by: Sarah Bean Stafford
Granite Falls Middle School Band Director in Caldwell County, North Carolina
We’ve all been there. Looking out at a crowd of little, seemingly fresh-out-of-the-womb faces and think, “How am I going to convince these little children to make a lifetime decision to study music?”
Recruiting rising sixth graders (or in some cases around NC, seventh graders) is not an easy task, but it is a rewarding and fun experience. I promise. I think we all agree that every child who wants the opportunity to learn music should get the experience, and it is our job to ‘win them over’ before they even sign up.
When recruiting for your music program, feel free to refer to my ‘Top Ten’ tips. These work for me, and I hope they will work for you, too!
1. Seem Fun!
Sell yourself! You have qualities as a teacher that nobody else in your school possess. You teach a ‘FUN CLASS!’ They need to know this. Smile a lot. Look in their eyes, and move around the room. Introduce yourself in a positive way that gives them a little background on you. “My name is Mrs. Stafford, and I LOVE this elementary school! I went here too!” Engage them in the conversation. When introducing brass, I start with buzzing. I say, “Alright guys, I have a baby at home and he is adorable, but this is how he talks to me!” (I then do a buzz with my lips). “Do any of you have baby brothers and sisters at home? A buzz is like that, but a little bit firmer. Like this!” Look energized. Look excited. Drink a lot of coffee beforehand!
2. Move Around a Lot.
As I stated in number 1, I have had more success while moving around a room instead of standing on a stage. See if you can do your recruitment presentation in a cafeteria or a gym. While demonstrating the instruments, the kids want to see them. They will think of them as shiny new toys, and will admire them even more if they get an up-close, personal look. Plus, this will help the students see YOU better. As you play the instruments, get as close to the kids as you can. Speak with instruments in your hand.
3. Sell the Trombone!
Your band is only as good as your trombone section! This in an INVESTMENT. When I do my presentation at the elementary schools, I play each starting instrument for them. I play something fun (Cupid Shuffle, Uptown Funk) on each instrument, but I go all out on the trombone. It’s important to get as many students to play trombone as possible, and to make it a ‘fun’ instrument. Play the Charlie Brown’s teacher voice. Play a huge glissando- you can even go all out and invite a volunteer from the kids to come up and move the slide back and forth while you blow air through.
4. Have them fill something out at the first meeting.
When I am at the elementary schools, I hand out an interest form. The students fill out their current school, homeroom teacher, etc. I also have space on there for the children to give me email addresses and phone numbers. They tell me if they’ve taken piano lessons (this helps with instrument assignments… more to come on that later) and they pick their TOP THREE instrument choices. They indicate each choice with a number (1 being their first choice, and so on.) Even students who choose band as a second choice should fill this out- you’ll probably get a few in the summer that change their mind and decide to join, and this way, you won’t be starting out from scratch.
5. Instrument Assignments
This can get dicey. Not everybody can play percussion and alto saxophone. It helps when you really play up the trombone, as mentioned above, but you should go into this knowing you will only take a certain amount of percussion and certain amount of saxophones. Keep your instrumentation balanced (and realize that not everyone who turns in their interest form at the end of the presentation will end up participating in band!)
I usually have an unlimited amount of clarinet and trombone positions, and then take it from there. When selecting saxophone and percussion positions, remember that you don’t know these kids from a hole in the ground. I send a list of the students interested in percussion and saxophone to their elementary music teachers. I have them rank the students for musical aptitude. They know these kids much better than I do. Utilize these professionals!
6. Send home a packet of information ASAP.
Don’t wait too long on this. You could lose the students to another program if their interest dwindles after the presentation. My packet includes a permission slip with their instrument assignment on the top (Make it a really bright color!), then a list of my RECOMMENDED (not required) instrument brands, a supply list, tips and tricks, a list of ALL the surrounding area’s camps and private lesson teachers.
I tell them that it’s not required to get a head-start, but I find that if they are holding a list of private instructors and beginner camps in their hand, they’re more likely to use it. They are to turn in their brightly-colored permission slip (the louder the color, the better) to their homeroom teacher within one week of getting their packet. Then, go pick them up the next day, and remind the students that there are still trombone and clarinet positions available for any student who forgot to turn in their permission slip. (You can never have too many of those!)
7. Follow up!
The day of your recruitment, go through the stack of interest forms and create an email. Include every email address you have. Some kids will not know their parent’s email, and that’s fine, but it will at least give you a good start. Include all the fifth grade teachers, the fifth grade principal and scheduling coordinator (we call that our Data Manager here) and anyone else you can think of that could be a good recruiting tool for you. Here is an example of the message I sent out after my fifth grade visit:
Dear Fifth Grade Parents,
My name is Sarah Stafford, and I had the privilege and honor of meeting your fifth grade students today while I was at GFES! They were very attentive, listened well, and seemed really excited about the possibility of playing an instrument.
If you are getting this email, your student expressed interest in being in band next year at GFMS. I absolutely cannot wait to have them. Our band is award-winning, musical, and FUN. We have concerts, go on trips, win awards, and learn the value of hard work and dedication through musical education.
Pretty soon, your child will receive a packet of information from his/her homeroom teacher. This information will contain the instrument assignment, where to obtain a good quality instrument, what accessories your child will need, etc. If you go ahead and start looking now for an instrument, or have one readily available, please let me know so I can make sure it’s a brand that works well.
We are also really excited to offer something new this year- we will have a Band Camp for rising sixth graders in Caldwell County! It will be in June and will take place at South Caldwell. Your child will learn how to assemble the instrument, how to play a few fun songs, etc. Information will come in the packet on this opportunity, which is not required, but HIGHLY recommended. The packet will also include my recommended private instructors- your student is always able to take a few lessons over the summer to get started on their road to musical success!
Again, thank you for your time. Please allow your child to be in band- if you’re unable to afford to purchase or rent an instrument, please let me know. Do not let that stop your child- he may be the next Mozart! :) I will find SOMETHING for your budding musician to play.
Please encourage your friends with fifth grade students to contact me if they have an interest in joining our fun, amazing program!
Have a blessed day!
8. Follow up some more!
Keep at it! Your initial roster should be your starting point. Go to all the “Rising Sixth Grade Parent Nights”, and ask to give a mini-presentation. Send a few phone messages home throughout the rest of the school year, if your elementary schools allow you to do so. (I just emailed their principal to put out a phone call to all fifth grade parents, stating we still had positions open and to email me for info.) Keep the info train rolling with all the fifth grader’s parents. Sometimes kids just need a little push.
9. Don’t be afraid to let them ‘try out’ the instruments.
I’m not a huge fan of mouthpiece nights. They have their merits, but I think that barring any huge circumstances, a child can play whatever he/she has interest in. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. When I have a little more time, I like to take my mouthpiece cleaner and let volunteers come up and try the instruments during the presentation. Usually we just do mouthpieces on brass, barrel and mouthpiece on clarinet, and heajoints on flute. It’s fun for the kids to see their peers actually MAKING SOUNDS on these new, shiny objects.
10. Don’t take anything personally.
You will not keep every kid in band that turns in an interest form. It’s NOT about you. Whether they regret not taking the opportunity or not is not what should concern you. Ignore any negative comments or any students who decide your program isn’t right for them, even if it’s last minute. Focus on the children who you won over. They are excited about seeing you on that first day. They will remember your name. They will love you already, and you won’t even know their names. You will grow to learn about them and will see them blossom into young men and young women, and you will make a difference in their lives, and THAT is what you should take to heart.
About the author:
NAfME member Sarah Bean Stafford is the band teacher at Granite Falls Middle School in Caldwell County, NC. Currently, approximately half of the school is enrolled in band. She graduated with a degree in Music Education from Appalachian State University in 2007. While at ASU she served as principal clarinetist with the Wind Ensemble and the Symphony Orchestra, as well as section leader for the Marching Mountaineers.
During her time at Granite Falls Middle School, Mrs. Stafford has doubled the numbers in the band program and was named “Rookie Teacher of the Year” by her peers at GFMS. Mrs. Stafford’s band placed more students in the Caldwell All County Band, the Northwest District All District Band, and the North Carolina All State Band than had ever been done in the school’s history. Under her direction, the Granite Falls Middle School Band has received numerous Superior ratings at Music Performance Adjudication Events. She also had the privilege of conducting the Catawba County All-County Band.
Mrs. Stafford was nominated and selected by her colleagues to receive the “ENCORE” Award, given by the American School Bandmaster’s Association for outstanding young band directors in North Carolina. She is also serving a second term as Middle School Representative for the Northwest North Carolina Bandmasters Association, representing all middle school band directors in Northwest NC.
© National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)