EMAIL of Dec 30

(If this is a busy moment, mark this email and come back to it later as it is longer and important!)

Twice a year the band students have an opportunity to individually show off for me and show me what they've learned! The first one of these times is in January. These show-off moments have a rather formal name: "Band Exams". I've thought about changing the name to something less intimidating, but one of my reasons for doing the exams is to make the kids a little nervous! (YES... I AM MEAN! Heh, heh...) No, I'm not really being mean, but if they are a little bit nervous, I can help coach them through how to get over the nerves or to work through them. All of us get nervous when we have to perform, be it in music, solo or in a group, or an oral report, or reciting a poem, or for us adults, speaking in front of our colleagues or clients. Each person's body reacts differently to being nervous. I have lots of tricks to impart and it is really important the kids learn to work through, or work in spite of, being nervous; it is a skill and takes practice and being in music is a good way to work on this skill!

Except for symphonic band percussionists, who are learning an extra auxiliary percussion exercise (auxiliary percussion are the "other" percussion instruments, like tambourine, bass drum, triangle...), the three pieces of the exam are all things the students are learning and preparing anyway: scales (and rudiments for percussion), some of the band music we are currently working on, and a sight-reading based on the rhythm work we've been doing in workshops all fall. So if the child is practicing regularly and doing his/her gradeouts, there is nothing extra, it is just a simple manner of pulling it all together and playing it for me! Most of our students don't "practice for the exam", they are just practicing and find themselves ready for the exam! (Thus the show-off time!) For more specific info on requirements, go to the band website:

A bit about my approach, philosophy and such... Every one of the band students has made some improvement this year!!! I will capitalize on the positive and each student will walk out having heard several things about what he/she did well. I am NOT out to count mistakes and tick off points; I want to encourage the child to continue working and improving.

My basic philosophy is that it is just as important that we know what we are doing well so that we can continue to do it, as it is to figure out what to work on next. Yes, I will also point out some things for the student to work on - there are always many (I've played an instrument for over 50 years, yet I could give you a list an arm's length long of things I need to work on!). But I always just focus in on one or two things that I think are most important for the moment and for that individual - each young musician needs something different! For example, the student who is still trying to fix a tounging problem probably isn't ready to focus on intonation.

Then there is the practice that the exam sometimes inspires... Students often think, "It's graded and alone; I've got to practice!" Often exams get kids going who otherwise don't practice much, and they then sometimes decide the music is more fun when they can play it well -- practicing pays off! Therefore, this process can create new practice habits... or if not, at least it creates two times per year that everyone practices! :-)

The exams are also a time for me to communicate with each parent (watch for the packet right after the child's exam time, and please fill out the questionnaire and return the return sheet).

In closing, please contact me if your young musician is panicked or having trouble with the exam material. This exam is not intended to see who is good enough and who isn't; its purpose is to assess the musician's current progress and what is going well and what he/she should be focusing on next. Consequently, if the material is too difficult, an alternative assignment can be supplied at no loss of points. I want to hear the child's BEST! Each child is in a different place: for example, in one section there is a student who has played the instrument since 3rd grade, another started two months ago and a third never practiced much in elementary school, but is really working now! Should I expect the same things of each? No, of course not. It is progress that counts, not just ability, and "talent" doesn't enter in at all!

Let me know if you have questions or concerns. Meanwhile, help your child get ready by encouraging practice, asking to hear what he/she is playing and LOTS of praise for hard work and improvement! ("Your tone sounds so much better these days!" You are really getting to where you sound confident on your instrument!" "I like listening to you play!!") You can help, even if you are not a musician.


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