“The beginning of knowledge is the definition of terms.” – Socrates
As each year begins the great teachers look for ways to improve the fundamentals they teach their students. Great teachers always look for as comprehensive a system as possible but are sure their methods of instruction are SIMPLE.
A few years ago, as I prepared for the fall judging assignments, I was going over the Bands of America judging sheets and noticed that the totality and simplicity of the sheets could be added into the program of instruction for my students.
Fundamental music teaching encompasses many details but only a few major categories. If we check and find the major categories are all present in our instructional program then we are relieved to know that we only have to make sure the details of those general areas are covered.
For example: Using the sheet provided for judging Music Performance Individual, let’s look at what can be gleaned from this sheet for instruction.
Music Performance Individual
Adjudication Criteria for all sub-captions:
- Accuracy–Reference to rhythmic accuracy and articulation method
- Intonation–Reference to instrument tuning at all dynamic levels
- Tone Quality–Reference to fundamental characteristic tone quality at all dynamic levels
- How do you teach articulation method?
- How do you teach intonation, listening and sonority?
- How do you teach tone quality?
Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world because he takes the best possible instruction and does enough repetition to make that information a part of him (his game).
Talent is nothing more than a person’s ability to take and use information to their best advantage.
The instructor must break down each fundamental into its simplest possible parts. All fundamentals work best when high quality instruction is accompanied by the proper number of muscle memory repetitions. Remember–Tiger hits 1500 practice shots per day after getting information from the world’s best instructor.
Take method articulation for example.
By teaching only one simple concept at a time the instructor allows the muscle memory to take over the physical function of creating articulated style.
Use concert F only and teach basic articulated rhythms in standard style, staccato style and then legato style. Using a whole note to begin, add quarters, eighths, triplets and then later, sixteenths. Using proper repetitions, you will build a uniformity of method for your ensemble. Remember to give precise instruction as you begin. Talk about tongue position, the syllable you want used – ta, da, toe, doe, etc. your choice – but be sure every member of the ensemble knows the method you use for your ensemble. Now, with the students understanding of the instruction, do daily repetitions until articulation in the three basic styles is consistent (physically memorized).
How many days of this simple exercise need to be done to have it physically memorized? Try for yourself and see what works for you and yours. I like to do this exercise once a day for the entire year with variations in rhythm after the first month. Now standard, staccato and legato are nailed. No need to discuss the fundamental when rehearsing music. Mentioning “What style is the section we are rehearsing?” will clear up any articulation discrepancies. Students know the style, the sound it brings and how it feels to play in that style. DONE.
As with wonderful percussion ensembles, the wind ensemble needs to have an articulation warm up each and every day. Listen to the percussion warm up and know they are creating rhythmic muscle memory. Granted, it is visible hand and arm muscle memory but the unseen tongue muscle memory is just as important for the quality of wind ensemble articulation.
Fundamentals of tone quality should be approached the same way.
Do repetitions of only one fundamental at a time until all fundamentals are clearly combined to create a beautiful characteristic tone. Wind instruments require the proper use of wind. Teach the students to “use their air properly” and tone quality will improve. Read “Of Wind and Song” by Arnold Jacobs. Devise your own breathing and breath control systems that work for you and your students. The old adage is true, “Tone quality doesn’t just happen, the teacher makes it happen”.
Rate Your Progress
To rate your band’s progress on your BOA sheets fundamentals, use the words on the back of the sheet to keep an eye on your instructional progress. Here is a brief excerpt from the back of the Music Performance Individual sheet.
WINDS (taken from both the woodwind and brass descriptions) reaching 80% (+ or -) accomplishment in category box 4 – (excerpt) Wind performers exhibit good control of most aspects of proper tone production. Performers exhibit excellent control of articulation style and technique. Phrasing and rhythmic interpretation is mostly uniform. Lapses are infrequent, generally minor and rarely interfere with the success of the performance.
This fourth box category says that the band is well trained in fundamentals and is performing at a consistently high level. The director has defined the fundamentals program and is patient enough to execute the fundamentals program daily.
PERCUSSION– 80% (+ or -) complete – (excerpt) The percussion section exhibits excellent control of technique and timing, resulting in highly consistent clarity of articulation and well developed pulse control throughout. The performers, as individuals, are constantly aware that they are contributors to the overall ensemble sound. The majority of the percussion instruments are in tune. Characteristic percussion timbre and quality of sound is almost always present throughout the ensemble.
This percussion ensemble is supportive and well trained. They participate as a part of the overall sound of the band. This percussion section makes a very musical contribution to the overall ensemble. These two descriptions give very specific rehearsal direction for the total ensemble, woodwind, brass and percussion.
Music Performance Ensemble Sheet
Look at the following sub-caption titles and the underlying specifics. Decide what you need to do to give your students the best possible instructional experience.
Tone Quality and Intonation
- Balance and Blend
- Breath Support and Control
- Centers of Tone and Pitch
- Consistency of Timbres, Sonority
- Tuning of Percussion
Accuracy and Definition
- Ensemble Cohesiveness
- Rhythmic Interpretation
- Tempo, Pulse Control
- Full Range of Dynamics
- Style/Idiomatic Interpretation
Design Your Own Program
Here are a few starter questions to help you get started designing the total program for your students.
- What is Balance? Blend?
- How do you teach the center of the tone? Pitch?
- How do you teach for the best possible timbre? Sonority?
- What do you do to teach ensemble cohesiveness?
- What exercises do you use for timing?
- Do you teach the full range of dynamics ppp-fff? With the best timbre and sonority?
- What do you think? What are your questions for you?
Your answers to these questions, and the questions you come up with will send you on a quest to create the best possible instructional program for your students.
General Effect Music
What is effect? It says on the sheet (in part) that Music Effect is the utilization of all elements to bring about maximum effectiveness of the musical performance. What does that mean? The show communicates the intent clearly and completely from all sections and performers. How do you use that in your instructional program? Use it by programming for your level of understanding and for the best educational interests of your students. Band is still the finest performance medium in which 99% of our students will ever be involved. So first and foremost make the performance experience memorable. For most of our students this is their one and only chance to be a performer.
Musical effects have been with us all throughout music history. The ability of a composer to communicate emotions, thoughts, feelings and impressions though their art has generally been accepted as the effect of music.
Whether it be Wagner’s Ring or John William’s Indiana Jones, the intent of the musical motif is clear and is understood by the audience. The effectiveness materializes through great performance. Music calms the savage beast by speaking to our very soul. The shows that communicate clearly the composer’s true meaning to their audience are still the most effective. Whether it’s the Lassiter High School Band (GA) or the Blue Devils Drum Corps (CA), communication is the ultimate key to success in generating effect.
From the MUSIC GENERAL EFFECT Sheet and Box 4 in DESIGN (excerpt) Musical repertoire often displays quality substance and depth. Concepts are clearly defined. Audience intrigue and aesthetic appeal are consistent throughout.
Great shows are like great music, you just want to hear them again and again. Bad shows are like a toothache, you just want it to be over. Design first for you and your students. Make it memorable, emotional, enjoyable and instructional. The rest takes care of itself.
Please–Notice the word AUDIENCE.
From the GENERAL EFFECT MUSIC Sheet and Box 4 in PERFORMANCE (excerpt) Performers create a high level of achievement in the communication of emotional involvement and artistry with high standards maintained throughout the musical program. The audience is consistently entertained and often affected by the demonstration of professionalism and the intensities of emotion.
IMPORTANT – Performers communicate best when they totally understand the material given them to perform. Sound easy? Just program for you and for your students. Make sure the effects you intend to communicate are within your grasp and thus eventually within the grasp of your performers (students). Please note the word AUDIENCE.
Go For It!
The descriptors above (partially) describe music fundamentals and programming for a very good marching band. Read and understand all the BOA sheets thoroughly. Check your insights as to where your band is today compared to the BOA standards. BOA’s sheets encompass the full and complete range of fundamentals for winds, percussion, marching, design, and performance. Create your own instructional direction in every area of performance and design by using these printed guide posts done by some of our nations greatest band directors over the past decades.
Take the back of the sheets and create an evaluation system for how your band is progressing. Building a great band program is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. Be patient, methodical and professional and you will succeed.
“The beginning of knowledge is the definition of terms.” – Socrates
Thanks to Alfred Watkins, Dan Martin and Dr. Danny Doyle for their invaluable assistance in this preparation and for their giving up hours of their valuable time from their extremely busy schedules.