Small Ensembles Unit: Middle School Band Students Do Hard Things

Amy Barnard

Sometimes we don’t realize just how much we can accomplish until we step into the unknown.

Each winter band instructor Brandon Delbow turns his class and the spring band concert over to his students.

Dividing the students into groups, he instructs them to find their own music, figure out how to make it work for their group's instrumentation, rehearse, and prepare an introduction. They then perform that music during an event patterned after an art crawl, where the audience moves from space to space to experience the performance of each group, a sort of musical "Choose Your Own Adventure."

“Every year students are editing something they've been given to better fit their group,” Delbow says. Some students compose their own music or write new parts to match their instruments.

“During this unit, I purposefully don't tell them what to do, but ask them questions...then they think of ways to do it on their own.”

Requiring this deeper level of ownership over the process changes how students understand their music as well as their own potential.

“When they come back to full ensemble after the small ensemble unit they sound a grade older because they've had to think, learn, and perform with greater understanding,” Delbow says.

Three photos of Middle School musicians in a variety of classrooms performing with hats and/or sunglasses.

Students also express their creativity by dressing to fit their music.

By encouraging students to push the edges of their perceived abilities and giving greater independence, faculty members prepare them for the day when there won’t be a parent or kindly teacher at their side guiding them. Students develop a mindset that looks at challenging tasks and says, I can do that.

*An extra thank you to the parents of these students for providing photos for this blog!

Take the Next Step!

Visit the Admission Center