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The Summer Slide – Rediscovering Your Love of Music: How to Continue Student Improvement over the Summer Months

Stephen A. Salem • CommentaryMay 2022 • May 2, 2022

As music educators, we conclude the school year feeling successful with how our students have grown over months of progress only to encounter the screeching halt of learning during the summer months. On top of that, it feels like we just started to witness growth with our students and now they are out the door. Elementary students become middle schoolers, and middle school students enter high school. So how can we continue to facilitate their continued musical growth over the summer months?

The task seems daunting, so where do we start? Think back to the very basics. Summer is a time to encourage students to tap back into why they decided to play their instrument in the first place. To rediscover their love for music and their instrument. It’s a time to encourage finding a summer music camp, beginning a summer series program in your own school setting, enrolling in private lessons, or getting involved in marching band.

At Liverpool, we host a Summer Music and Arts program, where students can enroll in summer-long private lessons or to play in larger ensembles. Art and theater courses allow creative outlets for our students to continue their learning process through the summer months. If you have the resources, try creating a weeklong music camp where students can play in large ensembles, play in chamber ensembles, take private lessons, enroll in various electives such as composing, jazz improvisation, film music, music history, or music theory, while also having time to socialize with other student musicians. These weeklong camps can inspire students in so many ways and propel your programs into the fall.

Many colleges also provide opportunities during the summer months. Find local universities and colleges to partner with to help support and encourage your students’ development. It’s important to build these relationships early with the hope these experiences extend beyond just the summer months. Making connections with these music schools empowers students to take their music making to the next level.

For your advanced students, create an alumni summer series, where current and former members of the music program can collaborate. Give current students the opportunity to network beyond music and learn the importance of continuing to play beyond the high school years. A group like this helps to illustrate how important the arts. Collaborating over the summer will inspire future generations to continue to make music, and over time grow a program and community exponentially.

For your middle level students, create a step-up instrument night where you can educate your students and their parents/families on the importance of upgrading their instrument. Consider placing this before the end of the school year so kids’ interest and enthusiasm is peaked going into the summer months. Use these step-up opportunities to create and get excitement going, giving your students reason to practice their brand-new instruments throughout the summer months.

And of course, involvement in marching band can be a crucial key to this puzzle. It is the perfect musical and social outlet for students who are looking to continue their musical development over the summer. For many young musicians, it is the social aspect that brought them to a summer rehearsal in the first place. It then becomes our job to give the students the opportunity to interact with one another and work together as part of a team to create music. Even though the social aspect was what brought the student to rehearsal, they soon come to realize the reason for being there is also to make music at the highest level. There is no doubt this pays dividends to your whole music program.

Ultimately, don’t forget why you got involved with music in the first place, and make sure you continue to encourage your students to remember their passion and love of music. Never veer far from that inner passion to do what you love. If you love it, so will your students. You are their very best role model and example for what it means to perform music, consume music, and love music. Keep this at the forefront of the kids’ sights and experiences, so they are excited to return in the fall to play music together again.

In addition to teaching at Liverpool (NY) High School, Stephen Salem frequently performs on tuba with musical groups including Central Winds, Symphoria, the Utica Symphony, the Auburn Chamber Orchestra, and the Misty Cove Brass Quintet as well as on bass trombone with the Central Winds Jazz Ensemble. As a conductor, Salem has conducted at several festivals including the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the Oregon Summer Conducting Institute, the Nordic Masterclass for Conductors in Denmark, the International Conducting Workshop and Festival in the Czech Republic, and Symphoria on a series of educational concerts entitled “The Orchestra Sings!”

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