Sunday, April 10, 2011

Teamwork in the Music Room – Ellen Criss, MENC Sept. 2010


The article opens with an example of school athletic culture and a band director who is wistfully dreaming of a similar one in their classroom. In both aspects of teamwork, there is an emphasis of the team over the individual, and the article further sites practical applications for this type of team work in the business world.

When comparing the two activities (athletics and music) the author finds many similarities. One is that in both cases students tend to score higher on achievement tests and have higher GPA’s. This is due to the individual’s commitment to the group through the specific role they play. Both groups need to play or perform their abilities for others and produce a product out of a common goal. But the author also notes that teachers need to encourage and foster this behaviour as student performers need to be taught how to work together for this goal.

Teenagers long to be part of a group and music educators need to be aware that many of them with join band or choir to feel like part of the group rather then for musical experiences. Students are intellectually, psychologically, emotionally, and socially nurtured when they join a performing ensemble because of the formation of subcultures within the group.

The article offers ideas that can be used to build these effective musical teams. One is creation of a shared experience between all members, regardless of their reasons for joining the group initially, by letting members have a save in the group decisions. Another is the emphasis of collaborative effort and the presence of a sense of community. This can be achieved by treating each member of the group with fairness and accurate assessment through mentoring or team leaders.

If the ensemble has an honest and constructive atmosphere then students can begin the emotionally support one another with positive peer pressure about commitment to rehearsals. The connection between the individual members leads to the overall team identity. Team identity involves many facets, such as loyalty, team activities, motivation, and transmission of tradition. The article encourages team interaction outside of the rehearsal time to help create the unique identity of the ensemble.


I enjoyed reading this article because I find many students do not see the immediate connections between sports and band. As an educator I fully believe in both and therefore always try to organize my rehearsal time around the sports’ schedule at my school. I do not want to have students choose between band and sports and if the conflict ever arises, I want them to be able to approach both their conductor and their coach to work out a solution. We need to model the interdepartmental relationships between sports and band by talking to our colleagues and working out a solution that benefits the students.

The values of teamwork are so apparent in sports because you can visually recognize the common goal. If the goal is to get the ball, we can see players running for it and achieving that goal. Unfortunately in band, we often do not see the perfect articulation within the phrase or the level of concentration from all the students who are working on that goal. It’s not as easily accessible to spectators. So I liked when the author wrote about setting common goals in band because it gives the students ownership and pride in achieving them, even if the audience does not always understand when they have been reached.

I like that the article emphasized the importance of identity building within the ensemble and that it needs to be created by the students themselves. As a band conductor, I find there is a delicate balance between allowing students room to experiment and make decisions with support and encouraging them to push beyond their current abilities.

Commitment is a large problem at my school (not just in band) as students seem to just “forget” about rehearsals or practices despite reminders. It is a lot more beneficial if students use the author’s idea of “positive peer pressure” to create the culture of commitment within the ensemble rather then the teacher reprimanding the students’ for their absences.

I think this is also why festivals and performances outside of school is so important as it makes students accountable for their actions within the ensemble. It also, as the article points out, further creates the culture within the ensemble where students can trust each other and have fun. Teamwork is a valuable life skill this article has shown that it can be taught in school, whether in sports or band.

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