THE BEGINNING BAND CONCERT
By Randy Navarre
This article is an excerpt from Instrumental Music Teacher's
Survival Kit by Randy Navarre copyright ©2001. Reprinted with permission
of Prentice Hall Direct/Learning Network Direct, as part of Learning Network.
Performing a beginning band concert as soon as possible is crucial for retaining
interest in the band and retaining students in your program. The first concert
may be a simple performance of songs from the beginner book. Stock arrangements
are not necessary for this concert. As soon as the students can play the
first half of the beginner book, they are ready to perform.
The beginning band concert is designed to be educational for the parents
as well as a reward for the students' hard work and progress on their instruments.
Also, there will be some students who have lost interest in playing their
instruments and may be ready to quit the band. There is something special
about getting up on the stage with your friends, producing music, sounding
good, and getting a great round of applause from very enthusiastic parents.
The result may be that many of the students who were going to quit will change
their minds because it is now fun, and they want to continue playing their
instruments and performing.
For the first concert, you may decide to use songs from the beginning band
method book. The first song played by the band does not have to be a familiar
tune. Many contemporary methods have put a name to every line in the book.
This is important because it allows the exercises to be more fun for the
students, and it can sometimes indicate what is being taught in that lesson
or particular line. It is also very convenient for performance purposes.
The reason for choosing the first line in the book is because it is the easiest "song" for
the students to perform. There is only one note to play, and everyone has
the same rhythms at the same time.
After the applause has died down from performing this first song, explain
to the parents the accomplishment involved in performing this very simple
song. You may tell the parents, "Though this sounded very easy, believe
me, it did not sound this well the first day we tried it." (There may
be chuckles when you say this. Do not interrupt the audience's laughter.
Let them finish and then continue.) "There are several factors in learning
to play an instrument. The students not only had to learn what note to play,
but when to play it. There are dots and wiggly lines that instruct the students
when and what to play. So the students are having to learn a new language
as well as play an instrument for the first time in their lives. And that
is not all. In addition to learning what and when to play, they have to learn
to play it together. So, in addition to looking at the book, holding the
instrument, and trying to play the right notes at the right time, they also
have to watch the conductor all at the same time in order to play together.
And, as if that is not enough, we have to learn to play in tune. Just pushing
the buttons will not necessarily make the notes we play sound the same. The
students have to learn to listen to each other so they can match the pitches
by tightening or loosening their lips so the notes have the correct sound.
So, as you can see, there is much more to playing an instrument than just
pushing buttons, hitting a drumhead, and blowing air into an instrument.
It takes concentration and discipline to make a song sound good and sound
easy." The parents have probably never thought of it in that manner.
After this has been explained to them, they will have a higher respect for
what their own children are accomplishing. Also, because the song was easy,
you have just built up the confidence in the students. They played their
first song, and it sounded good. The students are feeling good about themselves,
and they are beginning to have confidence that this is going to be a good
The next song should be a very simple tune. In the concert provided here,
I have selected a song similar to the second line of the second lesson, "Up
and Down." It involves only two notes and it is warming them up for
their first real song. After the students perform this song, explain to the
parents that the students have now learned to read more notes, and they must
move their fingers in order to play the right note at the right time. "The
students are developing coordination while having fun playing music."
Usually, the third song the students play may be "Mary Had a Little
Lamb." Before the students play the song, explain to the parents that
the students have learned three notes and a rest, so they can now play "a
very famous song" we have all heard before. You may wish to ask the
parents if they can name the tune after the students play it. This provides
for audience involvement and is more fun for everyone. A formal concert,
where the conductor says nothing during the entire concert, is not ideal
for this situation. The audience wants to hear from you. You will make the
concert more interesting as well as increase the parents' appreciation for
the children's accomplishments. If you get the audience involved, it will
be more fun for everyone, and the students will relax and play better.
After "Mary Had a Little Lamb," have the students play solos,
duets, trios, or quartets. They may pick any song from the book, or any source
they wish. The director should audition the students' songs, to make sure
they can play them well enough to stand in front of an audience and play
them. It is not necessary that they play perfectly, but you should make sure
that they play well enough not to be embarrassed in front of their parents.
Students may wish to play the same line together. Even though the students
are playing unison, that is acceptable. Going out in front of an audience
and showing off to their parents and friends can be the biggest morale booster
some of these children may ever have. Give them this moment. It will lengthen
your concert while giving the band a chance to rest before playing the next
song. If you have a huge beginning band, you may have to limit the number
of solos and ensembles. You should limit the students to four solos or ensembles
between the songs the band plays. For the sake of variety, tell the students
they may pick any song except those the band is performing.
After the first group of solos and ensembles, have the band play another
song together. It is advisable to pick something that is very easy but involves
all the notes they have learned in the first two to three lessons. The concert
included in this resource uses the song, "Over the Hill." This
song starts on an easy note and moves stepwise up to the highest note, and
then back down. It is easy, and allows the parents to hear all the new notes
they have learned. It also allows the parents to hear the progress in which
one learns to play a musical instrument. When introducing this song, inform
the parents what is involved in playing it. It is up to the band director
to educate the audience on the accomplishment of their children.
After the band has played "Over the Hill," allow more solos or ensembles
to be performed. Introduce each student and announce the name of the song.
Do not keep the audience guessing, especially since many of the songs from
the beginner books are exercises and not familiar songs.
The next song should still be easy, but maybe a little bit trickier. Most
beginning books will have a song with a rest that changes position in the
measure. This is important, because you want to keep the children counting.
In the song, "Watch Out for That Rest!," if the students do not
count, someone will play an unintentional solo. Announce to the parents that
the next song is a bit trickier than the previous songs the band has played. "It
is very important that the students know when not to play as well as when
to play. When not to play is indicated by what musicians call 'a rest.' In
the next song, everyone plays together, but the rest is not always where
we may expect it to be. If we do this right, we will play as an ensemble.
If we goof, there may be an unexpected soloist." And this solo could
very well take place in the concert. Practice this line often enough so the
students know what to expect. Also, your conducting gestures will pull them
through this song together. Your concern is not how you look to the audience.
Your job is to get the students through the concert playing as well as possible,
so if big gestures are needed to show when to play, and small gestures to
show when not to play, use them. Gesture in such a way that the band can
easily follow you. And, if a student gets nervous and plays in a rest, it
is not a big deal. The audience will give him or her an extra big round of
applause for trying. The point of this song, however, is to keep the music
progressing in an orderly and slightly more difficult pattern to the end
of the concert.
After this song has been performed, allow more students to play solos or
ensembles. Two to four such performances between band songs is an adequate
break for the band.
Before playing the next song with the entire band, discuss with the parents
what new accomplishments the students had to learn before they could perform
the next song. "So far, the students have learned to play several different
notes and have played several songs, but all the rhythms have been the same.
In order to play the next song, they had to learn to see and play notes that
last twice as long as the notes and rests they had played before. Also, the
students had to learn to read a symbol that means to play the entire song again,
called repeat dots. So, now your children are looking at a page with all kinds
of symbols meaning to hold notes and rests for one or two beats, and to play
a song again. At the same time, they are tapping their toes, pushing and lifting
fingers, listening to each other, and watching the director. They are doing
a lot of things in order to make music for you, and the wonderful thing is,
they are making it sound easy." Usually the next song to play is "Hot
Cross Buns." You may choose to introduce it before or after the band plays.
Allow a few more students to play solos and ensembles after the completion
of the previous song. It is a good idea to have different instruments play
between the band songs. You do not want the parents comparing sounds of one
flute player to another. Have a saxophone student play a song, then a flute,
then trumpet, and so on. It will keep a variety of instruments in sight,
and prevent parents or students from realizing that one student plays better
A familiar song in most books is Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." The
students like this song, and because the notes all progress stepwise, it
is very easy to play. You may, of course, choose any song from the beginner
book, but it would be advisable to choose a song that is easy, sounds familiar,
and continues to build confidence in the students.
Continue to have more solos and ensembles after each song. A good program
plan will have the students who play well play their solos first, then the
weaker students play their songs in the middle of the concert, and the best
students play last. The overall impression of the concert will be much better.
First impressions are very important, but people also remember best what
they heard last. So, give them a good first impression and save the very
best for last. At the end of the concert, the parents may declare you a miracle
The next song you may choose to play is one a little longer with more skips
or leaps in the intervals. Students love to play "Jingle Bells." Even
if it is not Christmas, the students enjoy playing this song. It is easy and
familiar to everyone. You may wish to explain to parents that playing this
song involves longer notes and a longer song, so more concentration is needed
to perform it.
The final song of the concert usually involves some harmony. Most of the
contemporary methods have some very good beginning band arrangements throughout
the book. If your students are ready for such an arrangement, you may wish
to program it. However, if they are not ready, play a simple duet such as "London
At some point during the concert, be sure to acknowledge the cooperation
of the principal, teachers, staff, custodian, parents, students, and anyone
else who may have helped you during the school year and in the planning of
this concert. Let the students know how proud you are of them. At the end
of the concert, have the students stand and take a bow. Get out of the way
so the parents may take pictures.
Do not wait until the end of the school year to perform this concert. Perform
as soon as possible. The longer you wait for the beginning band concert,
the more students will drop out of the band. The students do not have to
play perfectly. However, they should play well. If you have been tuning the
students at every lesson and rehearsal, they will play fairly well in tune
during the concert. When rehearsing, if you have demanded that they play
together, and worked on ensemble performance, they will play well. As soon
as the students can perform, play this concert. Then perform as often as
possible. Ask your principal if you may start assemblies with the band playing
a song. You do not want to take up a lot of time - just have the band seated
at the bottom of the stage, play one song, and return to the audience. The
exposure will be a great morale booster, and it is a great recruiting tool.
Randy Navarre, DMA (University of Maryland), has been active in music
education since 1973, when he began his career as a music teacher in the
Philadelphia Public School system. His experience ranges from developing
instrumental music programs at the grade school level to directing clinics
for high school band directors. Dr. Navarre is the founder and director
of Northeastern Music Programs Inc., which provides general and instrumental
music programs to schools in the Mid-Atlantic region. He is also a classical
saxophonist and performs with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Reprinted with permission of School Band
and Orchestra magazine
Please visit them at www.sbomagazine.com