During a long conversation with a parent of a 7th-grade cello player, we discussed the possible reasons behind her lack of practicing. The school she attends is fortunate enough to provide students with instruments, which they can sign-out and bring home as they please. Being both reasonable and realistic, the parent only asked for her to bring the instrument home on the weekend. Conveniently, the child “forgets” to bring the cello home.
To summarize our entire conversation, students in the 6th-9th grades are very concerned about their image. Toting a large instrument case, or any size for that matter, may not be the “coolest” thing in the eyes of their peers. Unfortunately, they care deeply about what their peers think of them at this age. In this particular case, the 7th-grade also student rode the school bus, which brings on an entirely different set of physical challenges that add to the existing image concerns.
Ultimately, the parent asked if I thought it was worth purchasing an instrument for her to keep at home so that she wouldn’t have to take the cello back and forth. In this situation, my answer is definitely “Yes.” It’s always good to own the instrument, so the child knows that you have invested in their extracurricular activity. This may inspire them to take it more seriously and not just see it as a class they were forced to take. Also, by having the instrument at home, accessibility is no longer an issue, so 30 minutes of daily practice should be incorporated into their daily schedule.
However, if you have purchased an instrument because the school does not supply one, I do not think you should purchase a second instrument just so the student can leave one at school. Most students do not have this luxury, and eventually should grow to appreciate their new interest, embrace their hobby, and have pride in being a part of the school band or orchestra. It will take some time (some longer than others), but please keep them motivated and it’ll all work out.
Here’s a list of ideas that may help speed up the process:
1. Take students to see professional band and symphony concerts whenever you have the opportunity
2. Listen to music that features the instrument he or she is learning to play
3. Find similarities between instrumental music and their favorite music genres and relate it to their everyday lives
4. Have them learn about famous people who play their instrument
5. Always try to make it fun and keep them engaged
This is a brief continuation to a caller’s question that came up on the show yesterday (July 15th). The caller inquired about the distinguishing characteristics between female vs. male preparation to play brass instruments, because there seems to be more of a challenge getting females to play in the brass section.
Since I did not have time to fully answer the caller’s question, I wanted to take the time to address the latter part of the question here, which I believe is a topic that goes deep into the mind of the female adolescent. Speaking from my experience as a Middle School Band Director, the brass instrument is not “what’s hot in the streets” to a 11 or 12 year old young lady. You will not see anyone playing a trombone serenading a couple while the guy proposes in a romantic setting, or a trumpet player dressed in white linen making sultry dance moves in a music video by the latest pop star. These instruments are not traditionally portrayed as being “sexy”.
If you’ve ever been in a school band, you may remember that very first day where the director gives a demonstration of each instrument and explains the importance of its role in the band. During this time, he or she is probably not selling all the instruments equally, because we already know that most of the boys are going to run to the back to play drums, and all the girls to a small, dainty instrument that can fit into their book bag, which is most likely the flute or clarinet. This is, of course, with the exception to those who already have an instrument that an older sibling played or have made up their minds to be the next Freddie Hubbard. Besides, whoever said it’s not cool to lug a tenor sax case through the halls and down the block? To the average young lady joining band, it’s more about convenience, or being “cute”. To the director, it’s about building and maintaining a balanced band program.
By no means do I say these things to bash on you young ladies. Believe me, we are just excited that you have decided to give the band a shot. I say these things to encourage you to go against the grain, if you wish to play an instrument in a male-dominated section. You have the right to play the instrument that you desire. I’m always impressed to see a young lady playing bari sax or tuba, and they are usually very good players. Think about the future opportunities you’ll experience traveling, meeting new people, and other advantages you’ll have being an elite musician playing an “uncommon instrument”.
Being different is a gift with which we are all born. Don’t misuse it by trying to fit in.
Avery L. McFadden