Well, we're all right in the thick of contest preparation. It's been a while since I've had anything to say, but I thought I would share this quick motivation tip to help keep your band students going during this stressful, but (hopefully) most rewarding time of the year. It's the "Major Issues Remaining" countdown. Well, call it what you like, but here is how it works...
In my first year of teaching I was working with a band that had not been successful in a couple of years, and at that point had half a roster that had no idea what a first division band sounded like. That was a tough group to motivate! In my second year I'm fortunate to be in a much better teaching situation, but in fact the talent level and experience level is actually much more dire. Rather than a 7-12 high school band, I now work with a 7-8 middle school band, all of whom had poor training in the 6th grade, and none of whom have experienced better than a 3rd Division band performance. This is important to consider in both cases as our definitions of what sounds good are very different from what these kids have experienced as "good".
They're sounding the best they've ever heard themselves play, which is exciting, but it can also be a trap! I'm grateful they're finally starting to experience a "music high", but that excitement is still over a 2nd or (more commonly) 3rd Division sound! So I broke out my countdown from last year. It is simply a number on the board of how many major issues we have left to fix. I couple this with a countdown of how many rehearsals we have until our upcoming performances. There are two of them before UIL.
This is powerful information. First, it reveals that while they think they sound awesome, we still have an incredible number of issues to address in rehearsal (this year we started with 131+). They can also see how many rehearsals we have until our first performance. The goal is to have this hit "0" before then. That means we have to be wise with our time. I've since had far less behavior problems and a good increase in focus. They get it!
The other cool thing is that it provides a light at the end of the tunnel. Seeing that number drop and simultaneously hearing the band sound better is like losing weight when you've been obese. It just feels amazing! Not only do they get to hear the improvements, but as an additional reward they get to see the number drop after I quickly tally how many problems we just worked on. Seeing the number go down then gives an added sense of accomplishment.
Implementing this is really simple. Step 1 - Record the Band. Play your entire program, just like the day of contest. Step 2 - Study the recordings thoroughly. When I listen to recordings that first time, I often need not hear more than a second or two at a time to hear multiple problems. Step 3 - As you listen, make notes. I prefer sticky notes in the score (preferably where they won't block my view of the parts) so that they serve as visual reminders during rehearsal of what to listen for. The added bonus of doing this is it makes both rehearsal planning and your listening skills in rehearsal much better. At least it does for me!
Be brutal. Every single missed note, rhythm, balance issues, style, phasing, lack of dynamics or articulation, tuning issues... everything that can keep them from a 1st Division rating that you can hear in that recording. The moment you hear it, pause and jot it down. You may be shocked at just how much is wrong, especially if you're not used to listening to recordings.
Once you have those notes, simply count the number of errors in the performance and post it somewhere. At the next rehearsal, tell them what it is, and also show them your Rehearsal Countdown.
Keep in mind that they need to sound like a 1st Division Band no later than 2 weeks before Contest (my opinion, others play it safer) so that you can focus on playing consistently at that level. This is another important consideration for your countdown and your explanation. If they're not in the habit of playing at that level, then they will most likely fall a division rating at contest. What they should want is to be so good that when they're under pressure, and their performance level drops, they can drop down to a Superior rating instead of an Excellent one.
For those of you who just got back from TMEA, I hope you had an amazing time. I certainly did! I've never been so excited, and there are a slew of new things I can't wait to try out. I picked up another cool motivation idea while having a conversation with one of my clinicians. Once I've had the chance to try it out I'll post that up here as well.
Thanks for reading! Until next time, take care and good luck!