I never realized how much admiration I have for sixth-grade band teachers until the other night. A neighbor invited my wife and me to his son’s end-of-year, sixth-grade band concert at school. We went and were treated to songs about spring, patriotism, and school spirit. In between numbers, the teacher reminded us that the students in front of us were completing their first year as full-fledged musicians. Students at this school are allowed to participate in band for the first time as sixth graders. At the beginning of the school year, these students had no concept of playing together as a single unit, not to mention playing a single note, reading music, or even holding their instrument correctly.
My neighbors’ son, Calvin, plays the trombone, which is part of the “low brass” family of instruments. The band teacher pointed out that one challenge for novice low brass instrument players is learning to play chains of notes that are not the melodies of the songs. Low brass instruments typically play more harmonic notes that support the melody rather than be part of it. Trombonists don’t usually get the affirmation of “knowing” the song they are playing sounds “right” in the way that some of the musicians do whose notes create the melody.
Why do I have a newfound admiration for sixth-grade band teachers, and what in the world does a middle school band concert have to do with financial wellness?
I had the epiphany that the true genius of a sixth-grade band teacher comes from their ability to create order out of chaos. They take beginning drummers, flutists, and trombonists and help each create a plan that maximizes their own individual growth while at the same time allowing them to come together and play as one band. They provide guidance at a one-on-one level during a 45-minute class period but motivate each student to go home and practice the same piece of music over and over until mastery attainment. They meet each student where the child is and do not subscribe to a one-size-fits-all mentality.
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