Gila Vista teacher putting focus on pitch
The tonal noise of an electronic metronome app bounces around the room as students ready their instruments, lifting their arms, fingers hovering over tone holes or resting on valves. Mouths are poised, feet are flat on the floor, shoulders are (maybe not perfectly) set, all eyes are on the teacher.
“Ready for set 8? Let’s listen first, then play,” Candace Brown tells her small group of band campers.
Breathing, posture, fingering, she reminds them. Don’t worry about reading the musical notes yet — just play what you hear.
The setting is the first summer band camp at Gila Vista Junior High School and students are learning the fundamentals of playing an instrument in a non-traditional way — by ear.
“I’m modeling all of these instruments for the students so that they can know what they should sound like,” Brown explained, a trombone, clarinet, flute and a trumpet at her feet (a piano sits a few feet off to her side). “I model it so that they can understand what they’re shooting for.”
Understanding how to breathe and developing a sense of pitch (aka developing an “ear”) are the two most important factors in the instrument learning process, Brown said.
“Believe it or not, most people don’t know how to take a deep breath. It’s a foreign concept, we don’t think about our breathing, so to make that a conscious thing is one of your main goals when you are first learning how to play,” the music teacher said.
The two-week summer band program is Brown’s first foray into the camp format and is designed for incoming sixth-graders and older students who may be considering joining the school band. Being able to read music is not a requirement.
“Reading music is completely secondary to playing the instrument and being able to hear it,” Brown explained. “Basically they’re learning a language. So they learn how to speak it first. They learn how to hear it first, recognize it first, and then we focus on reading it. So you’ll notice like, as we go through the exercises, we’re just doing everything by ear.”
The camp, which is mostly free, is mainly for Gila Vista students who might not have transportation or funds to attend larger band camps at other campuses. Students pay for instrument rental and materials (such as reeds, music and other incidentals), Brown said.
“One of the biggest barriers to participating in the instrumental program here at Gila Vista is renting an instrument. Parents look at that and go, ‘Oh, of course,’” she said. “It’s really worth their time and their money to go ahead and invest in a rental instead of borrowing my instrument because my instruments … half of my inventory in the back is unusable.”
Brown said she hopes to grow the summer band program into a bigger group, but the small number of students (about six to 10 on any given day) is actually a plus.
“We always have one student that comments, ‘This is a really small group.’ And then I have to remind them, that’s good for you,” she said. “I get to work with you more one-on-one. You get more personal time to learn.”
The camp, which runs for one more week, is two hours Monday through Friday.
UNDER THE TUTELAGE OF CANDACE BROWN, students hone their skills during band camp at Gila Vista Junior High School on Thursday.