The best way to relieve the stress of the beginning of school and the fast pace of activities throughout the year is planning. Years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Stephen Covey seminar on time management. While the rest of the audience were CEO’s and upwardly mobile business types, I went just to see if I could learn a way to get things in perspective. Incorporating some of these ideas into the world of teaching can make the year and the day to day activities run much smoother.
While there have been many articles in various publications concerning planning, one of Covey’s most basic premises is the key to what we should do as band directors’. Begin with the end in mind.
The Typical Routine
During the late spring or early summer, rehearsal schedules, band staff, and marching band preparation is usually relatively thorough. For those in marching band situations, however, the planning sometimes isn’t quite as good once band camp and rehearsals begins. While many directors seem to get the materials together, they tend to neglect part of a basic rehearsal procedure: beginning with the end in mind, and consequently end up flying by the seat of their pants. All of this leads to frustration on the part of the directors, staff, students and even parents and administrators.
After marching band activities, directors will begin a time of madly reading music and preparing a few pieces for their holiday concerts. These same folks will take the entire holiday break and come back “fresh” but with no clear idea of what the spring semester will bring musically. For those that are festival bound, there are weeks of aimlessly reading pieces (depending on one’s library and friends from which to borrow) with the defense that “it’s good sight reading practice,” and “I’m just not sure what the groups’ strengths are.”
Festival pieces are then hastily chosen and these are “taught,” so the group may go to the events and maybe barely make an excellent or superior rating, while compounding the performance anxiety of both the students and the director. Sometimes, there is a break after a festival event and then it’s time to slap together a few “pop” tunes for the spring concert. Then the entire process begins again.
On another level, through all of this confusion, some basic technique may be taught, however the good intentions to teach students music theory, sight-singing, composition, improvisation, and music history, end up being cast aside while the director decides what to do on a day to day basis and hastily get ready for the next event.
Sound familiar? It’s this rat race routine that causes “burnout” among so many of our colleagues. With the development of a planning system, many of these stressful situations can be avoided (strange things will still happen along the way, but if you are well prepared, they won’t completely derail your journey).
Get the “Big Picture” and Set Goals
To begin, you must first decide what you want your students to learn! There are many resources now to make this monumental task easier. Take a look at the curriculum guidelines adopted by your school system for instrumental music. If there isn’t one (or even if there is), seek out the ASBDA curriculum guide and/or the MENC National Standards. Determine which standards or goals your students should achieve by the end of this year. Both of these documents provide good guidelines and starting places that will enable you to adapt your goals and performance material to fit the needs of your particular situation. You may need to think over a two or even a four year period. This will also keep students from “getting bored” doing the exact same exercises and materials every year. Realistically, there is more material than most can use in a one academic year.
Set some goals for your group such as- first semester, all major scales 2 octaves by memory; second semester all harmonic minor scales. You may want to incorporate arpeggios and chords at one grading period, then progress into a classroom improvisation study after that. Looking at the bigger picture in this way will enable you to develop a logical program of study for your students.
Time and Scheduling
Next, begin looking at your entire year’s calendar. Get a copy of your music association’s events and put these down along with dates for concerts (note the plural) at home, football games, festivals, contests, solo and ensemble dates, any school breaks, band trips, etc.. Put everything related to school and band on the calendar. Make this schedule available to students and parents so that they can plan well in advance. Also make note of other events your students may be participating in, such as other school musical events, sports, class trips and assemblies.
In the case of marching band, look at the date of your “main” performance. It may be a particular contest, a state or regional event, or even a particular parade. Know in your mind (since you’ve already got the music) how you want your group to look and sound at that event. Now look at the calendar and pick a half-way point (you may want to mark this in a date book). From this point, arrange your priorities around the weeks before and after this mid-way date- When do all fundamentals need to be taught? How much drill should I have finished by the Wednesday of band camp? What should we have “completed” by the first football game? When do we want to spend time on stands music? At first, you may need to write down some of these goals to help you stay on course. Realize at this stage that things will happen (inclimate weather, a school assembly that you didn’t know about, etc.) and be prepared to work on music indoors, divide into sectionals, read stands tunes, evaluate performance videos, or engage in other productive activities, From this point, you can make weekly and daily plans based on what your group needs to accomplish with the marching band.