breathing gym

24Sep08

I’ve not ever seen the Breathing Gym videos, but I have done a few of the exercises, and I’ve got to start using them with my flutes. Since a major thing that flutes must learn in their first year is how to conserve air over time, I need to start collecting the resources to prepare them.

The students’ embouchures are getting better, and I think my own is improving as well. I think I may have figured out how keeping the face relaxed is important in tone production, though it isn’t consistent from register to register. It will take time, but I sound much better now than I did, and I know what I’ve been reading is going to help.

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patience

19Sep08

One of my biggest obstacles in my first year was controlling my temper and keeping patient with my students. I got better as the year went along. In fact, by the time May rolled around, I was not threatening to send my kids to the office and I wasn’t having to bite my tongue so often.

Today, though I suffered a headache, I did a pretty good job of keeping my patience and keeping my voice down with my second saxophone class. I’m being very particular about talking in class: I want none of it. My first saxophone class is chatty, but its more excitement than anything else. They do stop when asked. This second class is more chatty and its more idle conversation and laughter. Today was the third time I had them put up their horns and sit there quietly. I tried not to lecture them as much, but I was not in the mood to put up with them, and they were getting carried away. I tell myself, my flute class isn’t like this…

Classroom Management 101 mentions that patience is something one needs in vast supply, and I agree. I am much better with this, especially regarding learning new concepts. I could be better, because a squawking mouthpiece still sets my nerves on edge. I know what they are doing is hard, but I’m not freaking out just yet.

That said, if I can get my patience with high school students, I might be worth keeping around after all.


It has been a stressful day in the life of an assistant band director. I am wandering the marching field feeling most incompetent. I also work with a top junior high band where the director wants me to do everything to help, but won’t tell me what he needs, and won’t let me have a routine in his class. This is my turmoil at this point, trying to decide how to effectively, and affectively, assist. What good is helping out with an ensemble if I am doing no good.

However, I promised myself that I would not let this blog turn into ramblings, so I have to include some helpful info for myself and others…Okay, no links this time, other than the mention of a TBA clinic about how to be more effective. So, I’ll table this one for now. Any comments and suggestions are more than welcome. I’ll add them to the body of the post when they are offered.


I often joke that musicians don’t have to count any higher than 4. We have 4/4 time, 3/4 time, 6/8 time (which is just two groups of three) and even more complex examples like 5/4 (which is really 2+3 or 3+2). Never have I encountered a meter were counting to higher than 4 was necessary. Even listening to music from native India, which is typically groups of 3 and 2 alternating.

I found this pretty decent summary of meters and subdivision. It breaks things down pretty well. It also lists example pieces. Not to shabby.

Today, it became evident how difficult learning an instrument can be. I’m working with my kids on the simple duple subdivision in 4/4 time. We require a toe-only foot tap to help with this. So, here is the list of basic skill requirements in the third week of beginning band (and we aren’t even talking concepts):

1. Actively strain and conform facial muscles.
2. Maintain a solid upper-body posture that is contrary to daily activity.
3. Learn to decode music into “nonsense” syllables.
4. Learn to consciously breathe from the abdomen while remaining still.
5. Contract abdomen muscles to help produce a hissing sound.
6. Learn to conserve air over time.
7. Coordinate 1-3, 5 and 6 or 1, 2 and 4-6 alternately at regular intervals.
8. Learn to minimize movement of a newly explored muscle, namely the tongue.
9. Further coordinate.
10. Produce a sound using all the above skills to stay together with other students.
11. Manipulate complex machinery with difficult and unnatural hand postures.
12. Hold 15-20 pounds of metal using mostly your neck.
13. Remain quiet and attentive for an hour while doing this.
14. Oh, yes, and tap your foot at regular intervals to indicate an understanding of subdivision.

No wonder 6th grade band students are crazy or hateful by Christmas.


routines

10Sep08

While my first year was mostly a learning experience disguised as a disaster, this year has been more invigorating and enjoyable. I come home happy most days so far, and feel ready to go the next day, for the most part. Last night is one example, where I had been at school from 7am to 9pm, with rehearsals and classes all day, and still felt well enough to stay up until after midnight doing things. That would have never happened in P-ville.

Anyway, today I learned that I have lots of ideas of what I want to do in the classroom, and I know all the concepts I want to teach the kids, but I don’t know the order in which to teach them. Band directors in this year don’t rely on lesson plans, other than rough ones they make in their heads, so that doesn’t help much. I’ve tried using lesson plans, and it fails pretty hard.

It’s all about the sequencing. I can pace pretty well, but today, I was at a loss for what to teach my saxophone and flute beginners. I’m still learning, but I thought it was important to point out that I’m feeling a bit ignorant today, and a bit under prepared. I have some notes know of what I want to do.

Routines, I believe, are very important in beginning playing (or any playing) so that’s what I’m focusing on: Counting, breathing exercises, time on the mouthpiece/head joint, concept review, book-work, and learning the chromatic scale by rote. That’s what’s gonna start tomorrow.


the slide

07Sep08

When it comes to marching fundamentals, I get picky. I used to refer to myself as the “Posture Nazi,” always so critical of a person’s posture on the field that I would actually get angry, and a little fundamentalist, pardon the pun. I learned that, when you stand at attention, you should raise off your heels a quarter-inch from the ground. This gives you the look of slightly leaning forward, that much more height, and a look of intimidation. It was old guard in a newer style, if such a thing exists.

Since I left high school, I’ve never heard of raising yourself like that, but I’ve used it on occasion myself, just…well, because. See, I’m picky. Anyway, when it comes to marching fundamentals, I find myself staring at people who can’t do slides and shaking my head. In my second year of teaching, I’m getting better at explaining it, but most people explain it as a turn from the shoulders, when I see it as a turn from the waist. Frank Troyka put it in terms of upper body and lower body, which makes sense to me. We always talk about that, unless its with slides, which is not a consistent thought process. The body should always be divided into the same sections and same motions for every exercise, direction, step, and maneuver. Decreasing the amount of needed vocabulary makes learning the basics easier.

Here is a video I found from Dynamic Marching showing some very nice slides at a basic level. The upper body is rigid while the lower body is fluid, allowing for the swift changing of a direction over only one beat.


March-a-thon

06Sep08

It’s marching season, as many of you probably know, and because I am in public schools, it’s also fundraising time. It’s always fundraising time. Anyway, a big fundraiser that a lot of schools do around here is the “March-a-thon.” Digging around on the internet, I find that its not that uncommon of a thing, but I think there are probably two major kinds: The parade march-a-thon, and the rehearsal march-a-thon.

The Parade march-a-thon is more in time with the community aspect of the high school band, in that it gets the band marching right by your neighbors’ doors, playing for them. I’m not so sure this is as appreciated as it used to be, since we start at 8am. It is also killer on your marching fundamentals since all the parade march-a-thons I’ve seen are between 6 and 10 miles of constant marching, barely even stopping for traffic.

The Rehearsal march-a-thon, our choice this year, is a lot better, though it has its own issues. Since we are spending our time trying to learn a marching show to perform at football games and at competition, we decided it would be best to use our those four hours of the march-a-thon for rehearsal. Sure, it is a lot of work for the kids, and it can be taxing on patience and attitudes. However, morale was high all day, the weather was great, and we managed to learn half our show with music. That’s a great step to make in four hours!

Weather and teacher in-services got in the way of rehearsals during our normal summer band schedule, so we were making up for lost time. We were able to focus on fundamentals while still learning the show. We have a football game in a week, so now we are vastly ahead of where we were going to be had we not used this morning for rehearsals. A good learning time was had by all.