Habits of a Successful Beginner Band Musician: How to Build Solid Foundations & Help First-Year Students Fall in Love with Music

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:

Instrument-Specific Instruction

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.

Musicianship

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.

Guide to Remote Music Education

A black man sits in the living room of his apartment and plays a synthesizer. He composes music.

So much of what makes music fun for us is sharing it with others: playing in ensembles, performing concerts, worshipping with our congregations, and teaching our craft. Unfortunately, many of us have found the usual ways we gather together to share music abruptly curtailed recently. With the help of technology, though, teachers and students alike can access a plethora of opportunities for distance learning through online lessons and rehearsals, practice aids, self-instruction and advancement, and sheer repertoire exploration.

Here’s our guide to navigating distance music learning and instruction. Let us know if you have any tips or pointers, and we’ll be happy to share them with our community! more “Guide to Remote Music Education”

The Inspiration behind ABRSM’s Bowed Strings (2020-2023) Syllabus

Guest post by ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)

ABRSMLogoAfter months of practice and anticipation, performing in a music exam can feel like an adrenaline-fuelled sprint to the finish line that passes in a blur of pieces, scales and musical tests. As an exam board, we know that exams can be stressful, and we at ABRSM want to make sure that learners’ exam experiences are as positive as possible. To make sure that learners can really succeed, we carefully select exam syllabus pieces that allow them to demonstrate their talents. We live for inspiring and challenging learners!

If a music exam is a sprint, then our experience of putting together an exam syllabus is more of an endurance event involving a huge amount of music. We take an open approach to our syllabus creations, and for ABRSM’s Bowed Strings syllabus (2020-2023) we: ran multiple surveys with teachers, learners and examiners; engaged a variety of strings consultants; and had several ruthless stages of revisions.

BoysDoubleBassRSMFor this Bowed Strings syllabus (2020-2023), we wanted to focus on the joy of playing with other musicians. Refreshing our syllabus as an instrument family for the first time since 1985 gave us the opportunity to encourage ensemble skills and re-think how our stringed instruments interact. more “The Inspiration behind ABRSM’s Bowed Strings (2020-2023) Syllabus”

Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Music Educators

On December 9, 2015 Congress voted in favor of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It is the seventh reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally passed in 1965, which is the national education law that commits to equal opportunities for all students. In the new law, music is mentioned as a separate, stand alone subject for the first time in ESEA’s history. This is a major win for music education as ESSA provides opportunities to expand access to music education nationwide. more “Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Music Educators”

Top Piano Methods

There are so many different piano methods that as a new student or piano teacher starting out, it can be hard to know which to choose.  We shed some light by providing a summary of each of our top ten selling piano method series.

1. Basic Piano Adventures

Basic_Piano_Adventures

Husband and wife team Randall and Nancy Faber have combined forces to develop piano methods and supplemental materials popular for all ages. Basic Piano Adventures progresses gradually and logically through middle C and multi-key approaches. One of the hallmarks of Piano Adventures is that students begin learning a limited set of notes in the middle C position, but play these notes with varied fingerings. This prevents students from associating a particular note with a particular finger. In addition to the Lesson book, each level includes Theory, Performance, Technique & Artistry, Popular Repertoire and Christmas books. The Piano Adventures series also includes My First Piano Adventures, Accelerated Piano Adventures and Adult Piano Adventures. To learn more, watch our interview with Randall Faber.

more “Top Piano Methods”