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Preparing a Band for Festival Competition

William H. Beck, Jr. | February 2014

This article originally appeared in the December 1979 issue of The Instrumentalist.

    “If the judges cannot find anything wrong with a performance, then they have no choice but to give a band the top rating.” It is a philosophy that stresses the importance of attending to every detail no matter how small, and one that has resulted in plenty of Division I ratings.
    The following checklists will help band directors who have experienced problems in coaching their bands to the top festival competition level, as well as those who are new to the field. If all the statements can be checked off, the chances of a band receiving a Division I rating will be greatly enhanced.

Selecting Festival Music
___  You attended at least two reading clinics in the past year.
___  You heard recordings of the selections you are considering.
___  The selections are in contrasting styles.
___  The selections will challenge students but not discourage them.
___  The music fits the strengths and weaknesses of all sections.
___  You and the band like the music.
___  You have alternate selections available in case your first choices don’t meet your expectations.
___  The music fits the allotted festival time limits.
___  You discussed possible choices of music with top band directors you know.
___  A full score is published for all selections.
___  You considered all music, even transcriptions.
___  You have not chosen music just because everyone is playing it.
___  You made an effort to hear the music you are considering played by outstanding bands in your area.

Preparing the Music
___  You have checked your conducting technique (cuing, beat, etc.)
___  The band is tuned frequently with an electronic tuner.
___  The band does breathing exercises.
___  Recordings of the festival selections are played for the entire band.
___  You have brought in a clinician several weeks before the festival to hear your work, personally conduct the band, and write criticisms of the band.
___  You have paced the presentation of festival numbers so they will not become worn out and you still have time to prepare them.
___  Sectional rehearsals have been held.
___  Each band member can play his or her part accurately and musically.
___  Parts are balanced within sections and with the rest of the band.
___  You are striving for professional quality tone throughout the band, especially in solo and small ensemble passages.
___  You have checked for rhythmic errors.
___  Dynamic marks are being observed.
___  Players are articulating properly.
___  Releases are being executed at the proper time.
___  You know what to do when the band plays out of tune even though you have tuned each instrument accurately with an electronic tuner.
___  You are aware of the unique physical characteristics of each instrument in the band, and are using this knowledge to enhance tone quality, intonation, and finger facility.
___  You are aware of players’ posture, embouchure, instrument placement, and hand position.
___  Players are using the best available instruments. The metronome is used to check tempos regularly.
___  You have checked the meanings of foreign words in the score that are not commonly used. They may affect your interpretation.
___  You have stressed knowledge over enthusiasm and excitement.
___  You have insisted on musical accuracy and musicality rather than letting things slip by.

Checklist for the Woodwind Section
___  Instruments are in perfect mechanical adjustment, and are clean and polished inside and out.
___  Players who need to use vibrato are capable of producing it, and know when to use it.
___  Desirable trill and alternate fingerings are being used.

Flute and Piccolo
___  The head joint cork is properly spaced.

Oboe and Bassoon
___  The best reeds available are being used.
___  All players have at least four good reeds and they know how to adjust reeds.
___  Bassoon bocals are clean inside.
___  The whisper key hole is open on all bassoons.
___  The bassoon bocal being used produces the best intonation, and players have bocals available in different lengths.
___  Bassoon players are aware of the seat strap as well as the neck strap.
___  Bassoon players can play in the tenor clef.

Clarinet and Saxophone
___  Instruments are equipped with top-quality stick rubber mouthpieces selected with the advice of top clarinet teachers or players in the area as to lay and interior shape.
___  The best ligatures available are being used and players know how to tighten the screws of a ligature properly.
___  The best French cane reeds available are being used, and reeds are of optimum strengths.
___  Each player has at least six good reeds available.
___  Bass clarinet players use the floor peg.
___  Saxophone players’ neck straps are adjusted properly.

Checklist for the Brass Section
___  Instruments have been cleaned and polished inside and out, slides lubricated and valves oiled.
___  Springs, water keys, bumper corks, rotary valves, rotary valve strings, etc. are in perfect mechanical adjustment.
___  Instruments with unsightly dents or distracting finishes have been eliminated if possible.
___  Valve, tuning, and playing slides are easily movable, lubricated, and dent-free.
___  The best mouthpieces are being used, selected with the advice from several top teachers or performers in the area.
___  Faulty pitch resulting from built-in acoustical problems has been corrected.
___  Mutes in good condition are available.
___  Players can double and triple tongue.
___  Range has been developed to handle more demanding selections.
___  Mouthpiece stems are without dents.
___  Mouthpiece backbores are clean.

Trumpet and Horn
___  Valve slides have been tuned with a tuner.
___  Horn players know how to play muted and
___  stopped parts.
___  Proper right hand positions are being used by horn players.
___  Horn players understand how to alter pitch with the right hand.
___  Horn players know how to transpose.
___  Horn players know which slide is the tuning slide.

Trombone, Baritone, and Tuba
___  Trombone players understand why some positions are adjusted in order to be in tune (high G should be played sharp).
___  Trombone players know methods for avoiding smears.
___  Trombone players can legato tongue.
___  Trombone players can play in tenor clef.
___  Trombone players have been encouraged to purchase a trombone with an F attachment, and they know when and how to use it.
___  Tuba and baritone players with four valve instruments know when and how to use the fourth valve.

Checklist for the Percussion Section
___  All heads are new and fresh.
___  Proper sticks are being used, and proper sticking technique has been decided and is being followed.
___  Players are standing erect and facing the conductor.

Snare Drum
___  The pitches of all batter heads are the same.
___  Pitches of all snare heads are the same, and the strands of snappy snares touch the drums evenly.
___  The pitch at each tuning screw is the same.
___  Drummers use matched sticks.
___  Stick sizes are right for concert performance.
___  Drummers are using buzz rolls for long rolled parts in selections where they should be used.
___  Drums have been checked for excessive muting.
___  Drummers are beating at the most desirable spot on the drum.
___  Drummers are playing lightly and not covering the band.
___  Drummers are getting the sticks away from the head quickly.
___  Drums are at the proper height.

Bass Drum
___  The bass drum is tuned properly and the pitch at each tuning screw is the same.
___  The bass drum is large enough for the band.
___  The drummer is striking the drum in a light manner midway between center and top.
___  A new lamb’s wool beater is being used.

___  Players are using proper hand positions, and they are striking the cymbals together at the correct spot and with the proper motion.
___  Cymbal players know when to double cymbal parts with the bass drum part.
___  Crash cymbal parts are played with proper motion.
___  Pads are new and clean, and straps are new and laced properly.
___  Cymbals are clean and polished, and have been checked for cracks.
___  Cymbals of optimum size and thickness are being used.

Suspended Cymbal
___  The cymbal is large enough for the band.
___  The player is beating the cymbal at the proper spots on the instrument.
___  The single stroke roll is being used for sustained sounds.
___  The cymbal is at the most desirable height.

___  Fresh heads are being used.
___  Enough timpani are available to play the part.
___  Timpani are tuned so the same pitch is heard when striking the timpani at each head screw.
___  New, clean-looking sticks are being used.
___  The brake on each drum is properly adjusted.
___  The timpani player is able to make pitch changes quickly and accurately.
___  The player has a pitch pipe for tuning.
___  The player is using the best hand positions.
___  Rolls are played fast enough and with good technique.
___  The sticks quickly rebound from the head.
___  All dents have been removed from the timpani.

Mallet Percussion
___  Beaters are rebounding quickly.
___  All percussion players can do multiple mallet work.
___  Brass bell beaters are being used.
___  The motor on the vibes is turning at optimum speed, and the damper is working properly.
___  Parts are being played in proper octaves.
___  Bearings on moving shafts on the vibes have been oiled.
___  Belts on the vibes are in good condition, and spare belts are available.
___  The dampers on the chimes work properly and players know how to use them.
___  All chime tubes vibrate freely.
___  Hammers rebound quickly from the chimes.
___  All chime tubes are securely fastened to the instrument.

Miscellaneous Percussion
___  All the needed miscellaneous instruments are available.
___  The tambourine is tuned.
___  The tambourine is struck with the fingers and not beat on the hip.
___  The players use a thumb roll on the tambourine, or, if another roll is used, the players can perform it at a fast speed.
___  Claves are held so the hand holding the lower clave forms a resonating cavity.
___  The maracas have a crisp sound.

Checklist for the Day of the Festival
___  You have allowed plenty of time for travel and warm-up.
___  You have made an effort to keep band members calm and collected.
___  If you plan to announce the names and composers of the festival selections, you can properly pronounce foreign titles and names.
___  You have enough full scores, properly numbered, for all the judges
___  All band members look neat and are properly uniformed.