Friday, February 26, 2016

Year 6: Week 24 – Fundamentals

One of the things that I noticed at our festival was how much time the clinicians spent on teaching fundamentals. The students were really responsive to this work, but I wasn’t sure how they would respond to me teaching them these things. It’s one things to respond to a guest, it’s another thing to do this work with me as their regular teacher.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do teach fundamentals. We go over posture, instrument carriage, breathing and embouchure formation. However when we get into the groove of preparing for a performance, sometimes I let these things slide in the desire of getting music learned and polished.

It’s a tricky balance between spending time on fundamentals and getting to playing music. With my beginning 6th grade band, if I waited until the fundamentals were mastered before letting the play, it would take weeks before we’d get to play songs. Without the carrot of the music, students aren’t motivated to work on fundamentals and they don’t really see the point of this kind of work.

Part of what I realized is that not all fundamentals are created equal. Some band director’s stress having the students put their instruments to their face when the director puts their hands up with militaristic precision. I have up on trying to get my kids to do this. It didn’t make sense to my students as improving their playing and my school community isn’t impressed with this kind of display.

My students aren’t really convinced by doing something because of "the way it is done."  A lot of performance practices with concert bands fall into this category. Only when I can make connections between sitting up straight, breath support and a better tone do my students put effort into fundamentals of playing.

I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive my students were this week about going back and talking about how to sit straight, the way breathing works and how important it was to hold your instrument correctly. They immediately hear how much better they sound when they think about these things. Here’s the thing, it’s not like, them sitting up all the sudden opens up their airstream and they play in tune. It’s the attention and care they put into their preparation before playing that puts them into a focused mindset that translates into a higher quality of playing.

We've got a lot of music to learn to get ready for upcoming performances but I’m committed to not letting fundamentals go. This may mean that my students learn less music but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run.

And they will look better in the process.

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