Monday, November 28, 2022
Critical mass is a term used in physics to describe the smallest amount of material needed to create or maintain a chain reaction. Once you have that amount, you can keep a reaction going for a very long time, if not for eternity. This is a term that also can be applied to the instrumentation of your beginning instrumental music program.
In the instrumental world, critical mass is the number of students that will hopefully provide the quantity and quality of players in your program through the high school level. Starting the "perfect" number can increase your chances of keeping students in your program longer and reducing the challenges of asking students to switch instruments later.
We have all had that section in a beginner class that just doesn't seem to progress at the same rate as the rest of the class. Every other section is nailing every song. But this section seems to struggle with almost every exercise in the book. The most frustrating aspect of this situation can be that they all seem content in not achieving success.
There are a couple of items to address to help you determine your critical mass number for each instrument:
- Analyze your dropout rate of the full ensemble as well as each instrument. Establish your desired instrumentation of your high school ensemble(s) and base your beginning instrumentation to reach that "perfect" instrumentation. If any of the sections are experiencing higher than average dropout rate, add a few additional beginners to help offset that dropout rate.
- When possible, avoid starting just one student on an instrument. One is the loneliest number when learning a new instrument. The modeling and comparison opportunities to other players are much-needed components in creating a strong start for beginners. Always strive for two or more students on each beginning instrument.
- Spread the talent pool throughout the beginning group as best you can. Ask your elementary teachers for feedback on the students you are looking at. Explain to them that you want to help all the students be successful on their instruments and create strong leaders within the group by distributing the hardest working students throughout the ensemble.
- Your critical mass numbers will flex with the changing instrumental needs of your ensembles and the changing dropout rate.
The hope is that the application of this strategy will help improve the rate of progress in your beginners and retention throughout your program. Continual reflection and analysis of the critical mass numbers will be essential to maintain a strong program or "chain reaction".
Take out those rosters and calculators and now we can add "physics teacher" to the job title for all directors.
|Troy Bunkley is an Educational Representative for Palen Music Center at the O'Fallon, MO location. Troy retired from teaching in 2016 after 31 years on the podium. He taught at Fredericktown, Poplar Bluff, and most recently 22 years at Washington, MO.|
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