Junior High Band
Organizational Tips

Create an Effective Class Schedule

Most band directors have some say regarding the classes they teach and when they are taught - - at least after the first year. Several factors affect those decisions including the director's philosophy of education, his energy level, his relationship with the counselors and administration (who make the decisions), the students' energy levels, lunch periods, the need to balance the class schedule for the whole school, and so forth. Consider the following when making those decisions:

Speak up - Don't be afraid to give your input. You are the expert in your field. Share your feelings and insight. You might have to fight for what you think is right, but it's worth the fight. I remember a year when the principal and counselors were convinced that Jazz Band would work just as well in the regular schedule as it did before school. They were concerned because my teaching before school gave me an additional prep period during the day. During that period the other teachers had larger class loads, since the students have to be somewhere every hour. (The fact that my class loads the other periods were twice that of most teachers didn't carry much weight.) I argued that the best students had very tight class schedules and wouldn't be able to fit in two band classes (Jazz Band and a Concert Band), which would weaken all the bands. We went the rounds for over a month. Finally, with some parent support on my side of the issue and a rather strong final statement by me, I won the battle - - at least until I retired.

Energy levels - People are different. Being a morning person I liked having prep first period because it was longer and gave me more time to prepare for the day. I was also more alert then and made better use of the time.

One year at the high school we had a 121-piece "training" band the last period of the day. The room was built to hold half that number comfortably. We were tired. The students were tired and cramped. It was a hard year. One of my first years at the junior high I had an 80+-piece, 8th-grade band (the hardest grade for me to teach) the last period of the day. Again, we were all tired and cramped and it made for a very long year. What worked best for me was having my larger and more demanding classes (the advanced bands) before lunch. I had more energy then and so did the majority of the students. It was physically easier for me to end the day with the classes that were smaller and easier to teach (the beginners.)

Percussion class - One reason my first year at the junior high was so hard was the percussion problem. There were six to eight aspiring percussionists in every class that were difficult to control. Generally, percussionists are high-energy people. When I was working with the other students, that energy would often become disruptive.

The next year we put all the beginning drummers in a percussion class. We were able to focus on percussion the entire period. It was more fun for me and a lot more fun for them. It saved the drummers. It saved the other classes. And it was one of a number of things that saved me.

It worked so well with the beginners that I tried adding the 8th graders to the class the following year. During the warm-ups and instruction part of the class it worked well. When we started rehearsing the concert music, those playing were fine, but those watching reverted to old habits. It only lasted a semester before we moved the 8th graders out of the class. Had the students been older, possibly high-school age, the combined class would have probably worked better.

Full band vs. woods and brass - For the same reasons I like starting the beginners in the summer, many directors prefer to teach the beginners in separate woodwind and brass classes. I tried it one year. We were able to spend more time on the challenges of each instrument. I enjoyed it and thought it was helpful for the first semester. At mid-year I was ready to focus on the challenges of the entire band. We only got to do that in a few combined rehearsals before the concerts.

For the next few years we started the beginners in separate woodwind and brass classes and then combined them into full bands at mid-year. It was a lot of work for the counselors but they were willing since there are so many class changes at mid-year anyway. I liked it, but occasionally we lost a good student whose schedule wouldn't work. It also gave some students the opinion that band was just a semester class. I eventually went back to full bands in the fall - minus the drummers.

Administrative relationships - One of the major challenges for administrators and counselors is to create and balance the class schedule each year. The fact that I had large classes made balancing the schedule easier and they were eager to keep me happy. Likewise, I asked them for a lot of favors during the year. Maintaining friendly relationships with the administrators and counselors makes life a lot more enjoyable. I have close friends who let their tempers get the best of them and ended up facing lawsuits and even losing their jobs. Bottom line - Be assertive but flexible, and be nice.

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.