Chapter 5: Planning

Systems | Routines | Seating Plans | Stop Yelling! | Setting Up | Time Management | Plan Your Year

Systems & Routines

Have a system. As a matter of fact, have a system for everything. Plan how you want classes to enter your room, get set up and how you want things to look when they leave. If the system is not working the way you hoped then change the system, not the students. Your school year will get off to a faster start in a direct correlation to how well you are prepared and able to teach your systems.

I have witnessed very successful systems that are worlds apart in philosophy and application. My room was almost always neat and clean; chairs and stands stacked in the corners of the room. My office desk was a different matter. I called it an “organized mess.” It looked bad, but I knew where everything was.


I teach every class a 5-minute individual warm-up. I expect every student to come into the band room, set up their chair, stand and instrument and immediately begin their warm-up. The warm-up consists of a mouthpiece warm-up, long tones, tonguing, lip slurs for brass and a trill exercise for woodwinds.

If the warm-up is completed before I am at the front of the room, students are expected to practice a scale, exercise or a part of a piece in the folder. This system allowed me about five or six minutes at the beginning of class to deal with issues.

I had a rule – if you are bleeding, come and tell me. Otherwise it can wait until I am at the front of the room.

Seating Plans

Seating plans can be your most effective classroom management tool. Tired of the same two students horsing around and wasting class time? Move one of them. In extreme cases I would have one or both guilty parties move their set-up right next to me.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. I often used a regular classroom-type arrangement of four or five straight rows with enough room between chairs that I could walk completely around every chair in the room. This enabled me to check postures, embouchures, finger placements, and so on.

Get away from your podium. One simple way to deal with issues is physical presence. Go stand next to a student having difficulty staying on task. You will also hear things that you never did while standing at the front of the room.

Stop Yelling!

I yelled a lot in the first 10 years of my career. It was stressful for me and everyone else in the room. I never raised my voice once in the last two years and those years marked the finest ensembles of my career. Be strict. Insist on your high expectations.

If you speak in a normal or even a quiet tone, the students will adapt by being quieter themselves. Then if you do raise your voice occasionally, it will be extremely impactful.

Setting Up

Flutes, clarinets, trumpets and possibly alto saxophones bring their cases to their chairs, set up their instruments and place the case under their chair. All others set up their instruments and leave the cases on their designated shelf. Nothing bothers me more than working in a room where I need to keep one eye on the floor, so that I will not trip over a saxophone case.

I walk around the room a lot when I teach band. I get a completely different take on the music my group is producing when standing in the middle or the back of the room. Ever get a comment from a festival adjudicator, listened to the recording and thought, “How in the world of beginner bands did I not hear that before now?”

I’ll tell you how that happens. You never leave the podium. If you want a different take at another level, leave the band room and listen from the hallway. You will be amazed at the difference.

Now we get to the end of the class time. If you are anything like me, the bell will go sometime during the last eight measures of a piece you are getting ready for festival. PLEASE try to shut the class down with at least a few minutes remaining. You cannot expect woodwinds to swab or percussionists to put mallets and auxiliary percussion away neatly if their minds are on Mrs. Snooty, the Grade 7 math teacher who is about to rip them a new one for being late.

Time Management

I once read an interview in The Instrumentalist of a once-retired middle school band director. This gentleman was widely known for his ability to develop quality ensembles in a less than high-income area. He loved what he did so much he returned to teaching in his 60s after trying retirement for a short time. One thing he said struck a chord with me: I have a 15 second rule; that is, I never stop the rehearsal for more than 15 seconds. If you have something important to say, then say it. Kids want to play music and learn. They don’t want to hear you go on and on about it.

I often struggled with time management, hearing the bell at the end of the period without getting to the most important objective of my lesson plan. Then I tried starting my classes by rehearsing or teaching that most important objective. Once you have obtained your musical objective, go back, maybe to the beginning of the piece, and work toward the spot in the piece you initially began the rehearsal with.

Don’t forget to leave a few minutes at the end of the period for announcements and dismissal. Try to eliminate the stress of kids running to their next class and being late.

Plan Your Year

Oct 9

Dec 10

Dec 11

Jan 21

Mar 8

Mar 15

Mar 24

Apr 27

Create a timeline of events for the coming school year.