‘Tis The Season to Keep Them Playing!

Mike Lawson • MAC Corner • December 6, 2017

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Yes, the school year just got going, but it’s already time to start thinking about enrollment for next year.

This is the season of fall concerts, preparing winter concerts, final exams, and more. Then it’s on to music preparation for festivals, contests and spring concerts. After holiday concerts, there are stretches of rehearsals between performances, when students could lose interest in band.

In the Indian Prairie School District 204 in Naperville/Aurora, Illinois, students return from winter break expected to have course selections for the next school year in place. By early February, we are asked to have students placed in our ability-based ensembles so that the course rosters are done before the 15th. While we are in our most “inactive” (less performances) and “high stress” (auditions, finals) time, we are asking students and parents to make a choice about their future in music. The timing of this doesn’t help students frustrated with progress on their instrument, or those who are not connecting with the music in their folders. To ensure that students continue to be motivated, we need to focus on helping students enjoy music each day. You never know when a student is going to go home from school and have “that” conversation (where they begin talking about elective choices and whether or not they are enjoying band/orchestra). Assume that every day is “that” day and do everything possible to help ensure that students will answer, “I love band, I’m doing it until I graduate, and I want to play in college!”

Here are four things you can do this winter to help motivate your students to continue in music next year:

Improve the physical classroom environment

If your room is looking a little disorganized or needs some tidying, spend 15 minutes of class asking everyone to do a specific job that will result in having a great looking room! They will take pride in the finished product which will allow you to have a discussion about how to keep it that way in the future.

Try a different layout

Thinking about switching the direction students face during rehearsal, or want to change the number of rows in your ensemble? Perhaps you just want to try new seating arrangements that you have seen other bands and orchestras use. This is the time. It will cause excitement and you’ll find students think it’s fun to sit somewhere different. It will also help you as the conductor to listen to your ensemble in a new way.

Bring in a guest clinician

Whether it is a conductor, a private lesson instructor, a local community musician, or someone that can speak about a topic that connects to the repertoire you are currently studying- meeting an artist and getting to hear about new perspectives is motivating for all of us. It might just give you and your students the motivation and inspiration you both need to continue rehearsing in an effective and efficient way.

Create a social/music gathering

In the first week of February, we host a 7th Grade Night at the high school. Each of our middle schools bring their 7th grade band to the high school to have a rehearsal with one of our high school bands. We sit alternating 7th grader/high schooler in all sections so that each 7th grader has a chance to sit next to a high schooler. We ask the high school students to wear t-shirts that represent different clubs/sports/ensembles in which they participate, which shows how our musicians are involved in many activities at the high school.

We begin the evening with introductions followed by a rehearsal focused on warming up. This allows so the high school students to play while the 7th graders listen. The high school students help mark the music, help with hand/finger position/posture, et cetera. When the parents come to pick up the students, we ask them to stand in a circle around the band as they finish rehearsing. We have a 10 minute “show and tell” and explain what we accomplished that night. We perform some of the music for them and the high school students play one “flashy” piece. That’s it!

We have had great feedback from our parents about this night, and we have seen our retention from 8th to 9th grade improve over the years, and we attribute this success to this night in particular.


As important as that upcoming festival or contest might be, spark students’ interest by letting them sight read a lot during the winter months. It might take some extra preparation for you to have sight reading materials ready all the time, but the payoff is that your students will playing hundreds and hundreds of measures in NEW tonal and rhythmic contexts. This is crucial if you want to help them develop into better readers. In my own findings, it will drastically improve the rehearsal of harder music because sight reading will make your students more confident musicians.


Ask your students to respond to this question: “What do you love about music class?” You could go one step further and ask them: “How has involvement in music impacted your life?” These types of questions allow students to begin a formative adventure into becoming a MUSIC ADVOCATE. If you allow them to answer this question each quarter, semester or year, they will build the skill of being able to articulate exactly why music education is important. And, if they write it down, they are formally committing their ideas to a purpose.

I hope these ideas help you to help your students re-invigorate their love for music during these next few months. If you change things up a bit physically, meet some new inspiring musicians, get them socially connected to other students in the community, and provide ways for them to communicate the importance of an arts education, you are sure to keep more students playing in the future and your program will thrive.

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