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Teaching the First Five Notes for Band

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Trumpet and Saxophone on a teal wood background

Are you teaching beginning band, and wondering the best ways to teach and/or review the first five notes? In this blog post, I'm outlining five ways to teach the first five notes on any band instrument.

Long Tones

As a trumpet player, I often warmed up with long tones. Typically, I would play a note for 8 beats, starting off with a crescendo for the first four beats, then a decrescendo to the eighth beat. Beginning band students don't always have the chops for this, though, so you could start off with whole notes without any crescendo or decrescendo, then add a crescendo for the first two beats and a decrescendo for beats 3 and 4, and then work up to 6 beats of long tones (3 getting louder, 3 getting quieter), and then finally get to 8. Students can do this on each of their first five notes; you might put 4 beats of rest in between so that they have time to figure out the fingering for the next note, and to give their lips a rest. This is a helpful way to get students comfortable with each note and each fingering, and to build their stamina.

For percussion, you could approach it in a variety of ways: you could have them play quarter notes as everyone else plays the long tones, you could have them roll on the note, or you could have them play an ostinato (like ti-ti ta ti-ti ta) as everyone plays.

Rhythm Flashcards

A good way to not only practice the first five notes but also improve rhythmic understanding is to have students play patterns from rhythm flashcards (like these).

I have my rhythm flashcards organized by concept, so that each rhythmic concept is on a different color paper (light blue for half note, beige for ta and ti-ti, etc.) Before students even put together their instrument, you might have them get out their mouthpiece or head joint, and first say the pattern with rhythm syllables, then play it on the mouthpiece or head joint (with percussionists simply playing it on their drum pad or bell kit.) Then, they can put together their instruments and do the same, on each of their first five notes.

Use Solfa

If your students have learned solfa, it can be really beneficial to have them transfer that understanding to their instruments. For example, you might tell clarinets and trumpets that their “do” is C, saxophonists that their “do” is G, etc. Then, have them all play do together, either as a long tone or on a rhythm pattern. Then do the same with other solfa. There have been years that my students in beginning band hadn't yet been taught fa; in those cases, I went ahead and taught it to them, or had them figure it out (as many of them have seen “Sound of Music” and will be able to tell you what's between mi and sol!)

Once students have a good understanding of this, you could have a song written on the board with stick notation and solfa…and students have to figure it out on their instruments!

Five Notes PowerPoint

I recently found this awesome product by Drew from the Busy Band Director on TpT, and SO wish I'd found it earlier! You can open up the PowerPoint, then go to “layout” to choose the instrument, then choose a rhythm and a tempo, and students can play along with a backing track! This could be super successful in sectionals, as well as for at home practice. I love that students can self-differentiate by choosing their tempo and rhythm, and that they can hear what the note should sound like as they play! (If you're looking for more band resources, check out Drew's FB page here.)

Folk Songs

If you've been teaching your band students since Kindergarten, they likely know loads of folk songs, which they can now learn on their instrument! Like I discussed above, you could have the stick notation and solfa for these written out for students, or you could write with traditional staff notation and have them learn it that way. Some songs I've had students learn with their first five notes include “Pease Porridge Hot,” “Closet Key,” and “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.”

Looking for materials with these songs already written out in the key of each instrument? Check out this supplemental band book bundle, which I've used in conjunction with a method book, like “Essential Elements”:

I hope this has been helpful for you as you teach the first five notes for beginning band! Feel free to comment below with any additional ideas, and happy teaching!

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