The Fundamental Elements for Building a Successful Middle School Band

Jon Bubbett • Bubbett's BookshelfFebruary 2023 • February 19, 2023

The importance of fundamental teaching cannot be overstated. There are certain fundamental “essentials” that are found in every successful program. Foundations is a compilation of article from some of the best middle school band directors in the country (and Japan!) and gives us a “peek behind the curtain” of these programs! The book is divided into nine different topics each written by a respected educator.

The section on Culture, written by Chip De Stefano, provides incredible insight on how we need to approach our teaching to improve our classroom cultures. The standards we set as teachers, our repertoire selection, rehearsing, student ownership, and motivation are all discussed in depth.

“Students are not going to care any more than we care, work any harder than we work, or practice any more than we prepare for our rehearsals.” Thoughts on personal growth and self-care, that are often neglected by teachers, are presented by Kim Bain in the chapter Growth.

“…caring for myself and continuing my professional development has been essential for success.”

Heath Wolfe gives us strategies to “streamline your time off the podium” and reduce anxiety by being better organized in the section, Organization.

The chapter on Practice by Chris Grifa focuses on the quality of practice time instead of the amount of practice time. His unique method teaches students how to practice during regular rehearsal time.

“…we have to deliberately teach our students how to practice.”

We are given a “toolbox” with many strategies to improve student practice skills. His thoughts on Guided Practice, and Practice Strategies, are well thought out and logical. He also gives us the process of how to use these strategies. The Music Reading Process Chart, The Music Isolation Process Chart, and Practice Strategies Chart that he gives to his students detail every step of his process.  His Five Steps of Focus shows students step by step the priorities of their practice focus.

“Students need to connect success and positive emotion to practicing.”

Fundamentals can never be stressed enough, and “FUNdamentals are the key to the development of any musician.” Focusing only on the next performance is an easy trap to fall into, concentrating only on the next performance and abandoning structured, sequential teaching.

“…focusing on (those) short-term goals often comes at the expense of long-term progress.”

Having a set curriculum is vitally important and “…a sequence of what you want to teach, what you want your students to learn, and when they should learn it.” Understanding what the “key skill sets” are and the priorities of each will define the success of your teaching and your student’s musical progress.

The approach to articulation is very thorough and is explained in detail. His approach to “lifted” notes, instead of using the word staccato, is presented in a very user-friendly manner for young musicians. 

“What I have learned is that working on technique has to be fun, or you will find students disengaged in the learning process.”

Recruitment is the lifeblood of our programs. Many insightful approaches are given to us by Wendy Hart from a program that was not allowed to recruit by her administration. 

The step-by-step approach delves into the goals of recruitment, obstacles we encounter, and recruiting the parents as well as the students. The timeline, plan of action, and following up on potential students and instrument fittings are just a few of the many actionable ideas presented.

The chapter on Motivation by Corey Graves is a concise and clear reminder of why we do what we do. Keeping ourselves motivated by realizing we do make a difference, focusing on building relationships, and that we already have what we need to be successful teachers.

“It’s not a lack of resources that causes failure. It’s the lack of resourcefulness.”

Rick Ghinelli is an administrator who began his career as a music educator. In the section on Communications, he details the issues that affect administrators the most and offers ways for music educators to be a part of the solution and not another problem to be dealt with.

“…building a positive relationship with your administration is one of the most important things you can do to open the lines of communication.”

The final section, Perspectives, gives us insight into what instrumental education looks like in Japan. The level of achievement they can accomplish at an early age is unparalleled by anything in our culture. Kazuhiko Tsuchiya of the Tamagawa Academy in Tokyo gives us a peak behind the curtain and shares the struggles they deal with, which are not unlike our own.


The Fundamental Elements for Building a Successful Middle School Band Program 

Chip De Stefano / Chris Grifa

2022 – GIA Publications Inc.

Learn more about Jon Bubbett’s career as a successful music educator and his composing and arranging for school bands at

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