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Old 10-27-2018, 12:18 PM   #11
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Join Date: Dec 2016
Location: Massachusetts, USA
Posts: 982
Default Re: Band Practice

Lots of good suggestions here. In having been in the PM in the past, I certainly have plenty to add. Probably too much, as usual ... so take what you will, and dump the rest.

I'm going to split my comments into two posts ... one relating to lessons, the other to practice itself. I led a gr4 band in the pipe major role for just about a year, and in the year prior to that, I was pipe sergeant, but I kind of pipe major in all-but-name. I led the corps and directed practices more often than the pipe major did because of his job schedule, and when he was there, we were essentially partners. Honestly, that worked quite well for the two of us, and when I was pipe major, I had a very similar relationship with the fellow who was my sergeant.

Anyway, I was in the corps for a while, and I steadily rose through the ranks. Tuning guy, then pipe corporal. Then sergeant, then major. So I got plenty of time to kind of figure out what didn't work for us, and what did. My suggestions here are based on those experiences. Sadly, I had to step down after only a year as pipe major because I moved out of the area. It was a tough job, and I never really loved being in charge, but surprisingly, it was tough to step away.

Ok lessons first, and I'll make a separate post on practice in general. I like the suggestion on working toward having 50 students. As some said, there likely aren't 50 people even playing in your area ... maybe that's true, but ironically, I think that's the point ... you're in a position to ESTABLISH 50 new players.

Work toward that. It certainly won't happen overnight, but it can be done if you keep the effort there for the long term. And if you hit the 50 mark ... don't stop. As some others suggested, it's likely that not everyone will pan out. Think of it like sea turtles ... birth many in order to ensure that at least some make it to the sea.

Some will get a ways into it, but will become daunted by "how hard it is" and will lose their drive. Granted, the more engaging you are in your training program, the less that might happen, but still, some just won't have the determination it takes to improve at an appreciable rate.

The first hour of a 3 hour band practice was usually entirely lessons. I feel this is a good thing to do, as students can then opt to stick around, and see the rest of the band in action. Funny how we can become quite jaded to it all, but to an enthusiastic student, watching and hearing the band come together can be a really exciting thing.

If we were lucky enough to have several students, then ideally we would have 2-3 people there to work with the students. Track students' progress, and assemble into groups who are at similar points in their development. If a couple of people in particular are having trouble and are falling behind others who are usually in their "group" ... try to get them aside with someone else so that the rest can continue onward, and those needing extra help can get it.

Now some people will be fine about getting the opportunity to get some one-on-one attention, while others may feel insulted. Interestingly, this can be a good thing, for everyone. People's true colors will come out in situations such as this. Everyone always "says" they will do whatever it takes to improve, and to see/hear the band improve. But when the time comes for them to really knuckle under and live by their ideals, people will react in various ways.

It's good to get a sense of this early. If someone is miffed by getting set aside, be sure to openly and plainly explain your actions. "I can hear you're having trouble keeping up, and it will be best for you and everyone if you step aside and get some extra time working on xx and yy. If you don't, you'll end up cutting corners in your playing, which is bad for your progress, and it's bad for the rest of the group, because they're just trying to do their best to follow along. There's no rush, you'll get there when you get there, etc, etc."

If you're open, polite, and supportive in this, then a student who is worth teaching should eventually be receptive, and cooperate. If they don't, and no degree of coaching/openness seems to alleviate the issue, then it may become imperative to inform the person that it's not working out.

What's essential here is transparency. In operating such an organization, you're trying to draw in new people, and grow as many as possible into new players. The more people made to feel included, the more likely it is that they will stick around. If they ever get a sense that there's an in-crowd of favorites ... this is to be prevented at all costs. People need to feel that they PART of the group, that their voice matters, etc.

This transparency is probably one of the most important aspects of keeping the organization healthy ... is it's a good segway into the other post.

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Old 10-27-2018, 12:18 PM   #12
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Join Date: Dec 2016
Location: Massachusetts, USA
Posts: 982
Default Re: Band Practice

Ok, so now practice in general.

Firstly, as others have said, use time efficiently. Plan out on paper what the focus will be for various blocks of time. If you include lesson time for students, our practices were usually about 3 hours per week. Lessons in the first hour, and whole band for the latter 2.

I spoke in the other post about about trying to ensure people feel that they matter, and that their presence/input is valuable. However, there's a big difference between allowing people to feel included, and leaderless chaos ... when people are in the corps, there needs to be discipline. Members speak when spoken to, and they only ask questions when the leadership invites it. There must be order.

This order needs to be firmly established and maintained. This can be a fine line leadership must walk when it comes to also ensuring the membership feels included and respected. This all comes back to transparency. If necessary, try to explain your rationale as you direct. Not overly so ... on occasion here and there can help reenforce your respect for the members. Do allow periods where members can ask questions for clarity. If a question is out of place, try not to sound dismissive. "See me later, we can discuss that more, but not at this time ... etc."

Anyway, back to practice itself. Ahead of time, plan out what you want to work on in blocks. I recommend time periods between 20 and 40 mins. Most have a hard time concentrating if sessions are longer than 45 mins. Accordingly, plan to have 10 min breaks every 40-45 mins. If you're on a roll with something, push to an hour if you must, but avoid it.

Try to get people to show up in the last 15 mins of lesson time, so they can get settled and ready. That way you all can get going ontime. Try to be respectfully firm on this. In order for the corp to be properly in tune, people need to be properly warmed up, together. If someone comes in late, depending on what we're working on, I might not allow them to play pipes in the corps. If I do, it would be after one of the breaks. If they're not coming into tune well, then they might need to step aside for most of the practice.

By planning out your schedule ahead, and sticking to that schedule, you'll likely establish a good working rhythm for the whole practice. If memory serves, we normally did something like this:
-- Lessons, 45 mins and winding that down for 15mins
Keep focus on the students for the first 45 minutes. In the last 15mins, hopefully most of your regular players are coming in. They may have concerns, questions .. etc. This is a good time to let them address these things .. BEFORE the corps starts getting going. Wrap up things with the students, and encourage them to stick around for a bit.

--20 mins (20m so far)
Everyone playing on their own, warming up. Pipe Major and 1 or 2 others going around tuning drones with a meter, addressing any chanters which are severely out-of-tune.

--20 mins (40m so far)
Group plays together, standard mass band tunes and the like, in a circle. PM and/or tuning person continues going around the circle adjusting drones, listening for bad chanters. Good time to have the pipe sergeant lead the corps as PM keeps a focus on tuning/tone/etc. This can also be a good time to let some of the star-pupils stand in for a tune or two. Chances are, these are the tunes they've been working on in lessons.

--10 mins break-- (50m so far)

--30 min intensive (1:20m so far)
Pipes ... maybe Drums maybe not. Can be either going over new tunes on practice chanters, or heavy work on pipes going over sets that are more complicated. If doing full pipes, and something is sounding very rough, consider going over the set in groups of 3, to try and isolate who is playing strongly, and who needs help. ... JUST like with lessons folk, be supportive, but remain clear that you're not trying to pick on people, you're all there to improve as individuals, and as a band. ... If 2-3 people out of 10-12 players are having trouble, have someone (pipe sergeant) take them out to work individually as the rest carry on. If nearly half the group is clearly having trouble, then the set isn't ready for pipes yet. Get back on practice chanters, or assign the set as homework, and do something else.

--10 min break-- (1:30m so far)

--25 min (1:55m so far)--
Whole band, with drums. Suggest marching, counter marching, marching in and out of circle. Heavy attention to drill, dressing. Treat it like a competition if you're prepping for one. Try not to do the same tunes as the prior two portions, unless needed.

--5 min (2:00 hours)--
Closing remarks/questions .. Be sure to address what is expected for the next meeting.
It's astounding how quickly the above goes. I was a maniac on keeping to the schedule.

I cannot underscore enough the need for maintaining authority in a respectful manner. It's not easy. Shrug, and let things slide, and there'll be no order, no progress, and people will leave because things are always a mess. On the other hand, barking at people and allowing resentment to take root is a surefire way to obliterate an organization.

Navigate a healthy balance, where the membership respects what you're trying to do, and you'll enjoy a healthy, fruitful group of passionate players. Your students will be eager to jump into the ranks, and if people need to leave, they'll be doing so with reluctance and fond memories.

Hope this all helps.


Last edited by Pppiper; 10-27-2018 at 12:26 PM.
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