The Director’s Toolbox – A Guide for Young Band Directors in Repertoire Selection

Craig Aarhus • June 2024MAC Corner • June 9, 2024

Young band directors face many musical and administrative challenges early in their careers.  The learning curve is steep, and the first few years can seem overwhelming. However, with patience and determination, young directors can fill these gaps in knowledge quickly and become confident educators.

Selecting appropriate literature is one of the more significant challenges young directors face. There is generally a large gap between the music they were playing in their collegiate wind ensembles and the music they often have to teach in their first teaching positions. Here are some strategies for selecting appropriate literature for different situations.

What is the purpose? Although choosing music for performance assessment is different than selecting music for a school/community concert or simply choosing music to help your ensemble grow, all of these provide the opportunity for ensembles to experience a variety of literature. For performance assessment, think about some of the ideas listed later in this article and consider several options before choosing the best music for your band in this venue. Also, seek the advice of other directors who have been successful with their concert bands in this arena. School/community concerts offer the chance to perform music that might not be quite ready for performance assessment and should be viewed as an opportunity for the ensemble to take musical steps forward without the pressure of receiving a rating.  And sometimes, it’s OK to play music just for the sake of making music in the friendly confines of your own band room.

Will the music help your program improve? If we want our ensembles to improve, we must select music that helps us achieve that goal. The instruction of musical concepts like tone quality, technique, expression, and overall musicianship development are essential. Choose music that represents the variety you want your students to experience as they progress through your program.  Examples of different genres you can program include marches, suites, transcriptions, contemporary music, dances, music of other cultures, music of different historical periods, and music from a variety of composers. Want to play some of the masterworks by Grainger and Holst? Start out with Grundman, Stuart, LaPlante and others that will help develop the musical and stylistic skills necessary to help your band get closer to that goal.

Specific ensemble considerations What are the strong and developing sections of your band? How will your music challenge the strong sections but not be overwhelming for the weaker sections? Also, think about strong players who might serve as soloists.  If your group’s instrumentation doesn’t “fit” a particular piece you want to play, determine how you might cover all the parts, so the piece is able to sound as much as possible as the composer intended.  For example, it may be difficult to program a piece with nine unique percussion parts if you only have four players.

Audience Programming for a performance assessment is different from programming for a spring concert. In volume 8 of Teaching Music Through Performance in Band, Richard Miles cites Elizabeth Green’s thoughts on planning a concert program:  think “contrast,” think “interest,” consider “sequence.” “Imagine yourself as a member of the audience.” For performance assessment, recognize the importance of the “contrasting selection.”  Often, young directors think this must be a slow, lyrical piece, even if their band may not be mature enough to play those pieces well for a formal assessment.  For contrast, consider the different genres listed earlier in this article to complement your march (or fanfare) and “overture” (or similar) piece. 

Evaluating for quality In volume 1 of Teaching Music Through Performance in Band, Ray Cramer outlines characteristics of quality literature: formal structure, creative melodies and counterlines, harmonic imagination, rhythmic vitality, contrast in musical elements, scoring that best represents the full potential of the band, and an emotional impact.  This is where we, as directors, are responsible for making sound musical decisions about the music we program. 

Resources that can help There are a variety of online and print resources that can help young directors be exposed to a variety of literature.  Websites like the Wind Repertory Project (, Institute for Composer Diversity ( and And We Were Heard ( offer a deep look into a very diverse set of composers and music. Traditional music retail websites and YouTube are also invaluable in the music evaluation process. Print resources like Teaching Music Through Performance in Band, Music for Concert Band (2nd edition), and the National Band Association Selected Music List are also great tools for evaluation.  But by far the best resource for any young director is the human resource.  This is a very giving profession, and experienced directors are usually more than willing to share their experiences (both good and bad) with the next generation of band directors. 

As a young director, keep in mind you are not alone. By combining your musical knowledge with the array of resources available to assist, the process of selecting the best literature for your band can be achieved successfully.

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