Band­ing to­gether

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.

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