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November 1967 Maintaining Discipline in Bands and Orchestras

One of the most critical aspects of the teaching profession is discipline and all its ramifications. Surprisingly, the subject of discipline is seldom discussed in education journals and teaching textbooks. Possibly the reason for the lack of available literature is that most experienced educators realize that many discipline procedures emerge from the individual teacher’s personality. Each individual has his own “discipline” based upon his entire orientation to the classroom. His role, as it is eventually determined through interaction with students and the general classroom environment, is his discipline. The major question consistently appears to be: is this orientation enough for the teacher, especially the inexperienced one. Another possible reason for the lack of literature is the fact that discipline by formula is difficult because ready-made rules do not always fit the many variables experienced in ensemble performance.
    In today’s society teachers are faced with increasingly complex problems when dealing with large musical organizations. Current literature on general curriculum emphasizes permissiveness. Teaching for responsibility, duty, and obligation is often neglected in the general classroom and emotional distortion is frequently miscast under the terms “individualism” and “creativity.” Personal grooming, “fad” clothing styles, and, most unfortunately, a reluctance of some schools to take a firm stand in discipline matters, present major problems. Some parents, as well as students, become irate at the very suggestion of moderation and conformity in grooming. The projection of a musical image, visual, as well as aural, is rapidly becoming a crucial problem with an increasingly large number of music teachers. For effective performance, unanimity of concept in appearance is as essential as unanimity of sound. Unless music teachers present a united front on the propriety of dress, grooming, and general behavior, we can expect serious consequences in the future.
    A highly structured conformity to a group discipline is by no means designed to restrict a student’s creativity, imagination, and freedom of expression. Freedom of expression and individualism in performance should be encouraged to grow and flourish in developmental situations parallel to the disciplined experiences of a large group. One cannot exist without the other. These abilities are encouraged to grow and mature in individual study, small ensemble experience, and even, in some schools, through composition. The disciplined environment described in this article is concerned with providing opportunities for the young student to develop control of creative talent and to learn to mold this music talent within a carefully structured environment. One of the reasons so many creative individuals are not successful is that they never learn to control then-abilities within a disciplined environment.
    A student recently was told that he could not become a member of a band unless he cut his hair. His reply was “What does that have to do with music?” The answer of course, is that a conductor of a music group must be concerned with the visual as well as the audible. The cultivation of ideals and attitudes in the minds of individual pupils and the development of the person as a responsible individual to the group goals as well as to his own are essential. If this is not recognized, participation in a music group is eliminated. This attitude is not to minimize the importance of the music itself, it simply recognizes the entire musical experience as an educational function. In public education we are helping students to be responsible members of society as well as helping them to become competent musicians. As instruction is concerned with intellectual stimulus and direction, discipline is concerned with emotional stimulus and direction. All influences that enter into the determination of school conduct and performance should be recognized as coming within the province of discipline.
    The general concept of discipline has changed a great deal in the past few decades. Formerly discipline was thought of as obedience to authority. Pupils were expected to do the tasks set for them and to ask no questions. In case they failed to obey, prescribed punishments were given for definite offenses. Recent literature in the field of mental hygiene has done much to bring about a change in the concept of discipline, which is increasingly being thought of as a means of developing the best personality possible for every pupil. This should not be interpreted to mean freedom of the individual without responsibility. Instead of using punishment or retribution as the means of securing control, emphasis is being placed more and more on guidance. In the past, teachers have dealt primarily with symptoms rather than cause. Today teachers endeavor to understand the forces acting on their pupils. According to current mental hygiene, discipline needs to be thought of more in terms of self-control and self-direction. The conductor cannot argue with this fact in principle.
    Every element in school control has both positive and negative aspects. The positive or constructive aspect is the really significant one. We have learned that there is little value in curbing bad conduct without stimulating a desire for better conduct in its place. Unacceptable behavior is not eliminated until the behavior can be appropriately redirected; unless punishing the wrong somehow causes confirmation of the right, we may always be suspicious of its efficiency. The acceptable way must be clearly indicated. Educators and administrators too often forget that education and learning should involve changes in behavior, supposedly in a desirable direction. This “desirable direction” must be made clear to every student.
    An understanding of the above general concepts is important. However, the uniqueness of bands and orchestras demands a certain type of discipline somewhat removed from the general classroom approach. The moment a student becomes a member of a group, either in concert or rehearsal, he must understand that many elements of a democratic situation cease to operate. If self-oriented needs are allowed full expression both productivity and satisfaction suffer because group goals cannot be attained. The role of the conductor must be clearly defined and the importance of the group paramount. On the other hand, the conductor must be constantly aware of individual needs and response. Often an inexperienced teacher is insensitive to “feedback’ and thus becomes completely ineffective in rehearsal. A conductor should constantly imagine that he has a line of communication running to and from each student. A dynamic exchange of covert, overt, and concomitant ideas pass from the conductor to the player and from the player to the conductor. The communication is not one way. A conductor is communicating with the entire group only when he is aware of this almost magnetic exchange. In rehearsal or in concert, individual needs must be subservient to the group, as determined by the conductor. Of course, recognition of the importance of the individual by the conductor must always be in evidence in his individual personal relationships with students. We, as teachers, owe it to each pupil to help him develop good citizenship. The work of the rehearsal demands that the pupil be orderly, systematic, and cooperative so that maximum communication and learning can take place. Students like good management and appreciate a well disciplined music environment. In turn, the public is quick to judge the teacher, the school, the administration, and the student by the type and effectiveness of order that is maintained at all music functions.
    As mentioned previously, the constructive type of discipline is most effective—not discipline that simple matches infractions with penalties, but the kind that aims to help the student grow in the ability to discipline himself. The type of discipline that is desired is neither tough nor sentimental and recognizes that when constructive measures have failed with an offender, the welfare of the group and school will be protected by demanding conformity. Discipline should cause students to desire not to trespass on the rights of the group. Discipline procedures should help students to realize that there is no freedom without responsibility. Constructive discipline cannot be treated as a problem, or even a series of problems to be solved. It is a continuous process of adopting ways and means to the accomplishment of predetermined purposes. It is primarily a process of prevention rather than a cure of misbehavior. The following constructive techniques in discipline may be helpful to inexperienced teachers and useful for review by all teachers as guidelines in establishing an environment in which maximum communication can take place. Within this environment, the conductor can best combat forces which tend to destroy the image and effectiveness of bands and orchestras.

1. In rehearsal, pace is paramount. Keep things moving. Never waste time.
2. Keep your objectives clear and attainable for the group.
3. Be organized and efficient in your administration.
4. Utilize the students’ aid in management and in establishing policy on dress, grooming, and promptness.
5. Never start a rehearsal late.
6. Always concentrate on the development of tradition and spirit within the group.
7. Study the community and home life of pupils for guidance in handling cases of discipline.
8. Always reflect an impression of firmness and certainty. (Lack of specificity and definiteness in role expectation leads to conflict.)
9. Have rehearsals carefully planned and scores well prepared.
10. Good order may vary according to accepted standards within a system or building.
11. Routine specific activities.
12. Maintain at all times: clarity of speech, good personal appearance, optimism, reserve, enthusiasm, fairness, sincerity, sympathy, vitality, and scholarship.
13. An attempt should be made to develop and maintain a condition of rapport (i.e., cooperation and sympathetic understanding between conductor and students).
14. Freedom must not be permitted to degenerate into license. Too much freedom is neither good for the individual nor the group.
15. It is better to be too strict in the beginning than to be too lenient. It is easier to “let down” than it is to “tighten up” on matters of conduct.
16. Indulgence of pupils tends to build disrespect. If every shortcoming is excused, new problems soon appear.
17. It is usually effective to point out to older students their responsibility in influencing the younger students and to secure their cooperation.
18. Stop the little things that could cause future discipline problems.
19. Use special occasions to illustrate to the students that you are interested in them as individuals.
20. Learn the names of students quickly.
21. Call upon students who do not appear to be attentive.
22. Always be available and interested in a student’s personal problems.
23. Never use sarcasm or ridicule.
24. Always refrain from punishing the group because of the mistake of an individual.
25. Do not expect threats to produce desirable results.
26. The deprivation of certain privileges is often effective. Privileges belong to those who merit them, not to those whose conduct is in conflict with the best interests of the individual and the group.
27. It is often wise to let the offender “meditate” for an hour or so before talking to him.
28. Do not hurry in decisions regarding punishment.
29. When the case is settled, drop it. Never carry a grudge.
30. At no time in any punishment, verbal or otherwise, refer to the parents or the home training of the student.

    There are three basic rules for punishment. First, the certainty of punishment is a much better deterrent than severity. Under effective discipline, severe punishment should be rare, but minor penalties should be used systematically to hold up the standard of work and to check incipient tendencies to violate the group code which should be determined jointly by the conductor and the group. Second, there must be justice tempered by kindness. Nothing undermines confidence in a teacher quicker than an unjust punishment. Third, the punishment should be adapted to the offense both in degree and kind. There can be no such thing as a punishment that is not painful, but over-severity is sure to cause a bad reaction. Appoint a disciplinary committee of students to hear cases and recommend punishment. Remember we, as educators, are interested in self-direction and self-discipline, not in the discipline of humiliation.
    Although the above statements apply to classroom situations as well as to the rehearsals, they are not general platitudes to be ignored. All too often rehearsals are completely wasted because a lack of communication exists between the conductor and the musicians, primarily because of discipline problems. The effective teacher communicates and relates to his students in a complete and penetrating manner at all times. He is conscious at all times of the importance of effective discipline procedures as they relate to his own personality within the teaching environment. He never rationalizes.
    We, as conductors, should never allow a student’s personal idiosyncrasies to detract from the image of the performing group. No student is “needed” that badly. As stated before, in many instances parental and general school permissiveness often contribute to serious discipline problems in our school bands and orchestras. Discipline functioning within the confines of group objectives is mandatory with respect to the worth and dignity of the individual and the necessity for effective communication both visual and aural. The individual serves the group; in turn, the group serves the individual. Without group and individual discipline, and unanimity of attitude and method on the part of the music educators, music can never maintain its stature within the academic structure of the school curriculum.

Edwin Kruth is coordinator of instrumental music and director of bands at San Francisco State College. He received the B.M. and M.M. degrees at the University of Michigan and the Ed.D. degree at Stanford University. He is a clarinetist and a recognized authority on woodwind instruments. (bio from 1967)