Junior High Band
Teaching Tips

Emphasize Proper Balance

One of the key ingredients to a good-sounding band is proper balance. I strongly endorse the pyramid technique described by W. Francis McBeth in his book Effective Performance of Band Music. His basic premise is that the lower instruments and lower chord tones need to be stronger or louder than the higher instruments and chord tones. The tubas, baritones, and trombones need to play louder than the trumpets. The baritone saxophones, bass clarinets, and bassoons should play louder than the alto saxophones, clarinets, and flutes. The third clarinet part should be louder than the second; the second louder than the first. The third cornet part should be louder than the second; the second louder than the first; etc. The root of a chord should be louder than the third; the third louder than the fifth, etc.

A problem we face as band directors is the higher notes are generally more difficult to play and they are written in the upper parts. We put our best players on the first parts so the notes will be played, which leaves our weaker players on the parts that are more important for good balance. One proposed solution is to give the first-chair player the first part, the second-chair player the second part, the third-chair player the third part; and then start over again giving the fourth-chair player the first part, etc. That didn’t work for me. Instead, I just put more players on the lower parts, i.e., three first clarinets, five or six second clarinets and eight or ten third clarinets.

I called one of our regular warm ups “chords” (See Warm-up Tips/Chords). All the lower instruments were asked to start on the first note of the scale, the middle instruments were asked to start on the third note the scale, the high instruments could pick between the fifth or first notes. When everyone played his first note we had the tonic chord. We played up and down the scale slowly, holding some chords longer than others, and attacking sustaining and releasing each chord together. We worked on proper balance, precision, and tuning.

For more information, see the Balance* slide show from the Slide Shows section.

*Microsoft PowerPoint required.
To download, right click on the link and select "Save target as" (Internet Explorer) or "Save link as" (Firefox / Chrome).

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.