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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, May 19, 2008


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.


Looking for help on a particular topic? Be sure to check out our Quick Note Catalog of back issues.

The Development of a Beginning Grade School Band by Dr. William L. Johnston

Probably our greatest aim in developing a beginning grade school band is to offer experiences to every child involved that will tend to develop those qualities which will aid that child in becoming a well-rounded, balanced, mature adult. These qualities must include a desire to be something just a little bit better; a willingness to accept and the ability to carry out responsibility; a knowledge that effort is required individually and cooperatively to achieve a final result which is of high caliber; and an appreciation for and understanding of the arts.

Building Interest
It is the responsibility of the band director to start building interest in band participation with kindergarten and primary students and to continue through the pre-band grades. This building of interest can be accomplished through various means. In kindergarten and the primary grades, instruments can be demonstrated individually or in small groups by band students. The director can take advantage of spare minutes to play a tune on a specific instrument and explain a little about the instrument to the children. There are of course many recordings of instruments and movies about instruments and bands which can be enjoyed and understood by primary grade students. Concerts by existing bands in the school system can be planned especially for this age level and presented on special occasions. It is good to “show off” band uniforms at every opportunity. Perhaps at the close of the football season, an extra glockenspiel, sousaphone, marching drum or pair of cymbals might be “stored” in the kindergarten or primary classroom.      

The rise of pre-band instruments in the fourth grade will certainly build interest in band participation. There are several types of pre-band instruments and sufficient material available to develop a sound program. This pre-band instrument program should be carried on at least for one semester. The instruction on these instruments should be done by the band director so that a definite “carry-over” into the actual band program is accomplished. It is extremely important that students on pre-band instruments have opportunities to perform in public – for P. T. A., band parents clubs, school parties and other classrooms. Through the use of pre-band instruments it is possible to create a desire to participate in the band; to give the child an idea of what it takes to produce music through instruments; to develop a sense of following the director; and to further the child’s natural inclination to group activities.

Recruiting the Beginning Band
Probably the best grade to start beginning band students is the fifth. Some children are ready to start before this, and many should start later, however the fifth grade child is usually developed enough mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally to succeed.      

The first step in organizing a beginning band is that of publicity. It is vitally important that students, faculty and parents are made aware of your program in advance of the actual recruiting. Extensive use of local newspapers, bulletin board posters, talks before various school and parent organizations and letters to all parents of eligible children are necessary for success. The building of enthusiasm and the general promotion of the recruiting program is the responsibility of the band director and must not be done in a haphazard way. Included in the program of publicity and promotion might be the testing of all prospective band students. There are many tests of musical aptitude available, the validity of which ranges from excellent to practically useless. Although the tests are of some value in determining the probably success of a beginner, their use as a means of building interest and enthusiasm cannot be discounted. Any child of average intelligence and with no serious physical handicaps can succeed on a band instrument providing he has a genuine desire and proper instruction and encouragement.      

In determining the procedure by which beginning students are to secure an instrument, several factors are involved. The type of community, the acceptance of the band program by the school and community, the attitudes of the school administration, the pressures from certain dealers and above all, the attitudes of the band director are determining factors. Undoubtedly the rental-trial plan is generally accepted as the best solution in most situations. If the band director works closely with a well-organized and reputable music firm, the recruiting of a beginning band will likely be a success in both numbers and instrumentation.      

In actual practice, the recruiting begins with a meeting of all interested parents. This meeting is necessary in order to show parents all different types of instrument s and some basic information concerning the differences in instruments. This is the ideal time for the band director to explain exactly what will be expected of the parents. It is only through a genuine cooperation of student, parent and band director that a successful band program can be built. Individual appointments with parents and student can be made at this time. At the time of the individual meeting, the student will have the opportunity to examine all instruments closely and the director, parent and student can jointly make the decision of what the child is to play. This decision must take into account the physical and mental abilities of the child, the genuine desire of the child to play a particular instrument, the resulting instrumentation of the band, and the financial ability of the parent. It is entirely possible to place beginning students on instruments such as oboe, bassoon, alto and tenor saxophone, French horn and baritone horn in this type of recruiting program. The old theory that students should furnish only flutes, clarinets, cornets and trombones has been proven to be invalid. The school should generally furnish all percussion equipment, basses, alto and bass clarinets, baritone saxophones, English horn, etc.      

At least thirty to fifty percent of the eligible students should be in the beginning band after the recruiting is finished. Of these, ninety to ninety-five percent should be successful and continue after the rental period, providing the instructional program is sound. There is no such thing as having too many band students. Only when the teaching load becomes genuinely too much for one man, can the band director expect to ask for and receive help from his administration in the form of an assistant.

Instruction of the Beginning Band
A three-fold approach to instruction of the beginning band student has proven to be effective. If the recruiting has been accomplished with sincerity and forethought, the beginning band should meet for band rehearsals every day from the very beginning. Granted the first week or so will be bedlam, the opportunities to develop the spirit of being part of an organization and the development of group discipline will eventually overshadow any loss of time and energy necessary in the initial organization period.       

The band period should in the beginning be short, not to exceed thirty minutes per day. There are several beginning band methods available, any of which make fine material for the first semester of instruction. Any of these methods should be supplemented with the simplest of program material as soon as the band is capable of understanding and executing the fundamentals of band playing. A program of some sort should be presented within the first three months of organization. During the first year at least two or three public performances should be made.      

In addition to full band rehearsals, group lessons should be included in the instructional program from the very beginning. These lessons should be once a week, twenty to thirty minutes in length and included in the school day. General fundamentals of the instrument should be taught in the group lesson, and sectional type rehearsals can be incorporated into this phase of instruction. The opportunity for competition in chair position can and should be included in this lesson period.      

The third phase of the instructional program is that of private lessons. If the band director is resourceful, it is possible in practically all situations to secure competent private teachers during evenings and on Saturdays to instruct band students privately. Only through private instruction can the student learn in a short period of time the best way for him to produce a good musical sound on his instrument. The band director who has a great number of students cannot possibly take care of the individual differences and problems of every child. It is only through private instruction that these differences and problems can be handled. If the band director presents the advantages of private instruction to the parent in a true and conscientious manner, almost every parent will provide for private instruction for his child. It stands to reason that if a parent is willing to invest in a musical instrument for his child, he will do everything in his power to see that the child is successful in the study of the instrument.      

The three-fold approach to instruction which has been outlined above has proven to be successful, and should be carried on throughout the grade school and high school band program. After the first year of instruction, the student should be promoted to the concert band or in the case of large school systems, into an intermediate band which leads eventually to the concert band.

Continuation of the Band Program
At this point in the development of a band program, it might be well for the band director to ask himself a few questions. Do you want just a good band for your town? Are you willing to devote the time and energy to develop the finest band in your area? Is your desire to develop a band that will bring you fame? When these questions are answered, the continuation of the band program should be planned and so organized so as to achieve the results and things which should be kept in mind. The everyday experience in band must be sound educationally. It must be a constant learning experience, not a “frill” or “activity” but a classroom. By the very nature of the instruments the children will use in the class, insist on a standard classroom procedure. Do not be influenced in your band literature by anything but good band literature, the limitations of your group, and try to encompass all kinds of music during the year.      

Sight reading is vitally important to the development of a good band program. With the sole exception of the time just prior to a concert or contest, your band should be reading new material. Just as our academic classes are introducing new ideas for learning, just as our literature classes are having the children read from great books, just as our mathematic and science teachers are opening new horizons of learning and experience, in this same manner by proper introduction, we can we can help these children to constantly experience new goals in music reading. The band program must be convincingly sold into the school curriculum, through teachers and administrators. Use every means possible to accomplish this.      

The students who learn under you should by that experience be able to comfortably take their place in college and adult groups. The program that you plan should not be built around you as an individual, but around the idea of the complete and wholesome musical experience of and for your students. Your planning should be so that when and if you leave the town, the program will not collapse. 

In conclusion, may it be said that the statements which have been made are not meant to be taken as the only method of organizing and developing a beginning and continuing band program. Some situations are such that many of these ideas cannot be incorporated into the program; however the general outline of organization can be followed in most cases. It has been proven through experience that the procedures presented here will work and that a successful beginning band program can be initiated.

Article reprinted with permission from author 1951-1952 Lyons Band News
Dr. William L. Johnston began his teaching career in Plainfield, Illinois in 1948. At that time Plainfield schools had no music program and he started from "scratch". During his nine year tenure there, the band was very successful and received national recognition through performances at the Mid-West Band Clinic and the MENC convention in Cleveland. After four years at the University of Wisconsin, Johnston was appointed as State Supervisor of Music in Illinois, a position he held for ten years. He then joined the New Jersey Department of Education for seven years and completed his career at Oklahoma State University. Since retirement in 1986, he and his wife Bette, have resided in Bloomington, Illinois.

Additional Summer Camp Opportunities
Earlier this month, we posted a list of summer music camp opportunities. Click to review that list. Please take note of the addition below. If you know of other camps, please let me know and we will pass on the information. Thanks!


Southwestern Oklahoma State University Summer Music Camp
SWOSU, located in Weatherford, Oklahoma, boasts a full list of summer music camps for all ages and musical ensembles. Applications can be emailed to as an attachment.

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