Any teacher can tell you that it can be tricky keeping kids interested in the class curriculum. Its no different for music classes! While teaching the classics is an important part of our music lessons, we also need to keep the students interested and enthusiastic about what they are playing. The more interested, the more effort they make and the better they sound. And its all about challenging them to exercise those musical muscles so that they can improve.
I’ve found that kids like to play modern and upbeat songs mostly. Have a listen to what is popular or ask your students for some ideas on what they would like to learn. If its something that they struggle with or a piece that has no “life” to it, they will lose interest fast and not give their best. But if its something they are familiar with, say a song from the latest action movie, they tend to really get into those.
The challenge these days are in finding songs that are deemed acceptable for certain age groups. So I’m forever trying to compromise with my students to find songs they like that don’t involve sex, swearing or violence in them. A good example here is “Firework” by Katy Perry. Its upbeat and the song itself is about self esteem. A lot of kids relate to this one so it’s a favorite we like to play quite a bit.
A classic favorite that kids like playing is “Entry of the Gladiators” for its circus fairground appeal. It also gives each section a chance to be heard, something the kids enjoy a lot. I’ve had a lot of requests to learn some of the songs from High School Musical (quite appropriate) and I have one that both the marching band and the music class kids both like called “We’re all in this together”. Again, this is an upbeat and popular tune that kids can relate to.
Christmas songs, you either love them or hate them, but when that time of year rolls around, all of the music students want to play them. It would do you good to check out the more contemporary versions of the old carols. They have a bit more of a rock and roll vibe to them that kids really get into.
Last, but not least, is the favorite Party Rock Anthem, which is one that my drum section especially loves to play. It was after they had seen a video clip of the Ohio State University playing this one that I was inundated with demands to learn it. I actually had fun with this one too.
You have to keep in mind that each kid is an individual with their own tastes, and you can’t always please them all. But if you stick to stuff that is fairly popular, has a good beat to it, or is just a fun piece to play, you can’t really go wrong! This is why I try to rotate the songs I use and add in some of the latest music that I find the kids listening to. It keeps things fresh and you aren’t always going over the same songs. Even a favorite one can get boring if it gets overplayed. If you are stuck with a song that is a requirement, like part of the schools music curriculum, see if you can’t be bit creative with it, spruce it up a bit and make it something the kids will enjoy learning.
I’ve been asked time and again what my favorite music is to perform. That’s a tough one because I love so many genres. It also depends on whether its for my class band or the marching band. I like music that is fun and upbeat for the most part. Just because its fun doesn’t mean its easy to play though. However, I find that the kids get more into those songs they enjoy regardless of how difficult they are. I like to find music that involves all pieces of the band too.
My all time favorite however, is Big Band Swing style music, like Glen Miller and Benny Goodman. Swing has a loud jazzy sound with strong rhythm. It began around the 1920’s in America but became a distinctive style of its own by the 1940’s.
My favorite song of all is “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman, a song that was used in the movie “Swing Kids”. In fact, I fell in love with the newer movie version and our marching band had a try at playing it too. They did rather well! Here is the song if you haven’t heard it before:
Another favorite of both mine and the band is a version of “Carol of the Bells” by Tansiberian Orchestra. It’s a hard one but the kids are loving learning this one. We had to adjust a few things like swapping the electric guitar with an electronic keyboard for example. We are hoping to be able to play it for the Christmas Concert this year.
For the required classical piece we had to have the kids learn, our favorite is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, especially the canon fire towards the end. One year we were actually able to set up a few fake canons and add in some canon fire sound with the bigger drums. I think what makes this one so popular is that it starts out slowly and keeps working its way up to that rousing sound at the end.
I’ve noticed a new trend over the past couple of years in what my students ask to learn, which has been several pieces off of video games like World of Warcraft and Skyrim. For Skyrim it’s a tune called Dragonborn they requested the most. We even got together with our school’s vocal group on this one.
For World of Warcraft they chose Darkmoon Faire, which is a jaunty little medieval sounding tune that lets all of the different sections of the band join in.
Our list of favorites is always changing though as new movies, games and ideas come to us. We like to take old songs and give them a new twist from time to time too. It’s all about being creative for myself and my band kids, and our favorite songs to perform are the ones that have feeling to them. Its the passion behind the songs that make them fun to play in the end.
One of the challenges I have faced in regard to running both a marching band and a High School music class is finding musical arrangements. Of course, there are many books that you can buy but this can get expensive and you don’t really have a choice over what pieces are included in the books. This is where the Internet comes in.
There is an abundance of website out there that offer loads of free musical arrangements to download. It won’t cost you or your students any money, it can be accessed by anyone who can get online and there is such a wide variety of pieces to choose from. Here are a few of the best internet resources I have found for finding musical arrangements.
This site is by far my favorite! Not only can you find classical and contemporary arrangements, you can also download them, print them out and there is an option to listen to each piece so that you can hear unfamiliar music to see if you are interested in learning it. The printing option is great and allows me to print off multiple copies to pass out to my students. You can also search for musical arrangements by specific instruments too.
Another favorite of mine, Score Exchange offers budding new artists the chance to upload music they have written, as well as download a variety of popular pieces. You can search by music genre, composer, and difficulty level, or browse through their alphabetical list. They also give the option to search for music by the event or purpose you need it for, for example Christmas music or pieces that are focused on learning music theory.
Free Scores is another site that offers a wide array of musical arrangements that is grouped by instrument and category. They have both classical and contemporary music and many old pieces with a new twist from new arrangers. You can get a legal license to use these scores in the public domain for schools, bands and orchestras.
There is really no end to the musical arrangements you can find on these sites. It also benefits my students because they can find their own sheet music based on their particular preferences. I’ve learned that some kids will struggle with a particular arrangement I’ve chosen, but they do better with an arrangement in the same category that they are more drawn to play.
As I mentioned before, there are loads of sites that you can find on the internet for downloading sheet music. However, be careful because some of the sites will offer you a limited amount of choices and will ask you to pay a membership fee to access the rest of the library. Also, site that offer downloads to today’s popular songs don’t always follow copyright laws.
One of my passions is directing our school marching band. We get to play at the local sports events, parades, fundraisers and competitions. Marching bands are full of spirit and can really get the crowd, and the players going. It’s more than just the music we play though! Marching bands not only play but march in some amazing formations. If you have ever seen a university marching band play at a sports event, then you probably have seen them march to form intricate patters that spell out the school or state name, or an outline of the teams logo.
I’m a bit “two left feet” when it comes to some of these formations but I have a talented group with people who help choreograph these amazing feats. You can get a lot of ideas online along with some great videos that show you these marches as they are done, as well as teach them. Here are some of my favorites.
Ohio State University Marching Band
We’ve been hearing a lot about this group and their amazing marching formations that seem to come to life. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful this group is at what they do so I’ll share this video, which shows some of their work as well as how they manage these works of art.
Michigan State Marching Band
Michigan University’s marching band has been around since 1896 and they have really evolved through the decades. I love this band’s use of PixMob technology integrated into their formations. What is PixMob you ask? It’s the use of wearable wireless LED lights (or devices), which transforms each wearer into a pixel that is part of a larger image or formation. Here is on of their halftime formations at work.
University of Texas’ Longhorn Band
This group has been given the nickname of the “Show Band of the Southwest” and is known for having played at the 1961 inaugural parade for John F. Kennedy, as well as Super Bowl 8. The band itself is huge but that doesn’t stop them from pulling off some of the coolest formations I’ve seen. Here you can see them at the 2014 Marching Band competition
So this is what our own marching band aspires to become and we work hard! When creating a formation you need to keep size in mind. Our group gets together and draws the formation shape they want to use while figuring out if there is enough space to fit every member, or enough members to fill the spaces. There are a few drill design computer programs that can help in figuring things out.
The harder part is the actual practice drill. Our first few attempts when learning a new drill can be quite comical. I mean lets face it, playing an instrument and paying attention to your steps and where you need to be moving all at once is no easy thing. I tend to have my band practice the marching and the music separately at first, then we combine the two and it does make it a bit easier.
I want to share this website called bandtek.com with you as well, because it came in handy for creating drill designs for the band. They have some free tools and formations to download, as well as some things you have to pay for but it really does come in handy.
You can’t teach music or have a band without instruments, that just goes without saying. Instruments can be expensive though and some school budgets and marching band groups don’t always have the funds to cover what is needed. This is why we run fundraisers for the marching band and High School music program. Sometimes people will donate old instruments that can be polished up and put into use as well.
Another option that we tend to forget is approaching music stores for the equipment that we need. A lot of local music shops here run back to school sales for some of the basics like guitar strings and basic instruments that are cheaper. We have one shop near the High School who is always on the lookout for instruments that can be donated to the school or the marching band.
If you have a local music store or two it may be worth it to pay them a visit and see if thy can offer you a deal for the school. Many will be keen on offering discounts on instruments and accessories when you buy them in bulk and you can save a lot that way.
A lot of people will sell their old instruments to music shops as well, and you may be able to get a shop to donate one or two of these, or at least give you a good price break. In some cases you can also find shops that will rent out equipment as and when you need it too. I’ve seen everything from amps to drum kits being rented through music shops.
You can also try talking to companies that manufacture instruments. You won’t get them for free but you may be able to get a discount if you offer to display the company logo on instruments or some other form of advertising, such as banners that show a company or shop as a sponsor. It’s free advertising for them and cheaper instruments for the kids.
I’ve found that many of the local shops are proud of their town’s marching bands and will gladly help out where they can. When you approach a music shop for some help, explain to them what is needed and see if they can offer discounts, rentals, or donated instruments. It’s always best to meet them face to face and I have found that bringing one or two of the music or marching band kids along can help persuade them to work with you.
If you’re looking for instruments and accessories for your school, make sure you know what your budget is and what you can work with. Having a good inventory list is a great help in letting you see what is needed and where. Some music shops will also let you put up a flier or to in their windows asking for donations or help for the local High School music program.
Shops also tend to know when other bands, music groups or other shops are downsizing or closing up. It means they have a chance to snag some equipment at a discount and they can let you know about these opportunities too. It may take a bit of time and work but it can be well worth it in the end. Be creative and if one shop turns you down, don’t fret!