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Practice and Preparation are Keys to Success in School Music Contests

Mar 01, 2024

Practice and Preparation are Keys to Success in School Music Contests

When we think of school bands and orchestras, we might associate them with sporting events or concerts, but spring is the time when band and orchestra students prepare for spring competitions. Contests for concert bands, ensembles and solo performers fill the spring semester’s music calendar, which for many young musicians reaches its crescendo with a state music festival in April.

Some high notes from school band directors

Matt Bradford, band director at DeSoto High School in DeSoto, Kansas, tells us, “Contests give band members many opportunities to perform. We emphasize playing in small ensembles because it helps students prepare. Practice and preparation are key.”

Bradford adds, “Band members know that participation in contests is mandatory. We encourage them to enjoy and learn from the experience. Students learn from watching and hearing other schools’ bands.”

Zebulon Tiedeman, high school and middle school band director in Louisburg, Kansas, says that band contests come with higher expectations for students. “Contest music is often not familiar. It’s a challenging educational experience. Contest season is different. There will be frustration, but you get better after the frustration.”

Mr. Tiedeman has been a band director for 15 years, and believes participating in band makes a student resilient and able to focus on challenging assignments. He says, “There’s nothing else like band in school. You can contribute to the greater good and get exponentially better at performing music.” He believes students in a band learn from each other. “We have a saying at Louisburg: Band makes me strong.” Tiedeman also adds, “There is no bench in band,” meaning that every young musician is called upon to perform. Everyone participates fully.

What should a music student do when preparing for a contest?

  • Practice, practice, practice. This can be challenging for students who have to balance playing an instrument with studies and other activities, but there is no substitute for focused practice time.
  • Listening to recordings of the music you’re practicing to perform is another helpful tip.
  • Understand what contest judges are looking for, and how your performance will be evaluated. One major state high school contest grades bands’ performance on tone, intonation, expression, technique, rhythmic accuracy, note accuracy, balance, blend and poise.
  • When learning to play more complicated compositions, break the music up into smaller pieces, learning one piece at a time.
  • Be confident. You know you can do it. “If you’ve done the work, you have to trust in yourself,” advises Mr. Tiedeman.
  • Learn to relax before you perform. Tiedeman recommends the “3/4/7” breathing exercise to slow one’s heart rate and get rid of the butterflies. Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for three seconds, and exhale for seven seconds. Try it!
  • Don’t forget to have fun. Your school years are short, and there are only a few contests during your time in middle and high school. Enjoy the unique experience of contests.

Music contests can be exciting and rewarding for school band and orchestra members who are willing to devote extra focus and preparation to perform more challenging music at a higher level of excellence. School music directors have limited time to prepare many young musicians who play a variety of instruments at different skill levels. Being a member of a school band or orchestra, especially during contest season, can be stressful for a student who is managing academics and other activities.

Consider additional instruction

Our private teachers at Meyer Music offer individualized lessons. Over 2,000 students a week choose Meyer Music for lessons. “We have a diverse group of instructors who are passionate about music education,” said Mike Meyer, owner of Meyer Music Overland Park. “Visit our website to listen to our teachers and get a feel for who they are and how they teach, or give us a call at one of our three locations to inquire.” Now is the time to supplement in-school learning with private music lessons. Help your musician prepare for upcoming contests and learn new skills that they can take with them wherever they go in the future.