Three years ago I identified intonation, dexterity and sight-reading independent parts as the main issues with my Symphonic Band. My response to this was to diligently research each of these areas and talk to colleagues. I read papers delivered at the Mid West clinic, did a Kodaly course and did some pretty rigorous self-assessment. From that process I created a series of intonation exercises and a scale sheet which I gave to all my students. In essence, I formulated a pedagogy for teaching band which I thought was had to work. It was backed up by evidence, based on best-practice teaching and it was a logical, sequential process.
Unfortunately, for the first two years that I used it, it didn’t work. There were a number of factors in play which caused it not to work, but I was pretty disappointed. Now, in an education climate where action research and reflective practice are celebrated, it would have made sense to ditch the method and try to develop a new way of teaching. I seriously considered it, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw away hours upon hours of work, even though it had not achieved any results.
Eventually, I decided to just commit my pedagogy with more vigour than ever. I posted the rehearsal plans on the school’s Learning Management System (LMS) so that the students knew what was coming up. I made sure that I used the same warm-ups in every class. I taught the exercises slowly and deliberately. After only four rehearsals, I am starting to see results. So, the question becomes why?
Fundamentally, I don’t think I ever comitted to the process. I was always second-guessing myself and didn’t have confidence in my methods. My mind was full of doubts. Sure, they looked good on paper, but did they really stack up? Would they really work at my school? After all, my method was entirely different to every other rehearsal at the school.
The impact that those doubts had was that I rushed my instruction. I was guided by the internal voice “you only have 50 minutes per week to rehearse, don’t spend too long on tuning and scales”. I was so worried that my rehearsals weren’t fun enough, that I neglected good teaching. In doing so, I didn’t treat my students with the respect they deserved. They were there to become better musicians and I treated them as though they were only there to muck around.
So, this year I have turned it around. I have a new bunch of students, eager to learn and I am going to teach them to perform at an incredibly high standard by using the method I have developed. I will get them to sing in three part harmony using sol-fa and I will get them to learn their major scales around the cycle of fourths. I will get them to use just intonation and Macbeth’s balance pyramid. I will trust my system, and as they experience the results, I think the students will trust it too.