Director’s Checklist Part I
Your answers to these simple questions will help improve the performance of your band
A truly great band is a combination of many factors, including the skill and attitude of the band members and the quality and condition of their instruments. Perhaps most important, however, is the personality and musicianship of the director. It is his or her duty to organize, teach, lead and inspire, a monumental task that requires devotion, constant self-analysis and the restraint of self-discipline.
What follows is a checklist of questions for you to ask yourself. The answers may prove helpful to directors who seek to improve the performance of their bands.
Do you really enjoy teaching?
No one, however fine his or her musicianship, can teach successfully without taking delight in working with young people. As is true in every other field of human endeavor, teachers must be in love with their work.
Are you sold on the importance of education in music?
Teachers cannot teach successfully unless they believe what they teach is important. Do you agree that training in music is one of the most effective preparations for life that can be given to young people?
Do you keep your teaching standards high?
All of us want people to like us. But keep in mind that teachers who give the most of themselves – and in turn expect the most from their students – will in the long run receive the greatest respect and admiration.
Do you know how to work with young people?
Do your rehearsals move with a minimum of talking from you and a maximum of interest and attention shown in what you are doing? Slow-moving, time-wasting rehearsals are boring and create the worst possible atmosphere for teaching.
Do you criticize constructively?
To be able to offer criticism without engendering irritation is at the heart of successful teaching. Do you keep criticism constructive and maintain a good humor? Do you achieve the best possible results without antagonizing either individual students or the band as a whole?
Are you capable of self-criticism?
Students are human and subject to all of humanity’s failings. Of course, they are not always right, but neither are they always wrong. The same may be said about teachers. Have you developed a faculty for criticizing yourself as well as others?
Have you learned the importance of drilling?
Learning to play a musical instrument correctly calls for building proper habits. Keep in mind that “telling” is not “teaching,” meaning that each oral lesson should be followed by careful, repetitive drilling.
Do you have the score in your head… or your head in the score?
In order to teach effectively, you should know the score by heart. A band director should be able to devote full attention to watching and listening in order to know when the band is playing correctly.
Do you take time to annotate your score?
Unusual fingerings and slide positions are rarely marked in individual parts, yet these occur even in simple music. Do you go over each individual part and underline complex or unusual passages?
Do you maintain enthusiasm before your students?
Do not underestimate the impact made on young students by a neatly dressed, enthusiastic director. Always approach a rehearsal positively, with interest and vitality. This attitude will prove to be surprisingly contagious.
Do you keep up on your major instrument?
The good teacher makes it a point to maintain performance skills, even though this calls for daily practice. This is an excellent way to set an authoritative example for students.
Do you attend concerts and recitals?
So much music is heard from recordings that one is apt to forget that much more can be learned through hearing music performed live. Keep your ears sensitive to good tone and sterling musicianship by attending concerts and recitals whenever possible.
Do you insist on good tone and intonation?
There is little pleasure to be gained from listening to a noisy, out-of-tune band — and none whatsoever from playing in one. Maintain interest and enthusiasm by insisting upon a beautiful tone and in-tune playing.
Do you teach the instrument first?
Reading and playing notes requires a complicated series of mental and physical reactions. For the first few lessons, concentrate on the physical aspects of playing, and then proceed to note reading. Students will progress faster if this routine is followed.
Are you convinced of the great value of musical training?
In secondary schools, it would seem to be the training itself, even more than the benefits that accrue in later life. Remember, every rehearsal, every hour of individual practice and every concert helps to mold the character of the young people entrusted to your care. Make each moment spent in music count to the fullest.
Director’s Checklist Part II
More classic tips to improve the performance of your band
A truly great band is a combination of many factors, but the most important may be the personality and musicianship of the director. It is his or her duty to organize, teach, lead and inspire. What follows is a continuation of the checklist that began in our July 2005 online issue. Read through the list, and ask yourself these questions. The answers may prove helpful to directors seeking to improve their bands’ performance.
Do you teach good posture?
Breath is the soul of tone – as well as its support. Correct posture and good breathing habits go hand in hand. Insist upon good standing and sitting posture, for these are basic to good breathing and breath control.
Do you insist on good instrument position?
Instruments are designed to be held in a certain way. When they are not held in this standard position, tone quality, intonation and technique are adversely affected. Insist on good posture and correct position of the instrument in the hands, and of the hands on the instrument. Correct finger position is a basic requirement for rapid, comfortable technique.
Do you watch embouchure formations?
Watch the facial and embouchure formations of your students. When a malfunction becomes apparent, correct it at once. Proper facial and lip control is essential to correct playing.
Do you teach students to listen?
All great wind instrument teachers agree that a beautiful tone is the first requisite of an artistic performance. A beautiful tone is the result of mental alertness and concentration. Never allow students to play “a blur of notes.” Insist that they listen intelligently, critically and constructively, first to themselves and then to the band as a whole.
Do you teach the mechanical and acoustical resources of each instrument?
Many difficult passages are made easy when students understand the full mechanical and acoustical resources of their instruments. Be sure to teach the use of all legitimate alternate fingerings and slide positions.
Do you insist on proper attacks and releases?
The correct use of breath and tongue is basic to a good technique. Students should not only be taught the basic styles of attack and release, but the director must insist that they be used according to the demands made by the music.
Do you require a uniform and precise articulation?
There are about twelve basic articulations, and every member of the band must understand each of them. The effect of a light staccato can be ruined if one player uses the legato attack and release. Teach the basic patterns, and insist upon precise articulation.
Is your band well trained in basic rhythmic patterns?
There are twelve basic rhythmic patterns that composers use over and over again. When these are played carelessly, both harmonic and rhythmic distortion result. Teach your band a scientific, definitive method for counting and beating time. Then, as each student plays consistently on the right beat, basic rhythmic patterns will be precisely articulated.
Does your band play afterbeats clearly, precisely and in tune?
The playing of afterbeats is a neglected phase of ensemble performance. Ensemble tone can be seriously distorted when bass players puff their cheeks and “scoop” into every note. Inside parts are often similarly played as players gasp for breath between each note. Afterbeat accompanying passages should be played phrase-wise, with the players breathing only at phrase cadences. The tonguing should be light and clean.
Are inner voice parts heard clearly?
The proper balancing of ensemble tone is essential if the principal voices, inner parts and bass line are to be proportioned correctly. This requires that students listen carefully “across the band” and observe faithfully the conductor’s dynamic indications.
Does your band produce a good fortissimo sonority?
A good band plays fortissimo without overblowing or allowing the sonority to get out of control. A fine conductor once said that a band should “never play louder than lovely.”
…and a pianissimo?
Even when a band plays softly, its tone must be projected with intensity and resonance. There is a sharp distinction between an intense, lovely pianissimo and a weak, timid tone. Pianissimos should have real carrying power, even at “whisper” levels of sound.
Does your band read fluently and accurately?
When students read music well, they get real enjoyment and satisfaction out of playing together. Training in reading music should begin as soon as possible.
Do you teach theory?
Teaching students the basic principles of music theory helps them to read music better. Some knowledge of basic theory dispels much of the mystery surrounding note reading.
Do you teach proper phrasing?
Phrasing, or “punctuation,” is important in making music intelligible and giving it life and meaning. It is important to design correct breathing patterns for wind instrument players and to teach them to breathe at the right time and place in the music.
Director’s Checklist Part III
Still more classic tips to improve the performance of your band
A truly great band is a combination of many factors, but the most important may be the personality and musicianship of the director. It is his or her duty to organize, teach, lead and inspire. What follows is the final installment of the checklist that began in previous online issues of Keynotes. (Read part one. Read part two.)
Ask yourself the following questions. The answers may prove helpful to directors seeking to improve the performance of their bands.
Do your students “sing” through their instruments?
The sensation of “singing” through the instrument is essential to artistic wind-instrument performance. This can best be taught at first by having students play familiar folk songs and other traditional tunes.
Do your students “read around the notes”?
This is truly an important aspect in performance and one that calls for careful training. Players must be taught to read and obey the dynamic, expressive, articulation and tempo markings as they play the notes.
Does your band play with snap and liveliness?
Everyone likes to hear music that is “alive.” Even slow numbers must move. While it is true that players must listen carefully, orders governing attacks, releases, dynamics, expression and tempo indications are received visually by watching the conductor’s baton. An irresistible rhythmic momentum is obtained by using precise attacks and measured rhythmic pulsations — not through playing loudly and furiously.
Do your students watch the conductor closely?
An inspired interpretation comes in large part from inspired direction. Inspired direction is impossible unless players “keep one eye on the music and the other on the director.”
Is your baton technique clear and understandable?
In matters of baton technique, a conductor’s best possible critic is a mirror. Said the Scottish poet Robert Burns, “Oh that Gods the gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” Perhaps he was thinking of school band directors.
Is it impossible to break bad habits?
Contrary to accepted belief, bad habits are easy to break. What is difficult is mustering the desire to break them. An excellent precept to impress upon students is that bad habits can be broken when there is a desire to do so.
What are the limits to a student’s progress?
None, really, other than lack of desire. When a student fails to improve and is satisfied with the status quo, a great teacher will awaken the desire to “do something” and “be someone.”
Are you alert to new ideas?
Sometimes we are negligent in learning from others — maybe because we don’t like the other guy or perhaps because he graduated from the “wrong school.” Nothing should stand in the way of learning new ideas or techniques to improve one’s teaching.
Do you take kindly to constructive criticism?
A director should be sincerely grateful when he or she receives honest, constructive criticism. How human it is to be upset when an adjudicator catches us in a dereliction, and, we then seek to excuse our mistake rather than resolve never to make the same mistake again.
Do you know how basic ornamentations should be played?
The good director knows the various methods for playing trills – whether they should begin on the essential tone or the upper auxiliary. He knows the difference between the appoggiatura and the acciaccatura; how to execute the gruppetto, the mordent, and other ornaments. He understands the relationships between tempos and meter signatures in baroque and early classical music. And he passes this information along to students and makes sure they play ornamentations precisely and accurately.
Do you teach how important it is to play on a fine instrument?
Why expect a beginner to use and enjoy playing on an instrument that even a fine professional could not manipulate successfully? The director must be alert to what makes a good instrument, its construction, ease of emission of tone, perfect pattern of intonation, and flexibility. Similarly, students and their parents should also be taught to know, recognize and expect quality in an instrument.
Do you inspect instruments regularly?
It is excellent training to have one member in each section assume this responsibility. A good executive knows how to delegate responsibility. No matter who does the inspection, however, each player should be held accountable for keeping his instrument in excellent playing condition.
Do you insist upon players using correctly designed mouthpieces?
Many times students play on a superb instrument but ruin its effectiveness by using the wrong mouthpiece. The mouthpiece, an integral part of the instrument, must fit it perfectly in order to make possible the ultimate in desirable results. When a student uses a mouthpiece designed for the instrument, he will produce tone more easily and play better “in tune.”
Do you use warm-up exercises?
The amount of work accomplished during a rehearsal depends upon what happens during its first five minutes. Plan the warm-up period carefully and knowledgeable.
Do you have a good system for storing and cataloging music?
Valuable rehearsal time can be wasted when music is not cared for properly.
And finally, are you a perfectionist?
Every great band has a perfectionist as its director, a person who believes that “what is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” It is tough, of course, to be a perfectionist, to make sure that every small detail is correct, but when this attitude prevails, students learn the vital lesson that it pays to strive for perfection in all things – music included.
E. C. Moore, a prominent music educator, was author of The Band Book, first published by Leblanc Educational Publications in the 1960s and still in print today. This article is a revised excerpt from that publication. Parts two and three will appear as Keynotes online updates in the coming months.