Roadmap to Success in 8 Easy Steps: The Beginning Year

curriculum pacing pedagogy planning Apr 02, 2024

By Rob Chilton

Do you have a curriculum guide–a detailed listing of everything to be taught in your beginning band, choir, or orchestra classroom? Here’s an example of one of my past guides:

Today, we’ll discuss steps to develop or improve your own guide as you plan for the future!


1. Create a Template

Decide on the following:

Time Frame: What time frame (yearly, monthly, weekly, etc.) do you want to schedule your instruction?

📚 Content Categories: How would you like to organize (literacy, tone, scales, method book, etc.) your content?


2. Regarding the Time Frame

The time frame is crucial to scheduling and executing your plan. Here are my thoughts:

Daily: Too strict. Won’t allow for the unpredictable nature of the day-to-day.

Weekly: Perfect! Provides urgency while still allowing for slow or interrupted days.

Monthly: Too grand. Too much time can lead to a lack of urgency under the belief you have more time than you actually do to complete lessons.


3. Evaluate Your Content

In its simplest form, beginning band, choir, and orchestra curriculum can be reduced to the following categories:

Music Literacy: Instruction that empowers students with the ability to read, understand, and perform the written musical language.

🎺 Instrumental/Vocal Pedagogy: Instruction that enables students to perform with characteristics tone, articulation, and technique with their instrument/voice.


4. Regarding Music Literacy

To develop self-sufficient musicians, the following should be systematically taught the first year:

Rhythm: The most important element of the musical language. Students should not only know how to play certain rhythms, but understand how rhythm works as a whole.

Staff Notation: Includes the musical alphabet, clefs, lines/spaces, note names, ledger lines, accidentals, key signatures, and more.

Piano Keyboard: The perfect representation of the musical language. Understanding it increases comprehension of accidentals, enharmonics, scales, and more.

Vocabulary: Helps students understand instructions, especially when rehearsing in large ensembles.

Composition: Even on a basic level, composition helps students internalize and synthesize music in their brains just the way writing text improves fluency in language.

Something we did was set aside one day a week to teach music literacy–typically on Wednesday or Thursday. We called them “theory days” or “Theory Thursdays” before transitioning to the word literacy–a word more encompassing of what we were teaching.

Looking for an effective music literacy method?

5. Regarding Instrumental/Vocal Pedagogy

Instrumental/vocal pedagogy in the beginning year can be summarized by the following:

🎺 Tone: Students learn to perform with characteristic sounds for their level and develop instrument/voice-specific skills such as vibrato. Tone can be taught via fundamental exercises and reinforced in all music.

👅 Articulation: Students learn to characteristically start notes. Articulation can be taught via fundamental exercises and reinforced in all music.

🎻 Technique: Students develop dexterity, flexibility, and range appropriate for their level. Technique can be developed through exercises, scales, a method book, and concert literature.


6. Set Reasonable Goals

One common mistake is assuming students can learn more and faster than they actually can. Over the years, I’ve reduced the quantity of content seeking an increase in the quality of learning. Here are a few changes I’ve found helpful:

Teaching Only ~50% of the Method Book: Rather than teach every line, I chose my favorite 35-50 lines of educational value spanning cover-to-cover. This allowed me to reach the end of the book by the end of the first year, exposing my students to a variety of material.

Teaching Only One-Octave Scales: For years, I tried teaching full-range scales in the beginning band. Mostly, this was so I could prepare my students for their regional auditions the following year. However, I felt I was spending too much time on scales and not enough time on literature–resulting in less than desired reading skills when applied to the instrument. Once I released myself from the self-induced pressure of regional auditions, I decided one-octave scales were the way for me. I still made multiple-octave scales available, but only taught the one-octave scales in class the first year.

Prioritizing Music Literacy: I started teaching music literacy separate from instrumental pedagogy on a weekly basis in 2013. Early on, I’d occasionally skip the midweek literacy lesson whenever behind in the book or scales. I eventually realized this wasn’t helpful as I noticed an increase in notational and rhythmic roadblocks later on.


7. Check-in with Your Guide

Check-in with your guide weekly, but remember, your classes won’t always be on track. Some race ahead while others fall behind–and that’s okay! Always pick-up where you’ve left off, especially when a class gets behind. You can push them, but you can’t force them. Forcing seldom yields positive results. Best practice is to meet them where they are and focus on the pathway forward.


8. Update Your Guide

At the end of each year, compare your progress against your guides and make adjustments for the following year. Try not to reinvent the wheel! Oftentimes, small adjustments yield big gains. It may take several years for you to get to where the pacing is right and you’re comfortable with the quantity and quality of your results.


Final Thoughts

Consider the following:

Use the Template: If this is your first time drafting a guide, the job can feel daunting. Start with the provided template and tweak it. Over time, you’ll make it your own!

📅 Not everything has to be taught in the beginning year! Try to focus on what things must be taught. Some things–like literacy, tone, and articulation–are easier to teach the first year before habits are formed.

📓 Even when you deviate, it’s better to have a plan! Remember, your guide serves as a reminder of where you originally wanted to go. With it you can measure the distance between where you are and where you want to be. It’s always better to know where you are than to be guessing!

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About the author:

Rob Chilton is the creator and owner of Readymade Music, LLC and its content. Previously, Chilton was a middle school band director from 2007-2021. His most recent teaching position was the Head Band Director at Killian Middle School in Lewisville, Texas from 2014-2021.

Under his direction, the Killian Honors Band was named the 2018 Texas Music Educators Association CC Honor Band and performed at the annual 2018 TMEA Clinic/Convention. In 2019, the Killian Honors Band was invited to and performed at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Additionally, the Killian Honors Band was named a National Winner in the Mark of Excellence National Wind Band Honors Project in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Chilton is a graduate of Southern Methodist University where he had the opportunity to study music education under the tutelage of Lynne Jackson and Brian Merrill. During his years as a middle school band director, Chilton continued his professional growth under the guidance of his primary clinicians, John Benzer and Brian Merrill.

Chilton’s mission for Readymade Music is to promote the overall well-being of music education and support school music teachers by providing solutions to help make teaching music more efficient and inspirational while increasing engagement for 21st century learners.

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