October 17, 2020

Choosing a Method Book

Choosing a method book can be an arduous task for many young band directors. There are several strategic elements that you will need included in your method book of choice. More importantly, the selection process will require you, as the music educator, to prioritize what is important for your students to learn.  


Thoughtful Selection

Factors that should be included in this thoughtful selection cover:

  • Logical sequence of curriculum-based content
  • Appropriate amount of repetition to reinforce new concepts
  • Appropriate pacing of material
  • Considers the logical range requirements of the French horn
  • Provides supplemental material such as online tracks, warm-up materials, chorales, etc.

One to Rule Them All?

Unfortunately, there has yet to be a perfect method book for band. This is why doing your research to see what each book has to offer is so important. I personally use Sound Innovations for band with my beginning band students however, the middle band director down the street lives by Essential Elements

We all teach the common core concepts however, our nurturing instincts lead us to facilitate learning in slightly different ways. These preferences are influenced by our past observations of mentors and influencers - as we developed as music educators. However, there are certain consistencies within my colleague's philosophies. We all use a method book with our beginning band students and we always include some sort of supplemental material to enhance our musical instruction.

Supplemental Instruction

Supplemental materials and instruction should fill in the gaps where a method book leaves off. When deciding what supplemental material to include consider what skills and concepts a particular book does not cover. You can easily compare the book's contents to a school division's curriculum guide or the state standards for instrumental music education.

Also consider if the skills and concepts not taught in the book could be easily taught with supplemental materials. Supplemental materials should be prioritized and utilized strategically. If the act of using supplements is too time consuming and detracts from other critical skill learning, then perhaps you should reconsider your plan of attack.

Supplemental materials may be needed if a method book does not begin strategic learning on beginner friendly notes. One such instrument, the French horn, often finds itself playing notes that are higher or lower than comfortable. This is because of where the French lies in the overtone series and where the majority of the other band instruments often start learning their first notes. Since many method books have players playing unison concert pitches, the French horn players often get the short end of the stick. As a result, these players end up playing notes that are often too high or to low for comfort. 

In addition, consider what rhythmic patterns the student begins learning on. Personally, I feel comfortable teaching students based on a pulse system first. This means exposing students to quarter notes early is important for me rather than introducing whole notes first. If I had a choice in a method book that introduced rhythms using this philosophy, I would consider using it however, this certainly not always the case. As a result, I may consider using programs such as Sight-Reading Factory or SmartMusic that will allow me customize rhythm reading with my students. 

Connecting Key Concepts

Once you have decided on a band method book that works for you, start to connect which skills appropriately cater towards your curriculum calendar. This means manually going through the book and literally list the specific skills that hit specific key concepts. If you did your homework well, you would have noticed that some method books have already created charts in their teacher version editions.

Accept the fact that it is okay to skip around in a method book. Remember you are catering to your students as learners, not to check off empty boxes the method book has provided you.

Experiment

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment. This can be interpreted in a number of ways. First, take an example in the method book that involves a series of repeating 8th notes. Have your students play that to the best of their ability. Practice if needed. Then, when appropriate, use that same piece to introduce basic swing style. Remember, as teachers, we want to be able to teach a concept 300 different ways. Sometimes to teach a concept, or musical interpretation, we sometimes have to teach our students what it is not.

An other way to experiment is to change which method book you use. I wouldn't recommend changing midstream however if you have used one book for six years, don't be afraid to try a new one the upcoming year. Not only may you find a better book for instruction, but you might be able to get a break from the mundane routine of the old book.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to select a method book wisely for your music instruction. Consider what musical concepts are most important when making this selection. Understand that no one book is perfect and it is important to use supplemental materials to fill in the curriculum gaps. These materials can include live performances, sheet music, educational software, or creative activities. Most importantly, when you feel the need to break the mundane routine, mix it up an try a new method book.

Sources

Rush, S., Scott, J., Wilkinson, E., & Lautzenheiser, T. (2014). Habits of a successful middle school band director. Chicago: GIA Publications.










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