I’ve been working to incorporate more music theory into my concert band ensemble class for the past few years. My perception is often that we just don’t have the time as we are always building toward one performance or another. I think this is likely a common feeling among band directors, however it is largely not true. If rehearsals are better planned, organized, and executed more can be accomplished in less time. And the inclusion of cogent bits of theory during rehearsal is not only possible, but will enhance the musicianship of the ensemble.
In addition to greater music theory content during rehearsal, I’ve introduced my students over the past two school years to music notation software. Last year we used primarily MuseScore for a few small composition assignments. I encouraged the students to download this great freeware program at home so they could experiment with it as well. This year I’ve also included Noteflight Crescendo accounts for all band students. The interfaces are quite different and each has its fans. I honestly don’t care which method they use for writing as long as they are writing.
Concert Band has written melodies over a given chord progression. Jazz Band is writing lead sheets of varying complexity depending on their own experience level. I also have all students transcribing parts for me for various parts that have been lost or when transpositions are needed. This helps to improve their facility with the notation software and fills a need within the music library.
A few students have been writing their own compositions and – more commonly – arrangements for band. Pop, video game, and Anime music seem to be the most popular. I don’t care what genre they work with as long as it is engaging them. Plus they’re getting great experience with orchestration as they hear the band read their charts and realize needed adjustments. We’re starting to incorporate some of these arrangements into our Pep Band rotation. I’d love to get them working out full jazz combo or big band charts soon.
Given an understanding of the mechanics of music, great software to help facilitate writing, and the encouragement that they can actually compose, my students are having fun as they embrace music composition. This is certainly worth that little bit of extra rehearsal time “sacrificed” to help it happen.
photo credit: mingusmutter