Junior High Band

Larry HillThere is an old adage attributed to George Bernard Shaw that says, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach." Someone has added, "Those who can’t teach, teach teachers to teach.” Whether to disprove the adage or for some other reason, one of my college professors took a sabbatical and got a job teaching high school band for a year. When I saw him the following year he looked ten years older. I asked him how it went. He looked at me for a while and then said; “You know that stuff I taught you about teaching band? It’s all a bunch of bunk.” He obviously had had a healthy dose of reality regarding teaching band in the public schools. In his defense, the first year is usually the hardest. I’m confident things would have gotten better had he stayed longer.

Through my experience I found his reply to be fairly accurate. Much of what is taught in our colleges is not very useful when you are in front of 50 or 60 junior high students, each of whom is holding a weapon/aka instrument. The purpose of this site is to provide useful tools that will enable the teacher not only to survive but also to succeed and have fun in the process. If the teacher has fun, the students will have fun, and the end result is more likely to be successful.

I graduated from Brigham Young University in 1971 with a degree in music education. My first year teaching was in the small southeastern Idaho town of Bancroft. There were 180 students in the student body, which included kindergarten through 12th grade. I had 13 different preparations ranging from kindergarten general music to high school band and choir. The music program had struggled for years and everything I did received rave reviews. It was as if I could do no wrong. After one year in Idaho I moved back to my home town, Orem, Utah, and team-taught with my high school band director, Wes Barry, for the next nine years. The program was at a peak and it continued to soar. After teaching for ten years with nothing but success, I thought I could teach anyone how to play anything perfectly. Then, one week before school started, the director of one of our feeder junior high schools left unexpectedly. Without strong feeder schools a high school band program has little chance of survival. For the sake of the overall program I moved to the junior high.

My first year at the junior high was similar to what I think my college professor experienced on his sabbatical. Everything I tried failed. I seriously considered other careers. Fortunately, I had a wise principal who gave me some convention money and told me to take a week and observe the successful junior high band directors in the state. I did. I observed and questioned two or three teachers every day. I watched them teach and I asked about repertoire, grading procedures, classroom discipline, method books, and so forth. As a bonus, my students hated the substitute teacher who taught in my absence. When I returned they were happy to see me and I had many new ideas to try. Some of them worked for me. Some did not. Some just needed a little tweaking to fit my personality. That week of observations was so helpful that I took every opportunity to observe other directors throughout my career. This site contains those ideas that were most beneficial to me and helped make my last 25 years of teaching not only successful but delightful as well.

Towards the end of my career one of the new teachers in the district asked me to write down how I had survived. There are probably as many ways to teach band as there are band directors. So take what you like and disregard the rest. If you don't use any of it, I won't be offended, because I won't know. If you do find something that is useful, I would enjoy hearing from you. If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact me as well. I will be happy to share any insights I might have.

Video Disclaimer

The attached videos are not perfect examples of how each tune should be played. They are recordings of junior high students, some of whom have had their instruments for only a few months. Also, they are not professional recordings. They were taken by band parents using home equipment and naturally focusing on their own children.

I include them for two reasons: (1) To give you an idea of what the arrangements are like, and (2) To illustrate the kind of performance you can expect from your junior high students.