Those of us who teach beginners have specific challenges. Not only do we have to acquaint our students with new instruments, but we also have to begin to acquaint them with musical notation and theory, help them develop good practice habits, and be on the lookout for improper techniques that can turn into major challenges in the years ahead. If our students are very young, we have extra work to help them develop their motor skills, and if we teach ensembles like bands and orchestras, we have the added challenge of attempting to do all of this for many students at the same time.
The team behind the much-loved Habits series, which includes such titles as Habits of a Significant Band Director and Habits of a Successful Middle School Band Director, is back to address these challenges head-on with a new method book focused on first-year band, Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician, and a treasure trove of supplemental resources on the Habits Universal website perfect for virtual, in-person and hybrid learning environments alike.
Here’s what makes Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician special:
Even within the context of an entire band, Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician manages to deliver specialized resources for each instrument.
On Habits Universal, students can watch videos of professionals introduce and play each exercise on each instrument. This helps them learn how music notation translates to the sounds they make, exposes them to what their instruments can sound like with proper technique and tons of practice, and gives them models to strive toward. This is especially critical for students who don’t have access to private lessons, masterclasses or high-level live performances.
Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician also addresses individual instrument techniques that many other methods ignore entirely, which are especially helpful for instruments that a lot of band directors find a bit trickier. Among these topics are:
- The oboe F dilemma: Did you know that the oboe has three different ways to play an F? Many directors don’t even realize that there are three options! Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician indicates which F an oboist should use throughout most of the book.
- Bassoon flicking: The best way to initiate sound on the bassoon for an A, B-flat, B, C or D is to flick on the C key. Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician describes what this means and how to do it, and employs the degree sign, the universal sign for bassoonists to flick, throughout the book.
This level of detail extends to other instruments with such features as left and right indicators for clarinets, thorough sticking for mallets, and chromatic fingering indicators.
Teacher Tips & Resources
Each exercise in Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician comes with tips for the teacher: how to approach an exercise with their students, what to watch out for in various instrument sections, and suggestions for how to help students master it. Below is an example:
On Habits Universal Interactive, students can play along with backing tracks and listen to real audio models of their lines. They can also video record themselves playing their lines and get automatic graded feedback on their performance. While this feature is especially helpful for remote instruction, it’s also incredibly valuable for students who can be shy about playing in front of their peers.
Notably, the assessment software scores pitch, rhythm and length separately, and tracks errors alongside the notated line, so that a student can go note by note and see exactly where they need to improve. (The teacher still has the option to change final scores on assignments and to add comments.)
This video shows an extensive demo of Habits Universal Interactive. (The demo of the assessment tool starts at minute 27:39.)
As a note, grades can be integrated with virtually any software (e.g., Schoology, Canvas, PowerSchool) that a school uses to report grades via a simple export.
Written by band directors with decades of experience under their belts, Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician confronts the classic difficulty of getting kids out of what author Scott Rush calls the “B-flat/E-flat/A-flat Club,” where kids are only comfortable playing in B-flat Major and E-flat Major with some momentary departures into F Major. Rather than, as in other methods, playing in the B-flat pentascale 95% of the time, Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician quickly moves up a step to the C pentascale to get kids used to reading and playing in keys with naturals and sharps, opening up a larger portion of the literature to them by the time they get to middle school and high school.
With so much focus on specific tactics and features, it’s crucial to mention that what is perhaps the most important part of Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician is that its primary goal is to help students fall in love with music. Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician offers teachers developmentally appropriate language for teaching musical concepts so that even beginner band students can start to build musicality into their playing from the early days.