Posted by: meredithbuchanan | October 4, 2009

Getting to Know You

Being a full time band teacher can be tricky. In a rotary position, you must learn the names and personalities of about 245 students every year. This is a daunting task and can obviously not be done within the first week of school, it takes some time. My mentor teacher had some great ideas to jump start the process. I learned a lot from her on how to learn your students. At the start of the school year she would photocopy pages from last years yearbook of the grade. 6s who are now going into grade seven and are beginning the band program. She would study the faces of her new students, getting to know each name. For the grade 7s she hands out a survey of about 20 questions that asks such things as ‘What are your talents?’ ‘For group work, who would you like to work with?’ ‘What radio stations do you listen to?’ ‘What do you love to do?’ She collects these surveys and puts it into a database. She can see where friend clichés lie, she can tell who has severe motor skills; some students can hardly hold a pencil in their hand, which means there are instruments that they will have more success on then others. She can also begin to spot kinesthetic learners, and visual learners. She finds out so much about these kids just by looking closely at the answers they provide her and by learning to read in between the lines. I enjoyed watching this process unfold and could see the benefit almost immediately in understanding who the people are that you teach.

Posted by: meredithbuchanan | September 22, 2009

Learning Styles and Arts Practice

I feel as though I don’t have one learning style that really outshines the others. My preferred learning style is very dependent on what it is I am learning. I have never taken any quiz or test to officially say it, but I know I need to be able to do, see, hear, or a combination of all three to be able to gain understanding. I have always used music in my own way to help me learn new things. Often I would take concepts from a science class or health class and write a little song about the unit to help me remember all I needed to know. I did a lot of song writing as a child, I think it helped me to organize my thoughts, to edit out words that don’t matter, and to be able to say things in a clear and artful way. Song writing was also a way for me to put my creativity into a form. There were obvious rules for songwriting that I intuitively understood; it wasn’t a free for all. I think I found a lot of creativity and freedom born out of the invisible guidelines. I wonder sometimes why I don’t feel as drawn to the auditory learning style, after all my specialty is music, and music is all about sound. But for me music isn’t limited to sound. When I hear a piece of music there is a strong emotional value to it. A mood is created; you can often hear the smile in someone’s voice, or the tears they are fighting back while they sing. I think this is tied to being a visual learner, needing to see the expression on someone’s face. I also play a bit of guitar, and drums. There is so much movement involved in both instruments; music is hardly limited to sound. Music is visual, through performance, sheet music, or the color of your guitar. Music is kinesthetic, through the movement of you body to the beat, the placement of your voice to match a pitch, or the tingling sensation that runs through your body when you hear something so pleasing.

The middle school grades are such an intriguing age group to work with because they are starting to form more concrete thoughts of themselves and the world around them. Their changing bodies and minds are working through a million emotions, and it’s a big benchmark in their development. Music has the ability to say clearly what we cannot with words. It can calm us, rejuvenate us, motivate us and make us joyful. When I was a junior teen, music helped me deal with more issues or feelings I had than anything or anyone else. It’s such a powerful tool for change so it excites me to be able to use music in whatever way I can in a classroom of grade seven students.

It is my first term and I have been placed in a rotary band classroom. I have 2 questions concerning arts practices and their integration into the curriculum are as follows:

1) Can students’ personal taste in music be incorporated into a concert band classroom? How can we do that? Can we learn about the elements of music through genres that appeal to a younger audience? Is this possible in a world where songs move in and out of fashion at such a rapid pace?

2) Does the music curriculum demand too much of students? How do we show students the value of practice on their instrument? Is it possible to inspire students to practice when much of their generation is used to instant gratification?

Posted by: meredithbuchanan | September 21, 2009


Organization is key in running a smooth and efficient lesson. I would like to reflect on one of the first times my mentor teacher was away and I was to take charge of the instrumental band classes. She left me specific notes about what needed to be accomplished. The music class that week was an instrument selection class. Students have had a chance to try flute, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone. This class I was to have each child retrieve the instrument they wanted to play, have them set up, fill out a sheet on their instrument, and play me their “Two Note Song” so I could help assess whether that instrument would be a good choice or not.

In the first class, I had all students practice their song while I came around and tried to listen to two players at a time. I found it extremely difficult to hear some of the softer instruments over the louder ones. My voice was getting worn out from trying to talk with each student about their instrument choice over top a class of 25 kids honking away at their horns. I was hardly able to get through testing everyone before the class was over. I was exhausted, out of breath, and my throat was killing me. Luckily it was lunchtime and I had a chance to collect myself, and my thoughts. The next class coming in was even larger, 33 kids; I knew I needed a better strategy to make it a successful class. I needed a better organizational strategy of the class in order to accomplish the set task.

After the lunch I had the large class of 33 students file in. This time I had the students set up their instruments and I gave 2 or 3 minutes for them to blow away at their song. After this I started with the trumpets since they are the loudest. After assessing the trumpets I instructed them to put away their instruments and work on the accompanying sheet. Then I moved onto the trombones, they are the second loudest, after assessing them, I had them put away their instruments and so the same. In doing that, I was no longer competing with the volume of 15 loud horns and could more easily hear and communicate with the clarinets and flutes. Flute is the hardest instrument to make a sound on so I wanted to leave them the most time to practice, so I moved onto the clarinets. In this particular class I had a lot of kids wanting to play clarinet (more the usual, about 12) I had them gather together in a circle and play two at a time so I could hear each child clearly, and speak to them without straining my voice. Once they finished I had them pack up their instruments and work on their instrument choice sheet. Then I made my way to the flutes. I was able to get through testing everyone; I even had a few minutes to spare. Things went much more smoothly the second time when I developed a better strategy for making my way through the lesson.

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