Monday, March 12, 2018

If The Shoe Fits... Reed Club

If The Shoe Fits...
by Kirby Swinney
If you are going to improve as a teacher, you must acknowledge your own shortcomings and develop a plan to improve.

CalendarJPGAdvice. We can all benefit from some words of wisdom from time to time. Most of these topics below have come from advice I have received from others during my career. I'm stubborn, and as a young teacher I didn't immediately appreciate some of the advice I am passing on in this article. But as time passed and shortcomings repeated themselves, I learned that the best plan was to listen with an open mind to those who had good advice to give.

Procedures, Procedures, Procedures!

Most student discipline problems occur when procedures for student conduct have not been clearly defined. It is crucial that you have well-established procedures for your students from the time they walk into the room until the time they leave. Here are a few topics to consider:

  1. Can students enter the room if the teacher is not present?
  2. Can students play their instrument before class starts?
  3. Once class has started, what is the procedure for asking a question?
  4. What should students do if they have a special need (broken instrument, reed, etc.)
  5. What is the procedure for putting instruments and music away?
  6. What is the procedure for leaving the room?
I strongly suggest that you spend the first week of school (or longer if needed) each year introducing procedures to your new students and reinforcing these procedures with your older students. I would even recommend testing your kids on procedures until all have demonstrated proficiency. You can make it fun and interesting, but your students must have clearly defined procedures to follow.

Two Plus Two Equals Five?

What if you were taught over and over that 2+2=5? Every teacher taught you that from day one and no one told you differently. Not knowing any better, you would soon believe it to be true until the day someone taught you that 2+2=4. By that point you would likely be skeptical and it would take you a period of time to adjust to the concept even after you accepted it as fact.

When you fail to correct mistakes in rehearsal or choose to ignore them until later you are essentially doing the same thing. You are allowing students to reinforce errors. At some point, those mistakes will have to be corrected it will become increasingly difficult to establish correct practice habits. Nip the problems in the bud!

Don't Criticize Without a Solution

Have you ever been in a situation in which the conductor was somewhat critical of your performance but offered no real means for improvement? As an adult, perhaps you can formulate a solution on your own but most school aged students can't or don't. Therefore, any criticism you offer without a positive solution serves no purpose other than to turn you into a negative teacher that the student will tune out at some point.

Recordings Don't Lie

All teachers, even experienced ones, should record their band on a regular basis, especially if they are preparing for a competition or festival. Recordings offer the conductor the chance to examine a section of music repeatedly for multiple errors in multiple parts and notice minor errors that are often not heard by the human ear in rehearsal. By recording you are also training your ear to hear errors in your rehearsal. Through repeated listening you will start to learn what your band's tendencies are. This allows you to anticipate problems before they occur and be a more efficient, effective teacher.

Get a Second (of Third) Opinion

After listening to your band daily for months at a time, you are far from objective. You know how far they have come and sometimes that is a long way, but that doesn't mean they have arrived at their destination even if you think they have. Getting an extra set of ears from a more experienced director with a proven track record is a must. You can ask them to simply come in and listen and offer criticism or you can turn over the rehearsal to them as a guest conductor. Either way, they will either find issues that you are overlooking or will simply reinforce what you have been saying. Regardless of the format you choose you will get fresh insight into the performance of your ensemble by stepping off the podium and listening from a distance.

For the Love of God, Learn to Play in Tune!

Students must learn how to match pitch as a beginner. Delaying the process just sends a message to your kids that it isn't important to listen around them. At some point your kids will learn that playing out of tune is fine; they will fail to see the need to develop critical listening skills, or lack the interest to do so. Use of a variety of long tone exercises, chord tuning exercises, etc. are great but you must also educate your students on pitch tendencies and how to listen across the band. Most importantly, you must not allow your band to continue playing when you hear pitch imperfections. It must be clear to the students that poor intonation is simply not acceptable and must be corrected or at least improved when the problem surfaces.

Take Full Responsibility for the Outcome

Everything that happens in your rehearsals leading up to a concert or competition is on you. While judges sometimes miss a rating, most of the time they get it right or err on the positive side. Chances are, if you listen to a recording of your band a few months after the past performance you will likely hear it in a much more critical way than you did when you were immersed into the daily preparation. If you are going to improve as a teacher, you must acknowledge your own shortcomings and develop a plan to improve. Be your own worst critic instead of making excuses and looking to place blame elsewhere.

In Conclusion

"Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn't."--Erica Jong, How To Save Your Own Life, 1977.

"The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself."--Oscar Wilde

And with that, I would encourage you to be willing to listen to the ideas of others and share your best advice as well. Together, we can do much more for our students and the world.

Kirby Swinney PhotoKirby graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1982 with a degree in instrumental music education and retired in 2014 after teaching band for 30 years in the Oklahoma communities of Weleetka, Dewey, Choctaw and Shawnee. While at Dewey and Shawnee, both band programs earned their first ever OSSAA sweepstakes award and in 2013 the Shawnee Band Program earned its first ever double sweepstakes award when both concert bands earned superior ratings at the state level contest. Kirby's marching bands were consistently rated superior at regional competitions and were also consistent top twelve finalists at the OBA State Marching Band Championship Contest. Kirby has served as secretary of the OBA Board of Control and also served on the OBA Board of Directors as secretary and president. Kirby has served as band chairman for the Oklahoma Music Educators Association and also served on the OMEA board as band vice-president. He is a member of OMEA, OBA, NAfME and Phi Beta Mu. Kirby has two children. His son Adrian is a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma and is teaching English in Japan. His daughter Caitlyn is currently a pre-nursing student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
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