Navigating Your Child's Education: Grades 6-8

5 min read

Strike Up the Band!

Jan 20, 2022 8:00 PM

There is perhaps no story of a youth marching band more famous than the classic musical The Music Man. It is the story of a slick travelling salesman who poses as a music professor. Going by the name of Professor Harold Hill, the salesman convinces a small town in Iowa that they have troubled youth and offers them a solution: starting a boys’ band. “Professor” Hill smooth talks every young person and parent alike that they need to purchase instruments and uniforms to create this boys’ band, promising that they will all become proficient musicians in no time at all. What the townspeople do not know is that “Professor” Hill has no musical ability whatsoever and does not have the ability to teach youth to play instruments. Hill plans to skip town before his newly developed boys' band ever performs a note, but his plan goes awry. He ends up “leading” the boys' band, complete with their brand-new instruments and uniforms, in a—creative—rendition of Beethoven’s Minuet in G. Despite the proper music knowledge or training, the parents are thrilled to see their children in the “band.”  

While The Music Man tells a humorous story and paints a rather colorful picture of youth band involvement, there are a couple of things that the script gets right--parents do tend to be deeply proud of their children (and rightly so!), and band is great for students.

Band can be a positive experience for a student—whether they seem naturally “musical” or not. Middle school is typically a time in which band becomes an option for students to consider. Fifth and sixth grades are an ideal time for parents to discuss with their students whether band is a good fit for them. It is around this time that students become physically and cognitively equipped to explore band.  

Although it may seem like an odd consideration, the physicality of band instruments is something to think about. Unlike orchestra instruments that can be made half-size, band instruments rarely come in scaled sizes. Their weight and the finger-width required limits young children from being able to play them. But when a child approaches the tween and early teen years, most are physically capable of handling a band instrument. 

Lower School Boy

Late elementary and early middle school age is also ideal in terms of cognitive development. As the tween brain’s executive function capabilities become more online, they are better able to multitask and synthesize multiple subjects. Learning music is like learning a second language. In band, students learn to recognize music symbols, how to translate those symbols and transfer them to other scenarios, and how to create them with their instrument. During those fifth and sixth grade years of development, students seem to maintain the sponge-like receptivity of their youngest years while also developing and utilizing more complex ways of thinking.  

There are a few things I encourage parents and students to think about as they consider joining their school’s band. 

There are many benefits for students involved in band. Of course, their musical knowledge grows, they can develop greater body awareness and coordination, and their cognitive capabilities are stretched in healthy ways. But beyond these more obvious benefits, there is a great deal of social growth that takes place in the band environment. Band provides such a powerful sense of camaraderie. Learning and creating music together naturally creates a deep bond—a unique experience that provides for a special level of getting to know each other. There is a reality of acceptance and connection on par with being on an athletic team. Band members typically function and interact as a family unit rather than a classroom unit. And just as individual play affects the whole team in sports, so too, band students experience the impact they have on others. The fun, camaraderie, and team mindset of band can lead to tremendous social growth. 

One other point of consideration for parents and students considering band or who are early in their band experience is this: Stay with it. While it is true that band is fun and typically a tight-knit social experience, it can feel a bit like exercise at the beginning. No one really likes exercise when they begin a new training program or health regimen—it can feel challenging or even unnatural. But as an individual establishes that exercise routine and becomes accustomed to it, it begins to feel really good. Band is similar for young students. In order to truly experience band, I recommend at least three years of participation. In this period of time, students grow in their instrument proficiency and can get to the “It feels good to play” stage. They also get a more comprehensive exposure to musical elements and different types of music, as well as the time necessary to experience that camaraderie mentioned above. 

If parents or students have any concerns or questions before taking a dive into band, I highly recommend contacting your school's band director. 

Topics: Middle School

Tim Miner
Written by Tim Miner

Tim Miner currently serves as the band director of Worthington Christian School. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education from Akron University and a Masters degree in Band Conducting from Sam Houston State University. He worked as a music teacher and band director at a private school in Florida for seven years before joining WC's faculty. He has also worked as a private music instructor for over 15 years.