Teaching music theory in the traditional wind band rehearsal: A rationale, survey of materials, and recommendations

Eric Lynn Harris

Abstract

Band programs in today's schools are facing pressures unheard of in the early days of the public school band movement. While budget limitations have always been a part of the public school dilemma, never before have directors been forced to fight so hard for the very existence of their programs. School administrators facing district, state, and federal testing pressures are spending more and more of the annual budget in an attempt to raise test scores. This means programs in the arts and even athletics are being greatly reduced (and in some cases eliminated) in school systems across the country. To ensure band's continued inclusion in the school course offering, directors must help administrators, parents, colleagues, and even students understand that band is a valid and worthwhile academic pursuit. One means of achieving this goal is through the inclusion of a written music theory component as part of the daily band class. Not only does this instruction elevate the academic status of the band program in the eyes of the school and community it also offers great musical benefit to the students in the band. Teaching music theory in band is not a new idea. Its proponents have existed since the early days of public school bands. However, with increased emphasis on marching bands, competitions, and awards, many directors have lost sight of their curricular responsibilities in haste to prepare for the next performance. A lack of suitable teaching material has also kept theory instruction out of the band class. Most extant texts are written for piano students or are college preparatory in nature and do not work well in the large ensemble setting. This document seeks to encourage theory instruction in the band class: (1) by providing teachers with commentary from leading wind conductors and music educator's who advocate its inclusion in the band curriculum; (2) by offering teachers a catalog of theory texts that can be used as models for custom materials; and (3) by outlining a comprehensive music theory curriculum (including sample lessons, exercises, and quizzes) written specifically for use in the daily band class. It is hoped that this type of instruction will improve the knowledge, understanding, and performance of public school bands and will help to secure a long and happy future for them as an academically defendable part of the school course offering.