Camaraderie and Competition in the Middle School Band Room

In these "unprecedented times" of COVID and Universal Remote Learning, there have been less opportunities to build relationships amongst the students in the band room. For example, the incoming 6th graders did not share the experience of instrument fittings. In my efforts, I have tried to unite band member who may not have worked together otherwise. In addition, I want to reinforce the band family mentality with my older students and develop this with younger students. This is easier said than done when we do not know when the next time we can have an actual concert will be; however, us band directors can work a little magic to develop camaraderie while feeding competition. This entry serves to highlight my challenges, successes, failures, and feelings.

Hidden Curriculum

It is normal for young students to struggle with keeping a steady beat. This process became a success with my 6th graders and beginning 7th graders. I have been clapping the steady beat for them as we have worked through the method book. Now, I am revisiting their earlier exercises (especially those beginning ones with four beats of rest between notes) to have students focus on keeping a steady beat and listening to one another. This is done by me clapping the initial bar or two of the exercise and then stopping but have them continue. Students are encouraged to tap their feet, subdivide, and look at one another. Although the first time or two are often train-wrecks, a few tries later and they are tuned in with one another. This benefited their steady beat, musical independence, listening skills, and teamwork to accomplish a class-wide goal.

Know Your Leaders, Build Your Leaders

A recent issue in our 7th grade beginning band class is a lack of effort and a lack of consideration for the whole. My first step was to displace students and use proximity to best engage all students. I created a seating chart which was not well received at first, but provided me a way to best monitor and control classroom behavior. This new set up also placed them with like instrumentation (trumpets with trumpets, percussion with percussion, etc.) A student in the front of the room who was not participating in the back of the room became a leader practically overnight. Now, he counts off our book exercises. Ideally I would like more students to volunteer, but he is doing a good job, is behaving much better, and has really taken on a leadership role.

There's Always Time for Games

I've recently come to love the popular game Among Us, featuring characters doing tasks and identifying imposters. I try to reserve my Fridays for "Game Day" for my younger students to build these outside skills (leadership, collaboration, etc.) while reinforcing things we have been working on (rhythm, note identification, etc.) I adapted an online powerpoint board game (created by another teacher, who I'll try to link here) so that I could hear students play individually and in pairs. I was also able to project this on the board and share in Microsoft Teams so that all students were participating. I paired students up by their seating chart (which was also by instrumentation). They each take turns to either identify a note (move 1 space,, clap a rhythm (move 1 space,, or play an exercise in their book (move two spaces). The goal is for students to get to the end first.

Yes, there is no imposter, but I am working to add that element. I understand that other music programs have had imposters play/clap/say the incorrect musical exercises, but my groups do not quite have the independence to do this yet. This is something I hope to be able to do by the end of the school year. In other words, this game was like if Jeopardy met with Sorry and was Among Us themed. Overall, this was well received by students and I have had many requests to play this again. I would definitely use this for Game Day again, as it showed my where students strengths were (rhythm, note reading, playing) and which they struggled with; in addition, it required team work to do the "task" together and do it correctly. Both needed to be correct for them to move spaces, however they could help each other and collaborate. Additionally, teams could "steal" their spaces by answering correctly after another team answers incorrectly. This kept everyone engaged when it was not their turn, to listen in, steal the space(s), or plan for what they would choose on their next turn. There were other rules, such as they could vent if they landed on a space, or if they landed on a "Death Report" space, I would choose the task for them. These rules are flexible and I simply chose them to evaluate skills I did not see in different groups of students. I made this game mine, so please make yours custom to your students' needs.