Monday, November 20, 2017

Ingredients for Building Your Band (and Retention)
by Ted Keck
I have found a definite correlation in the excitement level I bring to class and the amount of work I get from my students.

TedKeckJPGBuilding and retaining students, especially in small schools, can be a difficult task. My so-called "recipe" for success has included more life-skills lessons than music. The ingredients of time and dedication, patience and perseverance, excitement and expectations, and sharing and caring have helped me build strong music programs in two different schools. Both programs grew from about 11 students to over 80 within eight years and performed at MMEA by the eighth year.

To build numbers, I have dedicated time to providing any student with free private lessons to ensure greater student success. This allows me to get to know my students and their interests, as well as their musical talents/challenges. I have also persuaded my administrators to combine 8th grade with the high school band. This serves two purposes. First, the larger number allows the band to have more flexibility in literature by having enough students to play divided parts, especially in the growing years. Secondly, when a very promising young student can sit by a talented high school player, the younger grows musically and gains the confidence to move into a lead position much faster. I also work at providing a wide range of extracurricular opportunities for students.

Patience and perseverance are needed not just in dealing with students/administration and building/maintaining, but with yourself. Building a program and student success doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to create a culture where it's "cool" to be in band and to develop student talent. My "magic number" seems to be eight years. Each school and director has a unique set of circumstances, so keep an eye on progress instead of a time frame.

Excitement and setting high expectations help recruit and retain your students. I have found a definite correlation in the excitement level I bring to class and the amount of work I get from my students. If I'm down, so are they! I also try to create excitement by finding music that is appealing to both my students and myself. They're much more apt to meet the challenge of more difficult music if they like it! Set high expectations for both yourself and your students and hold all accountable. Have your students listen to good examples of things like proper tone, balance, and musicality and challenge them to reach for those examples. When my symphonic band worked on Lux Aurumque, we listened to the vocal version to match the musicality of the blended voices. Help them reach the high expectations by showing how to break down the hard material into small manageable pieces (chunking)!

Last but not least are probably the two most important ingredients of all: sharing and caring. In small schools, we have to learn to share our students. Your best students are undoubtedly the leaders in multiple sports and school activities or have a family situation where they have to work. Truly knowing your students and their interests creates a positive bond between you. When they know you care about their success not only in band, but in other activities and classwork, they will be more apt to work with you and stay in band. Being flexible when possible, so students aren't placed in impossible predicaments with other activities, is invaluable in retention. Creating positive relationships with your students is key to building success.

Ted Keck is in his twenty-eighth year of teaching and is the instrumental music director at South Harrison High School in Bethany, Missouri, where he has taught for the past thirteen years. He has previously taught in the Braymer, Pike County R-III, and St. Clair County School Districts. Three of his bands have previously performed for MMEA--Braymer in 2000, and South Harrison in 2013 and 2017. He currently directs marching band, indoor drumline, symphonic band, high school and middle school big bands and jazz combos, pep band, and fifth, sixth, and seventh grade bands. Keck also teaches music theory and advanced instrumental music.

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