Are you joining a middle school or high school band this year? We asked some teachers and former band students for advice for the newcomers.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Band is a team effort. An ensemble only sounds as good as its weakest instrument. By signing up for band, you’re committing to doing your very best for the other band members. No one expects you to be Louis Armstrong in 9th grade, but you owe it to the rest of the band to grow and improve, and that takes regular practice.
Set up a daily practice routine. For many students, it’s best to plan on walking in the door from school, getting a quick snack and drink, then immediately heading up to their rooms to practice and do homework. Maybe it works better for you to do homework first, eat dinner, then practice before bed. However your schedule looks, establish a regular routine and stick to it. Block that time off on your calendar and set reminders on your phone. Enlist your parents in keeping you on track.
A private teacher can be a fantastic resource in your musical journey. If your family’s budget allows, definitely sign up for private lessons. But you only get out of your lessons the amount of practice you put into them.
Take Care of Your Instrument
Always follow your band director’s recommended maintenance routine for your instrument. If they don’t give you one, Google how to care for your instrument. Set reminders and alerts on your phone for daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance.
Ask your band director where to go for emergency repairs. The school probably has a contract with a local shop where you can get free or reduced price repairs. Better to have that information saved in your phone before something breaks on the day of a major performance!
When in doubt, ask. People joke that all problems can be fixed with either duct tape or WD-40, but that is NOT true of a musical instrument. If something is moving when it shouldn’t, or not moving when it should, ask your band director for help instead of yanking or jerking it. Or call your repair shop for advice – they will probably be happy to walk you through basic troubleshooting techniques over the phone.
No offense to your parents, who are wonderful people and love you very much, but unless they have also played your instrument, they might not be the right person to ask for help here. We have seen parents do a lot of damage trying to use brute force to pull out stuck mouthpieces or loosen stuck bells.
There are a lot of little bits and bobs to keep track of when you play in band. The very first day you receive your instrument, designate a home for everything you need in either your case or your backpack, so it always gets put back where it’s supposed to be.
A lot of beginning band students lose their mouthpieces. Like, a lot a lot. Don’t let that be you! You can buy a colorful mouthpiece pouch which will serve as a reminder not to forget your mouthpiece.
Make up an easy-to-remember acronym to use every time you pack up your instrument. Something like, “Do I have my SPOMMB?”
SPOMMB: Sheet music, Pencil, Oils, Mouthpiece, Mute, Binder
Okay, it’s not the greatest acronym ever – I’m accepting suggestions for improvement. But you get the basic idea.
Being in band also involves keeping track of a lot of important due dates. Keep a calendar and set reminders so that you turn in recordings and other work by their deadlines. Don’t let your fellow band members down by having to sit out on important performances because you didn’t keep your grades up.
By signing up for band, you are committing to attend all kinds of extracurricular events: concerts and football games and school assemblies and more. You need to make sure you don’t miss rehearsals and performances on evenings and weekends. A good calendar and reminder system will be helpful here, too.
And don’t be late! In the music world, “on time” is too late, and five minutes early is on time. If the band director says you start at 7:00, by 6:59 you need to be in position with your instrument out, ready to play.
Most students love being in band and remember their band days fondly for the rest of their lives. We hope you have a fantastic band experience!
— Dr. Sally Podrebarac and Kacie Wright