How to attract kids to brass bands? Particularly girls?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jen125, Mar 14, 2017.

  1. Jen125

    Jen125 New Member


    We're trying to build up our learner/development band again after it fell away to nothing. We've got a few kids coming along regularly, but we really need a plan in place to grow it a lot more.

    We're also about to apply for a funding grant and need to come up with an implementation plan to grow this band. In particular, there are questions about how we will attract girls to the activity.

    Has anyone got any suggestions of things that have worked at your band - to attract both boys and girls? As a woman, myself, who grew up in brass bands, I've been trying to think what got me along and kept me going, but that was quite a long time ago and the memory is a little fuzzy.

    I've thought perhaps we could put on a couple of workshops during the year to get kids who are already learning music along and then, hopefully, get them to transition from the workshop into the band (if they're not ready to join up right away). But that's all I've got so far, so ideas definitely needed.

  2. Euphman2

    Euphman2 Active Member

  3. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I would second the above approach - at the moment you just have to reformat it slightly to pick it out from the other text.

    It seems to me that nearly everyone struggles to get youngsters to play an instrument so don't expect instant success or a 'silver bullet'. The good news is that some bands do a particularly good job of getting the youngsters through the door and have several bands of all age learners underneath the 'main' band - IMHO they're very much the exception to the rule, but they do provide a good role model. I became aware of this example by chance: Melingriffith 4 | City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) Brass Band | The Oldest Band in Wales

    Your Band might like to go into some of your local Junior Schools to put on a few ensemble performances and also to play at their annual fete too; if peripatetic teachers work in your area then get in contact with them as some might be supportive; an ad' in your Band's local paper might work and then you could leaflet say the nearest 500 homes to your Band Room with an offer and an invitation to an open day.

    The (community) brass bands that I play in are about 50/50 male to female and the kids that I've come across tend to be more girls than boys, perhaps my experience isn't typical but I suspect that you'll struggle to get boys rather than girls.

    Maybe different in Nth Qld, North Queensland?
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2017
  4. Euphman2

    Euphman2 Active Member

    About 25 years ago, a band for which I played advertised in the local press offering to teach (children) from scratch. We ended up with about 24 from just about able to blow standard to a small group capable of playing a few numbers in our concert intervals, and some were parents who brought their kids along and decided to "have a go" themselves.
    Most still play and at least two play / have played at championship level.
    It took some hard work from senior band players helping to teach but was worth it.
    As you had a beginner band, I presume you have access to instruments, which we lacked at first
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  5. Jen125

    Jen125 New Member

    Thanks. We're definitely going to have to get senior members involved more to give some tuition. I remember when I started, whenever someone was having trouble with their part and the conductor didn't want to stop the whole group to keep going over one part over and over, the people on that part would go away with a senior band player for a small group tutorial on that section. That worked quite well, so they're definitely a resource we'll need to call on.

    I like the idea of getting the new junior band to play at school events, or community events. A lot of schools in the area have good music programs, which should be a good thing, but some of our members are of the view that those schools don't encourage (or even discourage) their students from taking part in music activities outside of their school commitments. That's nothing like how things were when I went to school, and might not be true, but is at least a perception we need to overcome, if only internally.
  6. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Jen, the band I'm learning with had a slightly different problem, recently; so many junior learners that they needed more tutors!

    In your post just above you say:
    "We're definitely going to have to get senior members involved more to give some tuition."

    Now that might seem perfectly rational and plain old common sense - but I have my doubts.

    For one thing, as I've found out to my cost more than once, and in a wide variety of activities and jobs, the fact that someone can do something well is no guarantee that they can teach it. Some experts that I've worked with in the past, ranging from riding instructors to radio engineers, were brilliant at doing the job, but couldn't explain how it was done to someone else to save their lives. Conversely, one of the finest instructors I ever had would be the first to tell you how limited his own knowledge was of the subject - but, by golly, what he knew he could put across to anyone, and make that understanding stick!

    One lesson he gave us was on the workings of negative feedback in radio amplifiers and oscillators (he was an RAF radio instructor). Our whole class had been struggling this for two solid weeks and getting nowhere with our regular instructor - until he was off sick. For one day. And we had this corporal instead. Now, anyone who's had to deal with negative feedback in this context will tell you it's like the old 'which came first; the chicken or the egg?' paradox - only worse, much, much worse!! Yet a single lesson of forty minutes, and this corporal had cracked it for everyone in the class. That was in 1972 - and his explanation is still as clear in my mind today as it was then.

    One point he made has stayed with me ever since, and I've used it as my watchword in training steam loco firemen and signalmen to work on preserved steam railways:
    "My job as your instructor is NOT to show you what a clever clogs I am - but to show you that you can be a clever clogs, too!"

    Another point about tutors; they need to take an approach with learners which encourages learners and leaves them wanting more! Wanting to play better - and convinced that, if they put a bit of effort in, they can do it. And just because someone is older does not mean they are sure to have the ability to suss out what each learner needs, and deliver it to them; after all, every human being is a one-off, and what works well for one learner may fail with another, and be a complete disaster for someone else. With any sort of teaching, "one size does NOT fit all!"

    And a final point about those you choose as tutors - and especially for young children; please don't underestimate the ability of your younger players to do the job. They are, after all, well aware of how young children learn from playing games and having fun! If you make it into a slog, most young learners will give up quite soon; add enough spice and humour to keep it enjoyable, and they'll throw themselves into learning with tremendous drive and energy.

    Three of the tutors in the band I'm learning are under the age of eighteen; one of them is, I think, only about eleven or twelve years old. But all of them have grown in character and self-confidence as they've taken young learners under their wing - and you only have to look at the faces of their pupils to see how much they enjoy the process of learning to play brass.

    To me, that's the key; keep the learners enjoying it enough to want more, and children's natural zest for new experiences will do the rest.

    As for the success of the band's approach to teaching, I think the results speak for themselves. At a rough guess, I'd say that half the members are under the age of 30; about one third are still of school age; at a concert last year, the MD told the audience that only five of the players had learnt with another band - the rest all started with this one; and the band has just won promotion to the First Section.

    HTH, Jen - and best regards,

    Jack E.
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  7. Jen125

    Jen125 New Member

    Thanks, Jack that's a really interesting point, and might also help our funding application, if we can put in a system where young people are both learning (absolute beginners) and developing teaching skills as they progress with the band. As I understand it, the group we have in our learner band at the moment is at rather different levels of abilities and some of the more advanced kids are getting bored, but giving them a new challenge of tutoring the newbies could help keep them engaged, as well.

    Our tutors don't need to be experts, they just need to know enough to be able to help someone who knows less than them. And, of course, be willing to help. That should also help build leadership skills for when they (hopefully) stick around to run the band in years to come.
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  8. Euphman2

    Euphman2 Active Member

    I always told parents of kids I "tought" that I had no formal qualifications but could only get them so far and once they were beyond my help, more professional tutoring would be necessary if the child was to progress.
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  9. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Very true - but even the best tutor can only take a pupil so far! But, if you did no more than show your pupils that they can play a brass instrument, and that playing brass is fun as well as satisfying, you got their musical development off to a flying start, Euphman; what more could a parent ask than that?
    2nd tenor likes this.
  10. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    Is there a local music service you can contact?
    Do you know where your local "Music Hub" is based?

    They may be able to help out, especially with getting contacts in the schools. They might also be able to point you in the direction of decent tutors (nothing against the idea of getting older members to help out, but as has been pointed out there can be a HUGE difference between someone who is "trying to help" and someone who knows what they are doing).
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  11. Slider1

    Slider1 Active Member

    It also helps if the choice of music is what they want to play and not what the M.D. wants to Conduct.
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  12. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    My inclination is to agree with Jen125 above, but that's just based on my own experiences which might not be typical or reflect the best of what is possible in an 'ideal world'. A little while back there was a thread which overlapped with teaching and player skills, it might well be worth a read through:

    If you want to attract kids then, as Slider says above, make sure that they are given music that they enjoy playing. Follow that by making sure that they are conducted by someone personable or entertaining who's primary aim is to run a session that is fun for each and every player there. Kids respond to praise and fun, and they will bring their pals and come back next week for more of it.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
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  13. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    THIS - Absolutely!
    Many conductors (and I will happily include myself in this category) start off thinking they will have students who are interested in playing "test pieces" or pieces that give the conductor more to do than just beat 4 beats in a bar whilst all the players just listen to the drums.
    Ask the members what they would like to play.
    Yes, there will be SOME who are attracted to the challenge of a test piece style piece, but others will give you suggestions that you have never heard of let alone considered as a piece for brass. You can then spend hours searching all the catalogues to see if there is an arrangement of what they want to do. If not, see if you can get permission to do one yourself (or encourage them to do likewise).
    The request list from my student ensemble currently runs to over a page of A4 - as funds become available we are slowly purchasing new music, but no sooner have we got a couple of new pieces from the list than another 4 or 5 will be added, lol.

    Yes, do introduce pieces that will challenge them, but don't run away from the cheese or popular music - it's all about the balance.
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  14. BariB

    BariB New Member

    I have been playing with one of the learner type bands under the MAIN band for about seven years, whilst playing with other bands. We have competed in both the youth and fourth sections but have recently suffered since our best players have passed into the MAIN band. We have another learner band for those who have just started and the leaders run one to one sessions to get kids with no experience up to a point where they can join in with one of the groups. This is all included with bad membership which is the same for all no matter how many rehearsals they attend each week.
    We can put in requests but often its down to us finding it in our library then taking it to our MD who will work out whether it can be played with the number of/level of players we have at that time. We currently have more boys than girls but only just.
    We have kids coming in as friends of those already members and we are a really close knit group. I personally travel for about half an hour but most come from no more than ten min's away.
    I also help out with a Cory Academy Band which runs out of my high school and we often go into the near by primary school and do mini concerts or workshops. Here we have more girls than boys but the boys tend to be more persistent. We get new people wanting to join all the time and currently have about 18 (I think) at different skill levels. I am constantly amazed at how quickly these young people progress as I see them move on much quicker than I remember myself.
    I came to banding after playing for a couple of years and chose my band for proximity as I was between three or four bands all round about a half hour away from me. I think being visible was another great draw because I could check up about my current band and the others I was looking at just weren't as clear about what type of band/level of ensemble I would be playing with and I knew going to my current band would let me play with people from a mix of ages, not leaving me alienated by being with too nany people younger or older than me.

    Not sure how much this will help. :)
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  15. Toxophile

    Toxophile Member

    We have 5 bands in our organisation ranging from complete beginners through to the senior band. If you go to the youth or academy bands you will see senior band members playing alongside the beginners. Go to our Christmas concert and all 5 bands get on stage for the finale. We make the beginners part of the whole organisation and they see members progress through to the senior band. We have an approach of growing our own players and it works really well.
  16. Jen125

    Jen125 New Member

    Wow! Some really great points to think about.

    In this grant application I'm writing, I'll certainly include money for music - we did just get a grant to buy music for the youth band, but if we want this to have legs and really build into something, we do need a decent library of contemporary music (as well as the older stuff we can pull out from time to time). I definitely remember enjoying the more popular songs when I was first coming up through the band. And having some things to play that they can recognise the melody to straight away is going to be more fun than a lot of obscure pieces they've never heard of (there will be some of that, no doubt, but get them hooked with popular stuff).

    I've been thinking about the idea of doing a concert series at local schools, so it's good to hear that that has been successful for other bands.
  17. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    The above is unfortunately so very true, some academically able teachers are the source of much completely unnecessary pain for their students and in some cases a distinct obstacle or even a bar to their students further progress too. I'd rather be taught by someone like that Corporal any day; the people best able to help others understand a topic are those who understand the topic (at least) sufficiently for the course and teach in such a way as to overcome the difficulties that their students might have in assimilating the information. Of course one solution doesn't fit all, I've just highlighted what I've observed to work best for me and many others.

    Separate topic? Should children teach other children? Given the right circumstances, the right supervision and the right children I don't see why not. Children are often far more capable than we allow them to be. Thinking back to when my own children were in their early teens they were capable people who could and did help others, they were also near enough to having struggled with some things to be empathic to others and able to explain what had allowed them to understand a subject better. Similarly parents who have seen their child struggle with some academic problem and helped them over it seem at least as able, in a limited area, as professional teachers. I guess that there is scope for some cascade of knowledge between teachers, students who also teach and students who are still at the beginning of their studies; certainly involving more able and mature 'children' in the running of things shows a positive view of and commitment by band towards them that can surely be only positive for any such organisation.

    Children certainly can be a Band's greatest Ambassador in reaching out to other children, and a quick look into any County Youth Band (and maybe some City Youth Bands too) to see skill levels will show some very able musicians - most of them can match or beat the skills of adults playing in Commumity and Fourth Section Bands.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2017
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  18. Boxfive

    Boxfive New Member

    I'm in a youth brass band, in a program (in America) that has 3 full-sized high school-exclusive youth bands under the adult band. In America this is quite an achievement. What has led to this, I think, is the coordination with local high school band directors. One of the youth band directors teaches at a local high school, another is a private teacher and instructor with a local school marching band. Of course, these are not things you may have, but I think the success comes from getting a foothold in the schools in the area and with their teachers. Once a few kids join up, oftentimes they will encourage friends :)
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  19. Jen125

    Jen125 New Member

    Sounds like the schools and teachers in your area are quite supportive of your youth brass band. Some of the schools around here have fantastic music programs, but there is a belief in our band that schools and music teachers actively discourage students to play with community bands or, at the very least, won't encourage them. I find that belief absolutely astounding, because that's nothing like my experience coming through school (which was a little while ago, but not back in the stone age). It's not the first band I've been a part of that has the belief, either. I suspect they've been put off by the work required to recruit people - it's not as easy as just saying "we have a band" and then watching the crowds roll in. It's obviously going to take hard work, and consistent work, over a period of time. We also need to make sure we create a group and an environment that people want to come along to. I do hope our current members are up to the task.
  20. Boxfive

    Boxfive New Member

    Very sad. I do realize that I'm lucky to live in an area and go to a school in which I can participate in as much musical activity as I have time for-- wind band, brass band, jazz band, marching band (and drum corps, musical pit, and full orchestra I'd I had the time). Also infinitely lucky to live in one of the extremely few places in the United States in which brass band is very very popular.

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