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Ten Great Podium Habits

John Selzer | May 2018

    Directors want to have rehearsals in which students are engaged and working hard. We want students to be on task and ready to play. We want an efficient rehearsal that maximizes learning, brings about respect for the music, moves the ensemble to be performance-ready, and produces a sense of accomplishment among students.
    After a 30-year career as a public school band director, I became a school services representative for Springfield Music of Kansas City. Through spending time each week in dozens of band rehearsals, I began relearning much of what I had forgotten. Watching other music teachers on the podium is an incredible learning experience for all of us, and it would have done me much good while I was still teaching. The following reminders come as a result of watching great music education in action.

    Keep your baton, and your rehearsals, moving. Directors talk too much, and the more we talk, the less students listen. Giving just one instruction and immediately restarting the ensemble keeps students listening and playing. Better yet, sing what you want them to play, then immediately restart. Students listen more when the director says less.
    Start the ensemble with the baton. At every opportunity, avoid counting off. The ensemble will learn, very quickly, to follow the director’s physical cues, and the director will become more physically communicative. When counting off is unavoidable, use as few counts as possible, and do not include other information or reminders in the count off.
    Give instructions only once. This includes giving the next starting measure. When instructions are repeated, students learn they do not need to listen the first time.
    Start with an ensemble breath. Patiently insist on it. Avoid substituting a director breath. When the director breathes audibly on the preparatory beat, most often the ensemble does not.
    Give instructions only when the ensemble is silent and ready to listen. Begin playing only when the ensemble is in playing position and ready to go. Students want to play, and when they learn that their behavior is the key to moving the rehearsal forward, they will get on track to go. This can be learned in a positive but persistent manner. “I’ll wait” almost always produces silence. Avoid talking over the students’ chatter, and do not start without everyone ready.
    Baton up means ready to start. Avoid such filler as “Shh,” “Set,” “Here we go,” or “Ready.” Avoid giving more instruction after the baton comes up. Students should learn that when the baton comes up, music immediately follows.
    Use positive language. Focus on the desired musical effect or technique. Avoid spending valuable time discussing what is wrong. Keep everyone on the same positive team.
    “Let’s do that again.” Repetition is a valuable teaching tool. It is about the learning more than the teaching. Sometimes students just need another try, and sometimes, when they get it right, they need another run at doing it correctly to make it secure.
    Include scales, technique, a chorale, sightreading, and sightsinging in every rehearsal. Find materials for these and make them a regular, fun, and meaningful part of every rehearsal.
    Start on time and end on time. Do so out of respect for the rehearsal and out of respect for the other things students need to get done in a day. End each rehearsal with a one sentence compliment about achievement. 

    Record a video of yourself on the podium for one rehearsal and then give yourself a grade on these ten points. Directors are rarely fully aware of all of the things they say and do until they can watch themselves.
    There is plenty of work to do both on and off the podium, and while these ten habits are important, there is one more that surpasses them: Be yourself and have fun.