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I've been researching school bands, but I would like to gain some personal insight as well. I'm interested in all things band, particularly auditions for chairs--how a student might best prepare (anything other than tons of practice?), what an audition is like--such as private individual or group, director chooses music or student, one song only or more, only songs or scales, etc. Once a student has a chair, is it for the entire year? I know much of this will vary from school to school.

I'm also interested in hearing about how a typical practice at school might go, such as specific names (if any) of exercises and warm-ups at the beginning of practice, all the way through the usual progression of practice until it ends for the day. Are there certain scales used at the jr high level?

Also, please share any funny band anecdotes you might have.  :)

Thank you!
#1 - April 01, 2014, 05:45 AM

Twitter: @AmyCobbWrites

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It's been a LONG time since I was in the school band, but here's what I remember.

- We auditioned for chairs at the beginning of the semester. The band director usually told us in advance what scales and songs (usually from a practice book at that point) to be prepared to play. However, he/she may or may not ask you to play all of them. You just had to be ready on all of them.
- During the semester, you could "challenge" the person one chair ahead of you. The person challenging to move up chose the piece of music, but it was something we were playing in class or from the practice book we were all supposed to be working through. You would sign up for a challenge date - a sign-up sheet with open dates on the band director's office door. The band director was the judge as to who won the challenge.
- I don't remember ever auditioning or challenging in front of a group. Usually it was one-on-one with the band director, but students were usually lined up waiting their turn outside the practice room door, so you could overhear how the person ahead of you did.
- There were times when we were struggling with a piece of music that the band director might go down the line asking each person to play their part alone in front of the group. I hated that!
- For warm-ups I remember scales and sometimes short pieces from practice books, but I can't remember particulars. Daily practice varied from concentrated practice on certain parts of a song to run throughs of entire pieces and then going back to work on problem spots. 
- Band was always a class during the regular school day. In middle school it was probably 30-45 minutes. In high school it was an hour and half. (We had a 4 period day with a complete change in classes between semesters - Marching Band for fall semester and Symphonic Band for spring semester. You could take both, but some students took one and not the other.)

I'll admit most of these memories are from high school, but I'd say jr. high would be similar at least for the higher grades.

I hope this helps! Thanks for a trip down memory lane.  :)
#2 - April 01, 2014, 06:06 AM

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The chairs thing really varies by band. We had tryouts a few times a year. Yes, you practiced scales and stuff in your band book, but that's not necessarily what you would play for the test. And it was one on one with the director. We didn't have the challenge thing, but some bands do.

Warmups as a band--sometimes a simple scale, and then an easier piece of music.

Band was an in-school class in all the places I was a student. My current district where my kids are students, the middle school meets as a zero hour class (ie before school) three days a week. Which I find incredibly inefficient, but whatever. In high school, it's a class during the day.

In addition to the 50-minute class in the day, the high school band I was in had a once a week evening practice (Thursday nights) during marching season. Because marching is rather complicated--each player has a particular position to learn (ie 8 steps to the yardline, or a different amount, depending on if you're in a formation that turns, etc.) And you have to play your music properly while you're counting steps in your head so you land on the right part of the field at the right time *without looking at the ground*. Our practices went on for at least two hours. Then football games every Friday and often marching competitions we'd travel to on Saturdays (often every Saturday in October). In concert season (second semester), we'd have some Thursday night practices prior to concert competitions. The name Shostakovich still gives me PTSD because we were playing one of his pieces that was super fast, and we couldn't get the timing right, so the director hooked up a metronome to the sound system and turned it on loud for something like three hours.

As far as a typical class, first people take out their instruments and warm them up--so, a lot of chaotic, undirected sound for about five minutes (because tuning changes according to the temperature of your instrument). Then you'd tune. The first chair tunes the section. Then maybe a scale or maybe an easier piece of music or something out of the band book your teacher is using to teach you. In jr. high you'd do a lot more playing out of the book--in high school you're practicing that at home and using class time on actual pieces of music. A lot of practice is spent on watching the conductor and getting in time and in tune, which means you should be practicing the actual pieces at home so you know them well and can pay attention to the director. You might then move to your harder pieces, playing sections until you get them right. Playing a piece all the way through. The director will throw out new pieces to sight read every so often, and depending on how well he thinks it will suit your particular band, you may keep them to play, or you may pass them back in (they may be too hard or too easy). And sometimes the director might have you practice something in sections (ie clarinets or trumpets or whatever).

Band isn't an individual sport. It's very much a team effort, and while there is certainly a bit of sectional competition for chairs around tryout time, all the practices and hard work and competitions you go to and football game performances (you do a halftime marching show at the games, besides playing during the game itself) really bond you together. If you have a good director like I did, it makes a lifelong imprint on the students. Maybe I haven't touched my clarinet in years, but I know that if I work hard, I can usually do more than I think I can. That I should set my standards high and strive for excellence in whatever I'm doing in life, and not just settle for good enough. That the people around me are important and that I need to work with them. 20 years later, and Mr. Nelson's influence is still here in my life. That's not a funny story, but it's a true one.
#3 - April 01, 2014, 06:57 AM

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What they said, with some variation. My daughter is in the HS band now.

Warm ups: scales

Challenge music: something identified by the director, usually three lines of fairly challenging music, which they received two weeks earlier and (theoretically) practiced at home.

Auditions: After marching band was over (first semester), all the students were given music to test for chairs. Auditions were done, one at a time, after school in front of the director or a guest judge. Students were then put in Symphonic or Concert band. Symphonic=more skilled. Concert=less skilled. Notification of which band one made was made via a list outside the director's office.

[Side note: Because marching band didn't separate kids based on skill, all the band kids played together. After auditions, many kids were upset because they'd be separated from their marching band buddies. This angst eventually subsided, once they'd made new friends within their bands.]

Challenges: for a period of two weeks, lower chairs could challenge higher chairs, and even concert band students could challenge symphonic band students, one at a time, moving up as far as they could go. Once established, these chairs remained for the rest of the schoolyear.

Practices: usually begin with scales and tuning. Tuning is BIG at our school. Then they'll work through music for an upcoming concert or other event, like pep band. Sometimes sections/like instruments practice separately from one another to work on a tricky part.

Specific names of stuff: Concert B flat scale--sometimes the director will say, "Let's bop the B-flat scale." It's meaningful to band kids :); Chromatic scale; Bach chorales; Lip benders (warm-ups)

This web site,, is a great one for info on specific titles. My daughter ordered her piece for contest from them.

Good luck!


#4 - April 01, 2014, 08:35 AM
Twitter @jodywrites4kids


Many pounds ago, I mean, years ago, I was a first chair flutist--from ninth grade until 11th. We were allowed to choose which piece we played to audition, plus we had to sight read a piece the conductor gave us. I'm pretty sure we auditioned in front of everyone.

Unbeknownst to me that summer, between 11th and 12th grade, my best friend had determined to un-chair me. She was always second chair to me and I thought she liked it there. After all, she never challenged me. But my chair was on wobbly legs. My dear friend spent her entire summer practicing the Flight of the Bumblebee. And boy, she must have done so with all the gusto of a member of the family Apidae. (No wonder she never had time to go bike riding!)

Her hard work paid off, for when she tried out at the beginning of the school year--and yes, I was listening--her notes flit around the bandroom as though each surface was a cherry tree blossom. I knew at once my chair was sunk. I never could get that buzzing perfected, and she knew it. 

So I decided to switch to orchestra that year, and became first, second, and third chair. Okay, I was the only flute player.

It's funny you should ask this, but I've just been weaving a similar first-chair experience into my MG. :slap
#5 - April 01, 2014, 11:20 AM

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 :snork:  Dionna, funny story! I always thought there was something sneaky about floutists. ;)
#6 - April 01, 2014, 11:22 AM
Twitter @jodywrites4kids

This is perfect! Thank you all so much for your thorough responses! The specificity you provided will really help me to capture the authentic band feel I'm shooting for.
Stacy, I didn't realize students could challenge each other.

Olmue, I love your takeaway, even after 20 yrs!

Dionna, such a funny story! But I would love to know, did you and your BF remain close after she "stung" you? (Couldn't resist!)

And Jody, thanks for the link and specific band phrases!

If anyone can think of additional phrases/lingo that are more unique to band, I'd appreciate those, too.

#7 - April 01, 2014, 12:00 PM

Twitter: @AmyCobbWrites

Well there's always one kid who NEVER cleans out his instrument and is horrified to realize what his teacher said all along is true... leave that spit in there long enough and it grows icky mold.

Why isn't my trumpet working?

Pull out the valve, it's covered in green/black gook...

Flute swabs make great sword fight weapons. Drummers love stick throwing contests if you're outside and they think no one's looking.

#8 - April 01, 2014, 12:45 PM

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My son plays trumpet in several middle school bands: concert band. marching band and jazz band. For his jazz band audition, he had to play a self-selected piece and a piece selected by his director.  He also had to play his scales and sight read a piece given to him at the audition.  He auditioned individually with a "blind" panel of 3 judges who had their backs to him during the audition.  Students picked numbers to determine their order in the auditions and they were identified by that number when it was their turn to play. For trumpets, there were 6 students selected for the "Jazz Band I" and they were assigned 1st, 2nd or 3rd trumpet according to their scores.  Students who are not selected for the Jazz Band I can be part of the "Jazz Lab Band" where they learn more about jazz and get to do some jazz fest competitions later in the year. The students in the jazz band participate in several jazz fests - competitions with bands from area schools.  Something cool they get to do in jazz band is that they learn to improvise their solos.  Our jazz band rehearses once a week in the evening and jazz fests are Friday nights. Concert band is a music course and takes place for a period each day. Marching band was in the fall and rehearsals were after school 2-3 times a week.

One anecdote to share:  My son is on the shorter side for an 8th grader and he kept dropping his trumpet when trying to get it in and out of his locker. After several trips to the music store for trumpet repairs, his director realized my son's locker was up too high for him and he moved him to a lower locker :-)  Thankfully, he never got bumped with it as it fell! 

Good luck with your research!
#9 - April 01, 2014, 02:32 PM
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Yes, my best friend & I remained friends. Somtimes life is fair and the best flute wins. She deserved it and my respect for the way she improved far outweighed any bitter feelings. (Of course, not having to play second fiddle to her by changing to the orchestra really helped.)
#10 - April 01, 2014, 05:13 PM

Thanks again, all!

Christine, moldy valves--ewww! Love it! And the other anecdotes, too.

Sue, I'm glad the continually dropped trumpet was without injury and was an easy fix. And sounds like your son is talented in many areas. Congrats to you both!

Dionna, that's wonderful! So happy to hear the chair battle didn't ruin your relationship with your BF.
#11 - April 02, 2014, 05:03 AM

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Writermutt, just one small thing to add--the oboe always tunes the band, because you can't tune an oboe.
#12 - April 02, 2014, 08:42 AM
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I didn't know that about the oboe. Thanks for sharing, dews!  :)
#13 - April 02, 2014, 09:27 AM

Twitter: @AmyCobbWrites


In my band, the first chair flute tuned the band to a C.
#14 - April 02, 2014, 04:36 PM

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My daughter (a freshman) beat out the president of the junior class for second chair in the symphonic band. He was NOT pleased and challenged her. (They both prepared the same piece ahead of time and played it for the band director after school.) My daughter beat him in the playoff. Now he doesn't talk to her at all. The social implications are huge, because next year, as a senior, he will most likely be her marching band squad leader. She is not looking forward to this!

My daughter is in the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony, but in the school band she ALWAYS uses the school instrument. (Although she owns a much nicer instrument at home.) So much about band is "fitting in"...and for a freshman, it is hard!  She also HATES the concert dress requirements...long black skirts which she deems out of style.

Marching band is fodder for so much drama, too! Band camp and learning all those routines! And she couldn't figure out how to put on the uniform at first! There is hazing, too. The freshman had to wear ballerina tutus all week at band camp! (They went away to a college campus for a week-long band camp, which could also be termed boot camp!)
I'm sure my daughter would be happy to answer any other band-related questions you might have! Feel free to message me! And be sure to read Erin Dionne's band novel--it's hilarious!
#15 - April 02, 2014, 05:46 PM

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Once I came back from a break to find that several of the keys on my flute were bent out of shape. Turned out a section member sat on it :| she just put it back on my stand and never admitted it, but there were eye witnesses lol. At the time I was annoyed but my friends in the section thought it was kind of funny... I'm pretty sure my mom didn't think it was funny at all. XD;; It was a rental so the music store just replaced it, but I don't know if my mom had to pay for the damage.

stefwrites comments reminds me, in high school we had section (squad) leaders as well. Chairs were picked based solely on talent, while section leaders were picked based on seniority (usually a junior or senior). I made section leader my junior year, but was very sore that I lost first chair to an underclassman.

Marching band, I think the hardest thing for me was learning to march in time. Left foot right foot, heel toe heel toe. To make sure we were always in step we just looked at the feet of the person ahead of us. I got so used to doing this the first coupla weeks of practice that I started doing it *everywhere* - in the hallways, in the supermarket, at home... ;D for a few months I couldn't walk unless it was in time with someone, hahaha.

I remember middle school band being nothing but fun, but high school was a lot of competition, drama, and tension. Along with marching and concert band, some students were also trying out for all-county and all-state orchestra.
#16 - April 02, 2014, 06:06 PM
« Last Edit: April 02, 2014, 06:08 PM by nilaffle »

Wow! Thank you all for continuing to share info and for your wonderful stories! I'm starting to think that band is sort of like a fun, yet drama-filled, world of its own. I missed out! :)

Dionna, thanks for that extra tidbit of info!

stefwrites, your daughter must be very talented! I hope next yr her squad leader isn't too hard on her. And thanks so much for your offer to share additional info. I'll keep that in mind!

nilaffle, your poor flute! I'll bet your mom wasn't smiling that day either.

#17 - April 02, 2014, 08:22 PM

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