If you are fortunate enough to work in a school district where there are other band directors (or even if you don't), I encourage you to do a book study together! This is a great way to grow professionally. Even more, it provides an opportunity for your staff to develop a shared vision and philosophy regarding your teaching approach. In my school, I am fortunate to work with a colleague who shares responsibility for the band program with me. (Check out his blog at www.chrisgrifamusic.com.) Our teaming approach works so well because we are on the same page when it comes to our teaching philosophy. But that didn't happen on its own. It is the result of many, many discussions over several years that have been prompted by what we have read, clinics and conferences we have attended, observing each other teach, and more.
If you are ready to jump in, a great book to start with is On Teaching Band: Notes from Eddie Green by Mary Ellen Cavitt. Here are some questions to ponder, deliberate and kick around as you read. And don't forget to come up with your own topics of discussion too!
Special thanks to Jill Noerenberg who teaches band at Duxbury MS and HS in Massachusetts for her help in developing these questions, and to the BDG Book Club Group for their inspriring discussion this summer that led to this blog post!
1. On page 14, Eddie Green talks about the importance of finding out how certain bands achieve the sounds that they do. Share recordings of bands that you particularly admire and discuss what it is about the sound that you like. How can our band staff help our students achieve these sounds?
2. On page 30, Eddie Green states, “The fundamentals are really more important that the music, because if your students can play fundamentally well, they can play any music you want.” Where does our band staff stand in regards to this statement? Why? Do our rehearsal practices match our philosophical beliefs?
3. On page 31, Eddie Green discussed his Lake Highlands program and how it was beginner-oriented more than ensemble-oriented. Discuss what you think this means, whether you agree with this approach, and what this might look like in practice in your school's band program.
4. On page 33. Mr. Green says he never lets students warm up individually at the start of rehearsal. They all start together and end together as a group. What do we expect at the start of each of our own rehearsals and why?
5. On pages 35-36 Mr. Green discusses his philosophy on teaching beginners. He believes telling them they are “amazing” is a critical factor in retention. It is about being supportive and giving information rather than being critical. What do we do in our classes to best support and retain our students?
6. On pages 42-43, Mr. Green discusses the importance of getting kids to think while they are playing as a way to keep them engaged. He says, "The most important thing is that they think. If they don't think, then you, as the teacher, don't have a prayer." What are ways that we can best activate kids' minds and keep them highly engaged in rehearsals.
7. On pages 44-45. Eddie Green describes his philosophy in classroom management. He believes a well established routine is critical so there are no opportunities for students to misbehave. What daily routines do we want to have in our band room? How can we teach and consistently reinforce these procedures?
1. On page 57, EG discusses his approach to teaching breathing. He stresses that teachers should not over-instruct the process of breathing. He says, "Don't say, 'Fill your stomachs with air,' or 'Hold your shoulders down." He believes those types of comments are not necessary. How can we consistently approach breathing techniques with our wind players? What specific phrases should all of us use with students when working on breathing?
2. In Chapter 3, EG explains specific word choices he uses (i.e "soft" instead of "relaxed", "air focus/direction" instead of "air support/ push the air."). What are some specific phrases that we want to use and why? What language do we wish to avoid? How important are semantics in our teaching approach?
3. On page 73, EG explains that he only teaches legato tonguing or connected tonguing in the beginning. All other articulations are simply style. Does our staff agree or disagree with this approach and why? How will we consistently approach teaching tonguing?
1. On page 82, EG states that the director needs to take responsibility if the student is doing everything that is asked and is still struggling. How does our band staff take responsibility for struggling students?
2. On page 84, EG reminds us to never stay on one topic for more than 10-12 minutes. How do we pace our rehearsals so that they are most effective?
3. On page 91, EG discusses teaching style. He states, “When teaching style, you must explain that the front of the notes basically stays the same (for now) and all we do is take some amount of time away from the end of the note to put space between the notes.” How do we approach teaching various styles in our band program? Are we providing consistent information to our students?
1. What strategies will we use to develop ensemble tone, balance and color? What is our ideal sound for our ensemble?
1. On page 185, Mr. Green suggests that at least ⅓ of every rehearsal should be spent in skill development. What is our staff philosophy regarding this? How do we set goals, determine pacing and develop a consistent approach among all band staff?
Coda As you read and discuss, feel free to add your own questions and let the conversation evolve to fit the needs of your own staff and program. The important thing is that the discussions are happening. Getting your band staff on the same page will do wonders for the development of your ensembles, and the students in them. It does take time, but I promise it will pay off!