Vandoren interviewed band directors from around the country to start the school year out right! Read about Karen McKenna - a band director in Boiceville, NY.
Where and what grade levels/subjects do you teach?
I teach elementary (grade 4-6) woodwinds and orchestra in the Onteora Central School District in Boiceville NY. We start our band and orchestra students in 4th grade, and have 4th grade ensembles and 5/6 ensembles.
What is your teaching philosophy when approaching beginning clarinet and saxophone?
I would have to say that my philosophy would be to hook the kids in as fast as possible. Get them playing easy songs, even by ear, to enable them to “show off” to their families. I have found this allows them to be successful quickly and also helps with parents providing a lot more encouragement when they recognize the tunes!
What is the first concept you focus on with your woodwinds, besides how to put the instrument together?
Embouchure! Making sure those top teeth are down, having enough reed in the mouth to allow for it to vibrate and getting a decent sound.
How do you have your students produce a beautiful sound from day one?
We encourage our students to purchase name brand reeds, not those cheap ones they can get from amazon, and we also work on long tones, proper placement of the mouthpiece etc. to try and set them up for success.
Have you ever used JUNO reeds in your classroom? If so, what did you think?
I like the JUNO reeds! I’ve given some samples out to some of my students and they do get a nice sound. I’ve even used a couple myself when I needed to play in a rehearsal and left my other reeds at home. I like the JUNO reeds, they’re consistent and work well.
What is the greatest challenge you face as a beginning band teacher and how do you address it?
I would say the biggest challenge now is twofold. First off, kids seem to be so busy these days, so making the time to practice is something we have to stress both to the student and the parent. Additionally, I think that students have become accustomed to instant gratification: the internet is fast, the games are fast, but playing an instrument and getting good at it takes time. So I think slowing them down and having them realize that this isn’t going to be amazing instantly, but if you dedicate the time to practicing you will improve and that those skills of practicing will serve you well in sports and academics as well.
What are some methods books you would recommend to beginner clarinet and saxophone students?
At our school we use Essential Elements for lessons, which I like because of the interactive component. When I teach privately I go back to the “old standards” of the Rubank methods because even though they seem dry compared to the colors and pictures in the newer books, they teach skills in a great way. I’m a big fan of supplementing the lesson book, and I’ve found some books by a man named Joe Maroni, published by Mel Bay called “101 Easy Songs for …” These books have a lot of recognizable tunes so I often use them to supplement the lesson book or to share with a student who wants to go above and beyond the lesson assignment.
What can be done to encourage students to continue with band after their first year and beyond? What are the critical factors at play?
This is a great question because it’s something everyone deals with every year. I treat all of my students as if it’s a given that they are continuing. I stress how excited I am that they will be in the “big” ensemble next year and how much more music they will get to play in that group. I also really encourage summer music lessons or music camps to keep them playing over the summer.
Learn about Vandoren JUNO reeds, the only reed specifically designed for students.
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