Elements of a Superior Band – Fundamentals in music training, part 1 (Concert F)

For a long time, I viewed fundamental teaching as a “necessary evil” that I had to endure.  Sure, I would go through the motions and do what I thought I should do, but I did not listen — really listen — to what sounds my students were making.  For the first year or two of my career, I did this.  We played concert F to what I thought was “good enough.”  Turns out, my standard of “good enough” was just how far the bands I taught were…”good enough.”

So, how do you structure your daily routines for music making in fundamental training?  Do you just go through the motions of a certain drill (or set of drills), turning on the metronome and checking out while your students play them?  I BET that if you are checked out, so are your students!

Before I took my first job, I sat down with my high school band director.  I thought I had everything figured out.  But he told me “make your students play a concert F, make it their best note, then have them imitate it on every note.”  There is a lot of wisdom in that.

So, when I stand before my band(s), or do a clinic, here is what my focus is on for Concert F:

1.  Is the pitch with a characteristic tone? 

  • With some ensembles this will take time.  If there is a problem with fundamentals, don’t blame the teacher before you, just fix it!  
  • Look at the player’s setup:  posture, hand position, embouchure, breath, tongue position…all of these things effect tone.
  • Spend time daily making sure that this step is right, it pays off!

2.  Does the note start/end together?

  • Breathe Together
  • Start Together 
  • Have the same articulation and release
  • Does the note match tonal energy from person to person

3.  What shape do I want the note to be?

  • Experiment with different shapes (Squares, square start/diminshed release, etc)

4.  Is the note in balance?

  • Play in groups low to high, do not move on until the first group is set the way you want, then add groups.  Do this in brass choir, woodwind choir and entire ensemble

5.  Is the note in tune?  

  • Know tuning tendencies of concert F (can be really sharp on brass for example)
  • Teach how to match

6.  Sing the pitch in balance/tune/shape/etc.
This is just a smattering of things that I listen for each day with each group.  We do this in each ensemble:  Concert and Marching!  Do not think you can overlook the basics each day, start from the beginning with the end in mind.  Do not settle for “good enough.”  

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