Band Roadblocks: Reasons Why You’re Not Improving As Much As You Would Like

I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a bit…impatient. Maybe it’s my sense of millennial instant gratification, or maybe it’s just pent up creative energy – whatever the case, it can be frustrating in music.

Improving your musical abilities takes time and effort, and it can be exasperating to feel like you’re putting in more than you’re getting out. This is especially true in band programs, where you’re side-by-side with musicians of all levels and it’s easy to compare yourself to others.

Here are a few roadblocks which could be preventing you from reaching your potential:

  • You don’t practice enough. Just like you have homework in math or science, practicing is your homework for band. Practicing isn’t a one size fits all activity. How much you should practice depends on your age, ability, schedule, and many other factors, so talk with your band director or private instructor for specific guidelines. Generally, I recommend students in middle and high school to practice 3-5 times a week for at least an hour.
  • You don’t practice properly. Unfortunately, taking the instrument out of its case and playing through marching band tunes does not count as practice (if only!). You should include specific goals in each practice session to improve your tone, technique, and musicality. Here’s my suggested practice pyramid to properly proportion your practice routine.
  • You count band class as practice. I’ve had many students who include band class as a practice session, and this is why they aren’t improving as quickly as they would like. Band class is for ensemble work – schedule personal practice time to improve your own technique and fundamentals.
  • You don’t have specific goals. Optimize your practice routine (and overall musical experience) by creating specific goals for yourself, such as auditioning for All State, competing in a competition, or trying out for music festivals. This will give you something to work towards and provide a sense of accomplishment once you complete your goals.
  • You’re not pushing yourself enough. Many band students give minimal effort but expect maximum results. In the words of clarinetist and pedagogue Kalmen Opperman, “Practice and hope, but never hope more than you practice.”
  • You’re not musically stimulated. Find artists, ensembles, and pieces to kindle your interest in your instrument or music in general. Search YouTube, Instagram, Google, your local listings, and other venues for anything that inspires you and makes you want to improve. For me, I had always enjoyed practicing clarinet and playing with my friends in band, but it wasn’t until I heard Robert Spring’s Dragon’s Tongue CD that I really became enamored with the clarinet and all the special effects and techniques it could do. (You don’t have to stick to just classical music either – I’m also inspired by international artists I’ve encountered during my travels, like Icelandic or Maltese rock bands!)
  • You’re not taking private lessons. If you’re doing all of these things but still feel like you’re not improving, consider taking private lessons. A qualified teacher can give you personalized feedback and troubleshoot any issues you might be having which prevent you from improving. Here’s my advice for taking lessons and finding the right private teacher.

I hope these suggestions help you on your road to musical improvement!