Junior High Band
Organizational Tips

Select the Right Music

Finding the right music was my biggest challenge. With the right music, teaching was fun, I had a good time, the students had a good time and there were few discipline problems. With the wrong music, the opposite was true. No one had fun and maintaining good discipline was much harder.

Our typical concert program for each band was as follows: (1) A good opener - something upbeat and not too long, often a march (Why don’t bands play marches anymore?), (2) One or two pieces of a classical nature - - the meat and potatoes of the concert; and (3) A fun closer - - usually the students’ favorite piece.

Variety is important. While on a concert tour of Southern California with the high school band we had an exchange concert with a high school choir. The choir sang first. Their program was lengthy and consisted entirely of 16th-century madrigals. Although they were well-done, they all sounded the same. Twenty minutes into their performance one of their students fainted and fell off the back of the riser. Many in the audience were out long before that.

Music publishing companies send recordings of new music to schools regularly. I spent much of my summers listening to those recordings. I would attend concerts at other schools to get ideas. I would pay particular attention to what the other bands played at festivals, hoping to find that next great number. I went to movies, more to hear the soundtracks than to see the movies.

Band arrangements are expensive and most band budgets are small. I patronized those companies that would let us try it before we bought it. At the beginning of the quarter I would borrow several pieces, all of which I thought had possibilities, for each grade level. We would listen to the recordings and sight read the music the first week. I've mentioned how painful sight reading usually is in the junior high. I told myself that as long as most of us were in the same measure I would keep going. After sight reading a piece, I asked the students to vote whether they liked it or not. Some pieces everyone liked and were obvious winners. Others weren’t so obvious. Sometimes I knew they would like it once they learned it. Sometimes I was wrong.

Often in a piece we liked there was a section we couldn’t play. There is no rule that says you have to play music exactly as written. I would rewrite parts to match the strength of the band or we would just skip the hard or boring parts altogether.

It takes a lot of time and it’s often painful, but finding the right music is worth the effort. It’s one of the secrets to having fun in this business.(See Music Winners)

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.