I’m excited to share this video produced with the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps that highlights how I and my colleagues select and prepare our brass soloists for a World Class field production. Check it out!
Hello, all! It’s been quite a while since my last “5-Minute Read,” and I figured it was high-time to again write about some of my experiences and thoughts in the band world. Thanks for your patience and support!
I’m certain that we’re all into the full swing of our concert band preparations this semester, and we are faced with that constant question: how, what, how long do we warm-up our concert ensembles? The answers to these questions vary greatly depending on each ensemble’s available class time, instrumentation, and ability level. But one thing is clear: the vast majority of us, director and musician alike, do not look forward to the daily warm-up. In fact, some of us outright dread it. Why? Because concert works are fun, and scales, arpeggios, and chorales aren’t. That may be an oversimplification and a blanket statement, but I’m willing to stand by it. For students, daily warm-ups are the bitter medicine they have to endure before they get to enjoy “real” music. This doesn’t make it any fun for the director either!
This problem has all sorts of ramifications. First, if the warm-up is uninteresting or not engaging to the students, they will certainly not give their best effort. Secondly, since the warm-up comes at the beginning of class, this lack of energy and effort can “poison the waters” for the remainder of your class time, negatively affecting how your students play throughout all portions of the rehearsal. So, how do we fight this problem? The answer is “Game on!”
I know it can sound cliché, but applying games, challenges, and competition to your warm-up process can energize your warm-up, your students, and yourself. Here are some techniques you can use to get your student-musicians to bring their best “game” to warm-up!
- Are you Bored?
- Here’s the first and most important test: are you, the director, bored during the warm-up? This is the biggest warning sign that you have an ineffective beginning to your rehearsal. If you ever find yourself bored, then remember this simple rule for yourself and for your students: “If it’s boring it must be simple, and if it’s simple it must be easy, and if it’s easy it must be perfect. And once it’s perfect, let’s make it harder.” Try these tricks below to do just that!
- Attacks and Releases at Strong Volume
- Don’t let your students start rehearsal with an anemic sound and airstream. Start with playing forte! Long tones, at full volume, are a great way to get your students lungs moving and resonating their instruments with rich sounds. Make sure they’re emptying their lungs before breaths, forcing them to take full inhalations.
- Get Them Singing (and buzzing) Loud and Proud!
- Dialing in pitch, and breaking through your students’ lethargy, can be helped by having them stand up to get the blood flowing. Have them stand to sing through your chorales. Not loud and strong? Stop and start again until you get the effort and volume you want. Have the woodwinds play the chorale while your brass players try to “outbuzz” them in volume. Tell your woodwinds not to make it easy on those brass!
- Push Technique to the Limit
- Scales are more than scales: they’re the first technical challenges are students face. So don’t let them get comfortable playing them in easy tempos. Push them to their limits with progressively more challenging speeds on those scales.
Appeal to their Competitive Side
- Have individual students play for the class everyday! Work your way around the room throughout the week. Don’t just let your strongest performers be the only one’s that play, but they can certainly use this time to “show off.” Cultivate a classroom where your strongest performers receive adulations from their peers, while your weakest performers get encouragement and positive reactions to their efforts.
- With all of the technology at our fingertips weekly recording or SmartMusic assignments of scales, at set tempos, can be used to create a leaderboard of top performers in your class, with rewards and privileges you determine for your top performers. you don’t have to show everyone’s rank, but you can certainly show the top performers! Anything from candy, to gift cards, to bus loading priority can be used to motivate these high achievers.
Don’t Leave Out Your Percussionists!
- Don’t let your percussionists just sit there through the warm-up process. They need to know how to play their scales on the mallets. But beyond scales, what about rudiments? Rudiments can be played on snare drums, practice pads, and on mallets! Paradiddles, flam-taps, and more, at faster and more challenging tempos, can be employed during scale warm-ups.
- As always, make sure you set aside enough time towards the end of warm-ups for your percussionists to prepare all equipment needed for the works you’ll be rehearsing.
We’re never going to enjoy scales, chorales, and long tones as much as playing a great piece of band literature. But that doesn’t mean we have to make warm-ups such a chore! Try these techniques with your band today and you’ll find that not only does their sound and technique improve, but you and your students will begin to look forward to warm-ups, and your class time will start out on a much more positive and energetic footing!
Band directors, are you looking for a fun, energetic arrangement for your upcoming holiday parade obligations? Then why not try my 2017 Holiday Celebration. The arrangement was featured in a performance by the Macy’s Great American Marching Band, and was seen by over 50 million viewers in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. You can see video of the performance at https://youtu.be/RKKdC-WHs00.
To make the arrangement more comfortable for parade ensembles, the tempo has been reduced, and the wind parts feature options that make it accessible to a wide variety of ensemble skills levels. Note that the arrangement does not include the “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” ending in order to maintain brevity and to comply with copyright laws. Finally, the percussion writing is the superb work of Dr. Doug Rosener.
You can hear the chart below, and can purchase the score and parts today by clicking “Buy Now!” PDF parts and score are delivered via e-mail in minutes. Happy Holidays, everyone!
Very proud of the 2017 Macy’s Great American Marching Band! Thanks for once again giving me the honor of writing the music and drill for this special group! You can see the video of their performance at https://youtu.be/RKKdC-WHs00 #MGAMB
The Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps are pleased to sponsor Dr. Ward Miller’s tour of guest clinics, lectures, and conducting instruction at colleges, universities, and high schools across the Midwest. For the fourth year in a row, the “Partnering with Music Education” tour allows Dr. Miller to reach out and work with our finest music educators and young musicians in the band world.
“Dr. Miller’s tour of band programs each fall has become an important part of our outreach to music educators and students,” said Blue Stars Executive Director Brad Furlano. “We are pleased to have someone with Ward’s talents as part of our organization, and this tour allows him to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for music and the performing arts throughout the Midwest.”
Currently, the tour is scheduled to visit the following destinations. More guest appearances are being scheduled as we speak, so look for the list to be updated!
- University of Minnesota Marching Band (Minneapolis, MN) – Wednesday, September 13
- River Falls High School (River Falls, WI) – Wednesday, September 20
- Portage High School (Portage, WI) – Thursday, September 21
- Minnesota State University (Mankato, MN) – Thursday, September 21
- Youngstown State University (Youngstown, OH) – Tuesday-Thursday, September 26-28
- Memorial High School (Eau Claire, WI) – Monday, October 2
- University of Wisconsin – La Crosse (La Crosse, WI) – Tuesday, October 3
- Greendale High School (Greendale, WI) – Tuesday, October 3
- Onalaska High School (Onalaska, WI) – Wednesday, October 4
- Lowndes High School “Georgia Bridgemen” (Valdosta, GA) – Monday-Wednesday, October 9-11
- Western Illinois University (Macomb, IL) – Tuesday, October 17
- University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA) – Wednesday, October 18
- Rock Island High School (Rock Island, IL) – Wednesday-Thursday, October 18-19
- University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, IL) – Friday, October 20
- Milford High School (Milford, OH) – Monday-Thursday, October 23-26
- University of Louisville (Louisville, KY) – Wednesday, October 25
- Miami University of Ohio (Oxford, OH) – Thursday, October 26
- University of Kentucky (Lexington, KY) – Friday, October 27
- Central High School (La Crosse, WI) – Thursday, November 2
The Blue Stars, a World Class drum and bugle corps based in La Crosse, WI, is a perennial DCI World Championships Finalist. The Blue Stars will hold a series of Fall audition camps for their 2018 corps at sites throughout the United States, and via video. For more information, visit www.bluestars.org.