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Jam School

What Band Students Can Learn from Guitar Players

What would you say if I told you that there was a class in school that many students take for 7-9 years, get straight A's and graduate high school with practically no real-world skills in that subject area?

Now, what if I told you that in the same school system, this same subject was being learned by others as a hobby, either on their own or through private lessons? And further, what if I told you that a significant percentage of these hobbyists went on to excel in this same subject area with far more success than the students with 6 years or more of credit classes?

Well, the subject is not a foreign language and it's not Home Ec. It's music. Despite well-equipped music programs with professional instructors, most school band students are failing to take full advantage of what's being offered them.  In the meantime, other students who lack formal training are forming bands of their own and learning a lot. Perhaps it's time that school musicians took a look at the hard work and common sense that makes these unschooled musicians so successful. 

So, what are school bands and orchestras good for?
School bands and orchestras provide performing opportunities that the average country or rock guitar player can hardly conceive. Music so sophisticated and esoteric that it takes a college educated professional (your band director) just to run the group. The synergy of 40-100 musicians in one group, playing and breathing together. Ranges of dynamics and tone color no synthesizer and no bank of guitar stomp-boxes could even hope to touch. Examples of the most exquisitely crafted  harmony and counterpoint, that become part of the student's experience. The teamwork. NOTHING matches the power of 100 souls in sync.

Why can't school bands and orchestras teach these other skills?
It's difficult to teach these individualized skills in the context of a performing group. School bands and orchestras are not meant to be the sole source of a person's musical education. Instead, they make available performing opportunities that would be impossible elsewhere. School bands and orchestras provide students with a venue for daily rehearsal, expensive low-pitch instruments that most individuals couldn't afford to own, a library of well-crafted, artistic music, and a professional music educator to guide young players through the process.

The whole point of this essay is that these other common-sense skills are those that people learn from other musicians, or teach themselves. They are individual skills, that would be hard for a band director to teach and test in classes that might contain 100 students each. It is up to the individual student to build physical skills, explore other creative outlets, and to contribute his/her best musicianship to the school band.

How does a band/orchestra student go about acquiring these other skills?
Home practice is first and foremost, but the larger issue is in how the student views his/her music. The healthiest view, in my opinion, is that music is a pastime...a hobby. People do it for fun. But like most sports, there is some skill and knowledge necessary to make the fun possible. Students need time alone with their instruments, and they need the basic skills necessary to explore successfully. They need to hear their instrument played by top artists, and they need to hear it playing things that they can learn to imitate. They need the experiences that cause formal instruction to come to life. That's why this website features Jam School, a place full of starting points from which students can launch their own exploration of music. Young musicians need musical pursuits of their own, and top priority must be placed on nurturing their curiosity. Students need the following conditions:

Students who have these conditions and who make good use of them can learn rapidly with the help of an experienced musician. Private lessons can be extremely valuable in providing the first two elements. Having time to work the instrument is a matter of the student's personal priorities.

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