students to take ownership of their learning…and this may
sound ridiculous…we have to give them ownership. This means,
that kids are going to fail. This is not in and of itself necessarily
a bad thing. Mistakes are okay as long as they learn from them. So
if a student shows up without their instrument or without any good
reeds, then they stay in rehearsal, but don’t play. Sure, I
can lend them an instrument, or run to my desk to grab a read, but
I want them to be bored so that they don’t forget their instrument
the next time.
Ownership of learning is a student perception. The atmosphere of
our rehearsal has a great impact on this perception. This can be
as simple as the choice of the words you use in rehearsal. Avoid
the work I, except when you need to make a major impact. Instead
of “I’d like you to play that more separated” say “Let’s
play that more separated.” Instead of “More oboe at D” say “Claudia
play out more at D.” This is a subtle change that will make
a remarkable change in rehearsal atmosphere and student ownership.
A couple years ago, when I was preparing a lecture on student motivation
I found a study on the Internet. Unfortunately, in preparing for
this presentation, I couldn’t find the specifics of the study
again, but the results won’t surprise you. A study of 5th and
6th grade band students found that they felt that success in instrumental
music was the result of hard work. The study also questioned 7th
and 8th grade students, these students felt that success in instrumental
music is the result of natural talent.
So it’s important that student know that it’s important
to practice. And as their teacher have to insist that they practice.
The words, “that’s okay” should never leave your
mouth. Generally, parents understand that they are part of the process
as well. It’s not unusual for them to come to you asking for
advice on how to get their child to practice. Make sure you always
have an answer to that question. I like to use it as a good time
to reinforce the importance of practicing, push private instruction,
and remind the parent of what the student should be preparing for.
(solo and ensemble, honor band auditions, chair tests, etc).
This would also be a perfect time to reiterate that performance is
a wonderful motivator for students. I have my top band perform on
the same concert as my beginners. They even do a joint performance
of the Mickey Mouse March as the finale. I do this for one reason.
I want the students and the parents to hear what they will sound
like after four years in our program.
Teaching students how to practice
Once our students are practicing, they need to know how to practice.
Particularly for beginners, a step by step guide is needed. The
five W’s of practice. Who? YOU When? Same time each day.
Where? Quiet, well lit, free from distractions. Straight back chair
and music stand. Why? It’s the only way you’ll get
better What? Every aspect of performance should be practice each
day though a practice routine. This includes (tone, rhythm, range,
scales, sight-reading, articulation, dynamics, etc). Following
the routine…method book & band music.
Once you’ve decided what you want your students practicing
everyday, you can develop supplemental routine sheets. I call them “practice
this page only on the day you eat” pages. These pages should
not stretch skills, but reinforce them.
Selection of materials for instruction
In selecting music for my beginner bands, there are three things
I look for. The music should be tuneful, have equitable difficulty
in all the parts, and it shouldn’t get in the way of my teaching.
That last point is one that some people disagree with me on. One
of the problems I ran into in selecting music for this performance
is that I, of course, wanted to perform all of my very favorite
works. The problem was, there was a reason I liked these pieces.
They extended the limits of the grade one piece in some way. They
had extended harmony, which mean new notes, different rhythms,
extended ranges, many different strata of parts. With their folder
full of these pieces, it was difficult to work on the concepts
I wanted to spend time on. We didn’t sound good, I was getting
frustrated, and at times these kids saw the absolute worst of me
and it really wasn’t their fault.
It wasn’t until I wised up, got some “less special” pieces
in their folders before real progress was made. Unfortunately this
meant we didn’t have time to prepare some of the works on my
list. Nottingham Castle, A Song for Friends both by Larry Daehn,
and the Prehistoric Suite by Paul Jennings. We’ll just have
to get to those later in the year.
Anne McGinty has a real knack for writing technically simple music
that isn’t simple music. Stony Creek March is my favorite work
of hers at this level.
PERFORMANCE – “Stony Creek March” by
My final topic today is getting the most out of a method book exercise.
We’re going to do these all in a row, although I’m sure
there are other ways to work on a method book exercise there were
all I was able to brainstorm.
Getting the most out of a method book exercise
Count and clap (DEMONSTRATION)
Name notes (DEMONSTRATION)
Name notes and finger along (DEMONSTRATION)
Play every other measure (DEMONSTRATION)
Play backwards (DEMONSTRATION)
Brass buzz on mouthpieces (DEMONSTRATION)
Subdivided in eighth notes/sixteenth notes (DEMONSTRATION)
Different Tempos (DEMONSTRATION)
Different Dynamics (DEMONSTRATION)
Play without tongue (DEMONSTRATION)
Note by Note (DEMONSTRATION)
Alternate measures by sections/individuals (DEMONSTRATION)
Cut time (DEMONSTRATION)
Percussion as metronome (DEMONSTRATION)
Final Thoughts and Thanks
When ever I mentioned to my band director friends that I was bringing
my 5th grade band to IMEA you can imagine the reactions I’d
usually get. Usually is was a “You’re crazy.” These
kids behind me have worked incredibly hard and have been very focused
in preparing for this performance. They have exceeded my hopes
in every way. I am quite proud of them, and I know they are going
to make me look very good for the next three and a half years.
Before we perform our last final work, please let me thank you once
again for attending our session. I cannot leave today without thanking
Phil Hash from Kelvin Grove for allowing me to constantly bounce
ideas of this session off of him. Mark Taylor, formally of Lake Forest
High School for the many times he came out to work with these students
in sectionals and clinic settings. We had 75 parents, family members,
administration, and friends including Principal Dana Otto and our
District’s Superintendent Elect Vicki Gunther travel down from
Skokie for this session. With that type of support, it’s pretty
tough to not be successful.
This is the World Premier of Entry of the Nobles by Douglas Akey.
It was commissioned by and dedicated to the Middleton Elementary
School 5th Grade Band. It will be published by Hal Leonard later
PERFORMANCE – “Entry of the Nobles” by