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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, October 8, 2007


The PMC Quick Note is a weekly service provided to all area directors.  It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest.  The weekly Quick Note contains helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


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Responses......How do you handle a "lazy rehearsal"?
On September 24th, we requested some feedback on techniques used to combat a lazy rehearsal. We received several responses. Director names have been removed.

Response #1:
1.  Today, there is a sense of urgency. 
If you have mapped out all available remaining rehearsals until the next game, or competition, or landmark in your season, you know exactly what needs to be done today.  Share those goals with your group so that they realize the importance of today's rehearsal.  In other words, if as a group we don't accomplish what is on our plate today, we have to bite off twice as much tomorrow.  Map out the next three weeks on the board.  Each day at the beginning of rehearsal, remind them what the four or five specific goals are for the day.  (For example, share with them 1.  Clean up the intervals in the opener.  2.  Work out the transition into the second movement.  3.  Work out the phasing during the drum break.  4.  Set pages 5-10 of the closer.  5.  Run the whole show up to that point.)  Once they understand what has to be done that day, celebrate as each goal is accomplished, or let them know that the goal was not met and that we will have that much more work to do the next day.  At the end of rehearsal, ask the group.......what were our goals today?   What did we get accomplished?  What is our goal for tomorrow?  On a scale of 1 to 10, what was our intensity level today?  What is our goal for tomorrow?

2.  Inspire those who can make a difference.
One thing that helped create some excitement within the group was to get the kids out to see other groups.  We did this two ways.  One was by invitation.  We would take our section leaders (or other interested kids) to go watch another band on a Friday night.  We would be invited to sit in the stands, talk to the kids, share stories, be inspired by a great performance, and maybe even have ice cream together after the game.  My kids would come back with all kids of "buzz" from doing that.  They would basically realize "if they can do that, then so can we".  The fever would catch.  Another way was to do a "band scouting night" where we would divide into groups and watch a bunch of area bands perform and then meet together to talk about what was good about what they saw.  I will explain more about this when we chat.

3.  Give individual feedback.
You are only as strong as your weakest link(s), so the best way to improve is to concentrate your efforts with individual comments.  Don't say "trombones get your horns up," say "Josh, get your trombone up."  They very next time you catch Josh with his horn up, get totally excited and praise him publicly.  Work toward more individual testing, individual comments, individual criticism, individual praise.  Before, during, and after rehearsals, give individual notes and feedback so that the kids know that they are all individually accountable for everything.

4.  Promote group bonding.
Once the members really care about the group as a whole, they will walk through fire.  Promote this sense of team at every turn.  We did this through the "band scouting" activities I described in point #2, we also did several fun outings, attended area concerts, and did various other social things.  During these activities, I had many opportunities to talk to kids individually about setting goals, reaching the next step in their development, and sharing what they needed to do to help the group.

5.  Every kid takes one step up the ladder.
We wish that every kid played on a step-up horn, took private lessons, showed up early, listened to directions, set a good example, and made all-state band.   Those kids are very few and far between.  I would take a few minutes a couple of times each year and describe four levels of band students.  I asked each kid to self-diagnose which level they fell into.  I then had each kid write down how they assessed themselves and write down what it was going to take to have them move up one notch on the ladder.  This was a written assignment that I took a grade on.  I could then periodically remind kids of their goals, or call an individual kid into my office and have them re-read their goals to me.  Here are some samples of the levels: 

Level 1:   Student occasionally shows up late, plays on their student-level instrument, doesn't take the instrument home to practice, doesn't do solos, ensembles, or district band auditions. 

Level 2:   Student is always on time, always listens to directions, practices at home only as needed to master difficult passages in their music, still plays on a student instrument, but keeps it well maintained with ample reeds, oil, working slides, etc. 

Level 3:   Student is always on time, helpful, and listens to directions.  Sets a solid example for everyone around them.  Participates in solos, ensembles, and district auditions.  Plays on a step-up instrument.  Practices regularly without being hounded.  Helps load and unload equipment, set up chairs and stands, asks what can be done to help. 

Level 4:   Student is always on time, helpful, and listens to directions.  Sets a solid example for everyone around them.  Makes district band, auditions for state band.  Makes superior ratings in solos and ensembles at the district and/or state level.  Helps tutor struggling students.  Plays on a step-up instrument.  Practices regularly without being hounded.  Helps load and unload equipment, set up chairs and stands, asks what can be done to help. 

Response #2:
The first thing I do that I feel is necessary is at the beginning of the season to set "benchmarks" for the year addressing when certain movements are memorized, when drill is on the field etc.  Then on a weekly basis on Sunday afternoon/evening, I try to take any input that has been given by the staff and combine that with my thoughts from the previous weeks progress.  I try to not only focus on how the performance on Friday or Saturday went, but how the week as a whole ran.  What did we not get accomplished that needs to be put in this week?  I create my lesson plan and then post that on our website (on a student only accessible page) as well as in the band room and outside on the bulletin board.  I also have my section leaders email me their weekly goals for their individual groups.  This doesn't always happen but we are working on it.

We really just try to do this through a common goal on the field.  I always stress my definition of band is "a group of people united for a common purpose".  I also try to have some fun (not silly) by joking around with the kids in between sets or runs.  We also stress the band room as a hang out place after school as well as a rehearsal area.  We do some fun activities such bonfires etc. and the sections do quite a bit on their own.  In order for that to happen you have to have invested section leaders. 
Success is the greatest motivator.  Once they taste that success for the first time, it really gets easier from there on.  We still have the typical problem of kids not practicing and I have to be on them about that but once they get that taste...
Assign real responsibilities and hold them accountable.  The first thing we teach our leaders is (and sorry for the phrasing) leadership sucks.  It is not this almighty power and the sun shines on you while it rains on everyone else.  As a leader, you get to do the crap jobs, the stuff that has to get done but no one wants to do it.  You are held responsible for your progress as well as others.  We actually let our kids teach.  We try to do some inservicing on how to teach a section so that they are somewhat prepared.  And when they make mistakes, I call them on.  They know that they are accountable.  We pick section leaders by an application which anyone can fill out.  From those, I pick the finalists that come in for an interview with me and the drum majors.  I feel this is very real world so the kids benefit from the process.

We constantly tell them that the efforts of today lead to the successes or failures of tomorrow.  The summer and September is where the work happens.  October is simply the display of the effort.  It is very difficult to keep them motivated for that first performance, especially if it is scheduled far into the football season.  But once they actually put on the uniform and perform, things get easier.

I know this is mainly marching band focused answers but that is what is in my head right now.  We do carry much of these same ideas into the chairs.

Response #3:
When rehearsing my Wind Ensemble (top group) if I think they are getting lazy or not giving enough emotionally to the rehearsals, I plan a “silent rehearsal day”. That means I refuse to speak anything. I have the rehearsal order on the board, I step on the podium and gesture for the students to be quiet. I then raise my baton and conduct the down beat of whatever is on the board. Many students will not even know what I'm expecting them to play so I will have to stop and point to the board. Now you have their attention and they have to be alert if they want to be successful. We often “screen” our intentions with too many words. People, not just students, will screen you out if you talk too much. It takes a lot of effort on your part to communicate non-verbally but it makes you a better conductor and it makes the ensemble more sensitive you your conducting.

Response #4:
As a first year teacher, I have no idea what to do.  The school I'm teaching at is brand-new, so I'm not "following" anyone...and still some of the kids just talk and then won't really sing (yes, I'm a choir teacher...but I'm one of Mr. Hoover's kids from MO State, so I subscribe).  One of the other teachers in the building recommended that I just hammer away patiently at the warmup until we can get through it. Other than that, I'm lost.  I'm trying it tomorrow. Thanks for the hard work you put into this newsletter.

Contact Your Local Palen Music Center

Can we assist you with anything?  Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.


(417) 882-7000
Bob Hopkins, Mike Brown, and Zach Houser
Springfield North (417) 862-2700 Burl Williams
Columbia (573) 256-5555 Robert Pitts
Joplin (417) 781-3100 Wayne Blades
Liberty (816) 792-8301 Ken Crisp and Dick Murdock
Broken Arrow (918) 770-6827 Mackey Amos and Mark VanVranken


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