Modern Band Engages Students, Takes Healthy Risks and Inspires Teachers

Mike Lawson • Modern Band • August 2, 2019

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Modern band teachers are constantly looking for ways to innovate the classroom experience for their music makers.

Incorporating culminating activities such as concerts and local festivals can provide opportunities to engage and hold the interest of students over time, as well as provide opportunities for the teacher and students to build confidence and development stage presence through performances. For modern band teacher Jabril Williams of M.L. Bing Elementary in Tampa, Florida, this has been a key to success.

“Each year my students participate in a local festival. The students work hard to learn different songs and often want to play for their classmates. So, the morning before our big performances we invite students to come watch rehearsals and give constructive criticism and praise to the band,” Williams said. This allows them to identify what went well and gives them ideas on how their performance could be improved. After the festival, students who weren’t part of the experience get to join in the fun by rocking out with the group on stage at school. I found this to be a great way to encourage the rest of the students, it allows those who wanted to participate in the band a chance to make music with their peers, but It also gives the more advanced students a chance to give back and teach their friends.”

We sat down with Williams to find out more about his experience teaching modern band.

Describe the modern band experience in your classroom.

Modern band in my classroom is completely engaging. I constantly strive to find ways to include it in my curriculum. I would look at what my students need to learn for the week and then I figure out how can I infuse it with modern band pedagogy. After the first class, I quickly assess whether that went well or what I need to change. When there’s something I need to change, I switch out an instrument or introduce the concept in a different way.

What genres of music do you cover?

At my school my students love hip-hop and pop music. I often pick music from the radio that’s school appropriate. I allow my students to recommend songs and if it’s appropriate we rock out. When there are songs that need lyric changes, I may rely on Kidz Bop or have the students rewrite the lyrics to make it appropriate for school.

What instruments are you using in the classroom?

At my school we have a majority of guitars, a handful of keyboards, three microphones with speakers and two drum sets. Each student starts with playing guitar and then I allow them to rotate to keyboards, drums, and vocals.

What advice would you give to aspiring modern band teachers?

I would advise any new teacher to not be afraid to fail. Students love seeing their teacher try new things that makes them feel uncomfortable. I hated dancing before I began teaching but now, I put on a song and have dance battles with students. They love hitting all the latest dance moves and when I attempt the dance they often laugh and correct any mistakes I make immediately. This allows them to take control of the class and have them lead different activities. When my band plays in rehearsal, I often fit various dance moves to their music and it helps breaks up the nervousness of them performing.

What challenges have you faced when using modern band curricular resources?

I wouldn’t say there was a challenge I faced with using any of the resources. However, I would say not being afraid to try something out of my comfort zone would be the hardest. Once I started learning guitar it took me a few days to get used to it. I challenged myself to find an easy way to teach my students how to read the chord charts. Once they became familiar with reading the chord charts, I would create a three-step process of how to figure out how to create the chord and play it. I learned giving the students three easy steps to follow on each instrument allowed them to take control of the classroom and allowed me to become a helper rather than have the students reliant upon me.

Kenrick Wagner is a modern band content specialist at Little Kids Rock, a non-profit organization that transforms lives by restoring, expanding, and innovating music education in our schools. Jabril Williams is a full time music teacher at M.L. Bing Elementary School in Tampa, Florida.

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