But unfortunately, “woodshedding” has often morphed into a group routine where a director or sectional manager works with a group of performers on a difficult passage over and over and over, ad nauseam, to “clean” the music. This is tiring for the director, who feels the students should be working this stuff out on their own, and it’s certainly frustrating for the ensemble, who’s time is being monopolized by weaker or less well-prepared performers. I’ve often told performers that making an entire ensemble wait and watch you practice before their very eyes is a sure way to lose respect and friends.
But we’ve reached a point in our history where we can escape the group woodshed! According to reliable statistics, over 75% of students have access to internet-connected devices that are capable of the techniques I will list below.
The next time you have a difficult passage that bedevils a particular section in your band, try this: assign recording homework. Here’s how it works.
- After reading it in class a couple of times, leave the passage alone and move elsewhere in the music.
- Give the assignment only to the section who has the difficult passage.
- Make sure to specify what tempo or tempo range they must utilize.
- The students must record the passage, with a metronome audible in the background, at the specified tempo. There can be no wrong notes or rhythms. They may use their phone, a voice recorder, tablet, computer, you name it. There are plenty of free metronome smartphone apps, and there’s even a free one online at www.metronomeonline.com.
- Give the students about 48-72 hours to complete the assignment. Don’t touch that part of the music in class until the assignment is complete.
- They must e-mail you the recording of themselves by the assigned due date and time.
- Provide a grade on the homework assignment, along with written notes and feedback
- The entire ensemble’s time is used more productively, as they don’t have to sit there watching other people practice.
- The assigned performers learn to practice on their own!
- You get to hear the individual performers and provide them with comments and guidance to help them succeed.
- The entire ensemble can experience the joy of reaching the assigned passage and hearing the improvement made by individual practice.
- You get additional assessment data points you can enter into a grade book, thus providing the feedback and quantifiable scores that all parents and administrations seek in this day and age.