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Reely’s Rules of Thumb

Trey Reely | August 2016

    In his book Rules of Thumb, Tom Parker presents a collection of easy-to-remember guides that fall somewhere between a mathematical formula and a shot in the dark. A rule of thumb is a tool that helps one quickly appraise a problem or situation; it’s what we might call a ballpark figure. A rule of thumb is not a joke or Murphy’s Law, nor is it an old saying or proverb. Most of all, a rule of thumb is not correct in every case, but it is right most of the time, under most conditions. Below are some rules of thumb for band, gleaned from my experience and the experience of others.
    Students who have a major problem tapping their foot in beginning band will have problems marching in-phase when they get to marching band, so work on this as early and hard as possible.
    If you have any doubts at all whether a beginner will be successful on horn, put them on trumpet first. You can always switch them later.
    The difficulty of marching band music should be about two grade levels easier than what your band plays during concert season.
    A student with a pronounced lip bud should not start on flute.
    In beginning band, try to put academically strong students in every section.
    Start several female players in each brass section of the beginning band so if you share or lose boys to football you have brass players left.
    A beginning student who struggles with producing a sound on a particular instrument but understands all other aspects of playing, like rhythm and note names, will likely be successful on another instrument.
    If you have prospective beginners who you suspect might struggle, put them in the clarinet section; they will do less damage there than any other section. You can switch them to auxiliary percussion later if they do end up causing major problems in the clarinet section.
    Beginning trumpet and clarinet players who, despite repeated reminders consistently confuse the fingerings for Bb and B natural have probably memorized the fingerings but do not know the note names or understand key signatures.
    Always have extra batteries on hand for any electronic equipment you are using. On trips have an extra extension cord in case outlets are farther away than you think they are going to be.
    Always bring extra music to any and all performances that are off-campus.
    The longer the teachers’ meeting, the less effective it is.
    Do not assume architects of a new music building project know anything about acoustics or anything relating to a music facility – even if they act like they do. Keep careful watch over your facility once construction begins. Buy a hard hat and be on site regularly.
    For every fundraiser, there will be at least three students who never turn their money in.
    Someone who complains about their last place of employment in an interview will probably not enjoy working at your school either.
    When going through the music library at a new place of employment, if much of the music has the note names written in over the notes, the band was probably not any good.
    When a new student moves in and says he plays three or four different instruments, he probably doesn’t play any of them well. If he owns a clarinet that is bright aqua this increases the odds that he is not talented.
    The same kids are always late. Even siblings from the same family in subsequent years are always late.
    If the middle valve on a trumpet is sticking, the second valve slide may be pushed into the valve. Push it back out and odds are the valve will work again.
    A little cork grease on beginner brass mouthpiece shanks will reduce the number of mouthpieces you have to pull.
    Don’t put much stock in the first year or two at a new school in terms of whether students previously taught by another director accept you. If they love you from the get go, great; if not, give it time.
    When a kid comes in to play a test and has to ask what exercise it is, things are going to get ugly.
    Call restaurants ahead of time when you are taking a large group. Call a second time the day of the event to be safe – whoever you talked to the first time may have forgotten to tell the manager that’s on duty the day you are coming. For a band of 50, plan for at least one hour for a well-run fast food restaurant to get the kids served. Add an hour for each additional 50.
    When on a tight schedule at a restaurant, make the students get everything they want to eat (including desserts) on the first order.
    If you are switching a student from trumpet to euphonium, make them learn bass clef from the start.
    At the end of the semester there will be at least 15 articles of clothing that go unclaimed.
    When conducting, less is more.
    When taking up fundraising money, look down deep into collection envelopes to make there are no checks or bills hiding in them. Keep fundraising envelopes with the students’ names on them until all monies are accounted for. If parents claim that their child paid, it’s one more piece of evidence that the kid never turned anything in.
    Make requests for expensive purchases, such as uniforms or renovations when an important millage vote is up for your district. The superintendent will be willing to give stuff to the band if he sees your band parents as additional allies and voters.
    Don’t assume a child will remember anything from one day to the next.
    Give out awards at a band banquet to reduce the number presented at a band concert.
    Assume students will never practice enough and plan the frequency of lessons, sectionals, and rehearsals accordingly. If they practice more than you think, scale back.
    Ask one student to do a task it gets done. Ask two to work together, half the work gets done. Ask three to work together, nothing gets done.
    Giving students a leadership position hoping it will get them to be better band members is not a good idea.
    If a band learns to play a chorale in tune, it can play almost anything else in tune.
    Assume that out of any ten reeds in a box, three will need to be thrown out.
    Guitar players from outside your program who ask to be in band are never as good as they say they are and can only read tabs.
    Due to student drama, no rooming list is safe until you actually return from a trip.
    Plan on staying at least one hour after returning from any trip until the last student is picked up.
    Pad your return time from a trip by at least 30 minutes on any trip so you almost always arrive earlier than advertised.
    A jazz band class during the school day can energize your whole program because you gain a core of students who love band enough to have it twice a day.
    Keep the music stand for the keyboard at about the level of the keyboard, so it is easier for the player to use peripheral vision when looking at the music as opposed to having the stand higher and having to lift the head way above the keyboard.
    Rarely, if ever, text a student. If it becomes imperative, keep it short and professional.
    Never send an email or text when you are angry or the matter is potentially controversial.
    When getting a count of student intentions on a matter (like how many plan on attending a band party), always assume at least 20 percent will change their minds.
    Feed band kids at any practice or performance, and they will give it all they’ve got.
    Always open your snail mail at work, even when it looks like junk. It may actually be something important.
    Have students check the length of each other’s uniform pants legs. Checking their own is not accurate because the pants go up when they lean over to look at them.
    Heat illness during marching season can be prevented if band members drink plenty of water (even when they’re not thirsty), get enough breaks, spend sufficient time in the shade (or in an air-conditioned environment), wear a hat and light-colored clothing, and apply sunscreen.
    Count on at least one student quitting after you have had two weeks of marching camp and have the drill set. Plan accordingly.
    Speak just long enough between numbers at a band concert for the percussion to make their necessary changes and no longer.
    Have a performing group at every band booster meeting to increase parent attendance.
    A phone call to a parents telling them how good their child is doing is more transformative than a call telling them the problems you are having with their child. In other words – catch the child being good.
    Making excuses to audience members about the difficulty of the music, lack of rehearsal time, or missing personnel, right before the band plays unnecessarily alerts them that the performance is going to have problems they might not otherwise even notice.
    At least one trumpet player in every section will never buy valve oil, choosing to mooch from others.