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Band » Symphonic Band Syllabus

Symphonic Band Syllabus


Union Middle School

Director: Chris Kay


Symphonic Band Syllabus


Philosophy on Music

      Music provides an aesthetic experience unlike any other. No other subject works both the creative and the analytical sides of the brain so strenuously as music. This strenuous “exercise of the brain”, compliments a student’s endeavors in all other classes as well.  Studies have shown time and time again that students who study music at an early age tend to excel in languages, math, and sciences as well.  On average, they test higher than students who have had no musical study.  It is ironic that students look upon very few subjects as being as much fun as music.  The person who plays in a musical group paves the way for a lifetime of musical enjoyment in listening and possibly in performing.

            Participation in a music group provides many non-musical benefits, such as developing a sense of responsibility, learning to work together as a team, and feeling a sense of accomplishment in doing something well.  However, the primary purpose of a musical performing group is to build instrumental technique and musicianship, and to make music together.

            Every aspect of music is important and will be emphasized at various stages in a student’s development.  The core of the instrumental program is the concert band and choir. From these ensembles, groups such as the marching band, jazz ensemble, and CMEA groups are derived. The Union music department stresses the advancement of the student’s abilities to function in both the large and small ensemble setting.  Music offers a unique opportunity to challenge each student cognitively, emotionally, and physically.  It provides for emotional expression, intrinsic worth, and has a positive impact on individuals, families, communities, and cultures.


General Information


Symphonic band:  Symphonic band is for eighth grade and seventh grade students that have already been in intermediate band and that have displayed a high level of ability and conduct to play in Union’s highest-level ensemble.  Students must audition to become a member of Symphonic Band.  During the fall the band rehearses towards the winter concert and also marching in the holiday parades as a marching band.  During the spring this group performs on tour for the elementary students, a pops concert, a CMEA band festival, a spring concert, and in graduation. Advanced band meets during “A” period, before the normal school day. 


Disneyland Trip: Also, the advanced band will be going on tour to Disneyland in Anaheim.  This will tentatively take place in May, most likely during Memorial Day weekend.  While this event is not required for a grade, it is of the up most importance that all advance band students can attend this event!  An ensemble sounds its best when it has all of the students that it rehearses with performing in the performance.  If there is a student enrolled in advanced band that will not be able to go on this trip, it is important that the band director be notified immediately.  Parents of such students have a responsibility to check their calendars now.  Please do not wait in confirming your student’s availability for this trip.  Please try to make your schedule as free as possible during this time.  (I understand that this is a busy time of year, believe me.)

Equipment Needs: Each learner must bring to class everyday: a sharpened pencil, a music folio and method book (which will be provided), their instrument (excluding percussionists) in good working condition, assigned music, and a good attitude.  Percussionists should have their own pair of drumsticks that they take to and from school.  Mallets for the timpani, xylophone, etc., are provided.  It is also a good idea for percussion students to have a drum pad to practice on at home, as it is not as loud. 


Choir:  This group is a club that will meet after school, and will perform in the winter, pops, elementary, spring, concerts. The choir may perform at the CMEA choir festival.  Choir general starts in September and more info will provided soon, by Ms. Bolivar, our choir director. 


Solo and Ensemble Festival: Every year in March, choir and band students perform in smaller ensembles at the California Music Educators Association or CMEA’s solo and ensemble festival.  This is not a requirement.  Students are encouraged to participate in this event, as it generally a very positive experience in the progression of a music student’s education.  But preparation of this event is done strictly by the students who decide to be a part of it.  Class time is not devoted to solo and ensemble, so student’s wishing to participate must do so largely on their own with some guidance from Mr. Kay.  Students who wish to perform at this event need to begin preparing for it two to three months in advance.  Mr. Kay can help students find music to perform and help in some rehearsal before or after school, or during break or lunch, however students deciding to partake in this event will need to do a lot of practice and rehearsal with their group on their own time.  Students will be given information on when and where they will perform (usually at San Jose State University), but they and their parents are responsible for transporting themselves to and from this location in a timely fashion.


Course Objective


The objectives of these courses are for students to be able to perform various “shows” or concerts at a level in which they meet the following high standards: Students should be able to produce good tone, contrast in dynamics, appropriate style and articulations, and a display of enough technical ability in order to read and perform the selected ensemble music.  Students should also be able to blend and balance with the rest of their ensemble.  The criteria for performance exams will follow closely with the criteria outlined here, and in the California State Framework for Music for middle school level students.  (Which I will have available to look at, if needed) In addition to developing musical skills, students in these courses will learn to work together as a team.  They will learn to rely on one another and to be reliable.  The students will also develop work habits that are important both in and out of the musical environment and in life in general.  This is explained further in the grading criteria. 


Behavior Policy

When a student misbehaves (i.e. breaks a rule) and/or disrupts the class, my policy is as follows: 

Verbal warning: I will ask the student to refrain from the undesirable behavior (i.e. playing/talking out of turn during rehearsal, getting out of one’s seat without permission from the director, eating in the band room, etc.

  1. Time out: If the student still misbehaves I will have the student take a time out in a designated area for a specified amount of time. (Usually 1 to 5 minutes, but sometimes longer depending on the situation). If after that amount time the student is ready to return to rehearsal, he or she may do so.  If a student is given a time out, their participation grade for the week is adjusted by one letter grade. 
  2. Parent Notified: The parents will be called and notified that there is a behavior problem.  I will simply ask the parent to talk to their student about the problem. 
  3. Student sent to Administrator/School Service/Parent Teacher Conference: If the undesirable behavior continues, the student will be sent to an administrator and will likely be given some sort of duty during lunch or break time. I generally am required to write up a referral form in this situation, though in some instances a student may be sent to the office for more of a “time out” period, in which no referral form is filled out.  I will put in a call to this student’s parents that afternoon to inform them that the problem still exists and I will request a parent/teacher/student conference. In the meeting, we will try to solve the problem keeping the best interest of both the student and the rest of the class in mind.
  4. Restriction/Request for parent/teacher/student/principal conference: The student will be immediately sent to an administrator and given a referral. It will be requested that the student go on at least a one-week restriction, which prohibits his/her participation in all school-related activities (dances, sports field trips, special assemblies, etc.)  A parent/student/teacher/principal conference will be requested.  The student’s removal from class will be suggested as a possible answer to the problem.  If student agrees that he/she will behave in a manner that will solve the problem, the student will be able to remain in the class under contract.
  5. Broken contract/student’s removal from the class is recommended as the best option for all parties concerned.                        

Classroom Procedures


        The following guidelines for music students have been formulated for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a performing group in which each member, the entire school and the community may take pride.  Because membership in a musical performing group requires individual as well as team effort, each student must agree and adhere to the following rules: 


  1. Come to class with all necessary materials. This includes pencils, (please put one in your case or music folder) method books, music and instrument.
  2. Do not play your instrument until instructed to do so.
  3. No talking while rehearsal is in progress unless director gives permission. Be courteous, encouraging and respectful to fellow students and also your teacher, coach, director, or instructor.  “Put-downs” will not be allowed.  Treat others respectfully and they will likely treat you with respect.  If they don’t, remember that the golden rule is to treat people, as you would have them treat you, not as they actually treat you.  As my father used to tell me, the best way to get rid of an enemy is to be nice to them. 
  4. Refrain from any act that is not conducive to learning or detracts from the orderly operation of the class. This includes harassment of other students, or the use of inappropriate language, or dress. 
  5. Gum is not allowed on campus, and obviously has no place in the band room. Do not chew gum in the band room, as it is dangerous to do while playing an instrument, (duh) and we would like to keep the room looking as nice as possible. 
  6. Food or beverages in the classroom are not allowed during class time, unless you have special permission from the teacher.
  7. Music students who are on probation or the flag list (see school handbook) will not be able to participate in music activities held during the school day, such as the Elementary School Tour or assemblies when the students would have to miss classes other that music classes. Students can potentially miss out on their Disneyland trip if they are on probation for behavior or are not passing classes.  Parents will likely receive a partial, but not full refund in this event, as the music department must make a deposit in advance to secure such a trip.
  8. We have 8-10 performances throughout the year. See the attached schedule.  Performances are part of the student’s grade, since this is a performing arts class.  If a student must miss a performance, a written note must be given to Mr. Kay well in advance so plans can be made to cover the missing part.    Please check the attached schedule of performances and clear your schedule for those dates.  If there is a conflict, please notify Mr. Kay within three weeks of having received this schedule.  (The first three weeks of school)  If an emergency situation arises, please send a note with the student as soon as possible after the performance that he/she missed. 
  9. Show up on time to rehearsals and performances.
  10. Have respect for the room.  Keep it clean and undamaged.  Do not leave personal belongings behind. Instead, take them with you. 
  11. Do not leave instruments, music, or equipment lying around in the room.  The room is used through out the day by many different students and it is not safe to assume your belongings will be untouched if left out in the room proper.  Instruments should be stored in the instrument room, which is locked during break and lunch if the room is not in use.  Students have assigned lockers or cubbies for their instruments.  Instruments should be stored in these assigned spaces.  It is best to keep music in the folio provided, which can easily fit in the student’s backpack.
  12. Be ready to rehearse on time.  When the director’s hands go up, bring your instrument to your mouth (wind player).  Be ready to play, even if you do not play on the first beat of the musical selection.  At the end of a piece of music, do not but your instruments down until the director’s hands go down.


Absentee/Tardiness Policy


            Due to the nature of these courses, one of the skills that I want the students to leave with is their sense of teamwork and responsibility to others.    If a student chooses to skip a performance or not take it seriously, then their grade will suffer.  Please encourage your students to be at rehearsals on time as the bottom line is that they are letting down the other students in the group when they do otherwise.  In no other class does the success of the students weigh so heavily on the other students in the class. 



        Belonging to a musical ensemble should be a fun and rewarding experience, however each student should realize that these ensembles are also classes in school, and should be treated as such.  As in any class, students are being taught skills that in this case will enhance their potential for enjoying music of all types in the future, both in performing and listening.  In addition, students will learn skills that will help them work with people in day-to-day life, a.k.a. interpersonal skills.  Here are the four criteria for grades in each musical ensemble, and an explanation for why they are a part of the grade.


Grading Criteria

  1. Concert Attendance: Besides the obvious importance to our students that all students show up on time to concerts, I consider this to be a life skill. By showing up to all concerts on time, in proper dress, with instrument, and ready to play, students build the habit of reliability whenever they make a commitment to a person or a group of people.


Performance Criteria (grade for each performance)


  • Student is on time for rehearsal warm-up
  • Student has instrument and appropriate materials
  • Student is attentive and contributing to a good performance
  • Individual part performed at a high level of proficiency


  1. Practice Time: Like anything else, a musician cannot improve his/herself without practice. A musician may be very talented, but without practice, they cannot progress. It is important to understand that in music the process is far more important than the end product.  Practicing is the process by which we improve the final product, which is the performance, but it is also the way in which we gain appreciation for those that truly excel musically.  Most important of all, rigid practice habits build character and develop discipline that will help a student succeed in all facets of his/her life. No practice logs will be due until after they receive their method book for class. We may use our new Charms office assistant to do practice logs, but that is still in experimentation phase for us.  Late practice logs will not be accepted. Weekly practice grades are as follows: 


Minimum of two hours (120 minutes) per week……………. A

Minimum of one hour and a half (90 minutes) per week….. B

Minimum of one hour (60 minutes) per week………………. C

Minimum of one half hour (30 minutes) per week…………..D

Less than 30 minutes…………………………………………. F


* Note:  one week of practice cannot make up for another.  For example, if you turn no practice slip in for five weeks, that is 5 “F’s” in your practice grade.  Then if on the sixth week you decide to practice 8 hours, that is great, (but probably overkill), and you will receive your “A” for the week, but it will not change the previous weeks’ grades.


  •      Participation in Class: Like concert attendance, the participation grade emphasizes responsibility to the group.  Unlike in academic classes, performing arts classes often focus on the interpersonal skills of the individual.  While soloing, a performer need only communicate with his/her accompanist.  In an ensemble, musicians must have highly developed skills to cope with others.  This is a valuable tool in life, and also criteria for grading in this class. Each student will be given a weekly participation grade for his or her participation in rehearsal.


Rehearsal Criteria (weekly grade)


  • Student on time for rehearsal
  • Student has instrument and appropriate materials
  • Student is attentive and exhibiting appropriate behavior
  • Student attends all rehearsal sessions


  1. Ability on Instrument: Whether your instrument is your own voice or a band instrument, part of the objective in this course is to develop musical skill on it. There are standards for what a student should be able to do from one level to the next (i.e. beginning, intermediate, and advance band or 1rst, 2nd, and 3rd year) These standards are available to look at in my office and can be copied at request. More importantly there are three levels of books in band that are used and each student will buy the book that is appropriate for his or her level.   The material in this book, sheet music passed out during the year for concerts, and scales will be used to determine player ability. As mentioned in the course objective, students should not only be able to perform this material, but be able to perform it showing good tone quality, intonation, balance and blend with other performers, appropriate style and articulations, and contrast in dynamic levels.


Rubric for Quizzes


Rubric for Grading


Clarinet and saxophone players must have at least three good reeds at all times, size 2 1/2 -3 or stronger for clarinets, and size 2 or 2 1/2 for saxophones.  I have a limited supply of reeds on hand for students to purchase in an emergency, but please do not rely on this as your source.  Be sure to purchase enough reeds when you go to the music store.  Do not purchase “oil” bottles for clarinets.  They are unnecessary.  Swab your instrument after each use.  Always store reads in a reed holder.  Do not leave them on the mouthpiece.  Wash your mouthpiece with warm water at least once per month. 


All brass players should give their instruments a bath in warm water (NOT HOT!) every four to six weeks.  Be sure to put small amounts of Vaseline on all slides, with the exception of the trombone’s position slide.  Trombone players can use a small spray bottle of water to keep their position slide lubricated, or purchase special slide oil or cream made for the trombones.



Percussion students will be issued a locker space where they can store their sticks and music in these lockers.  They must purchase two pair of snare drum sticks.  Size 7a and 5a are recommended.  Also recommended, but not required are one pair of soft general timpani mallets, one pair of marimba mallets, and a stick bag.  If they do not have a snare drum or drum set to practice on, they must purchase a drum practice pad.  Pads are also a good idea even for the students that do have real drums, as they are much quieter to practice on.  Please have drummers label their sticks.  All drummers are required to have had some piano background (they need to be able to read music, both treble and bass clef) because all drummers will learn marimba and bells, in addition to the other percussion instruments. 


All students must have their name clearly visible on their instrument cases at all times.  Students must store their instrument in their assigned locker space.  Failure to comply with the above will result in a lower

participation grade than otherwise.  Students are not allowed to touch other students’ instruments.  Do not allow another student to play your instrument. 


Important Note On Chair Placement And Challenging


            In most instrumental ensembles around the world some type of chair placement system does exist.  What this means is that band members are given parts in the music that best fit their ability at that time, and seated in an order that the director sees as placing his/her strongest players in the most advantageous manner for the group.  In some groups, the strongest player in a section is placed at first chair playing the first part. The second strongest player might be placed at fifth chair playing the second part, and third strongest player might sit at ninth chair playing the third part (assuming twelve players in the section).  Students would then be place strategically behind these players based on their ability, and what part suits them best.  In other groups, sections are arranged from strongest to weakest, the first four strongest players playing the first part, the middle four playing the second part, and the last four playing the third part. (Assuming twelve players in a section)  There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these arrangements.  The first arrangement insures strong players on every part in a section, helps band members to hear their parts by having a strong player on each part, and helps members understand the importance of each part.   Generally speaking however, the first part often plays most of the melody or (part that’s easy to hum to).  This doesn’t make the first part necessarily more important, but it does mean that it might need more volume.  Since the stronger players can usually play with better tone at higher volumes, the second arrangement of players can also be musically advantageous.  Unfortunately both the first and second arrangements of band members have a disadvantage and that is that human beings don’t always appreciate being told that they aren’t performing as well as others.  As many times as a director may explain to his/her students that the success of a quality band depends on all of its members, not just the first chair, many students tend to feel less valuable if they aren’t first chair.  Some people would argue that this condition is a result of a society that focuses entirely too much on competition.  Those same people might decide to do away with things like chair placement in a band, which is why there are some bands that have no placement of chair at all and what part a band member plays changes from piece to piece.  This has advantages because students get the opportunity to play different parts throughout the year.  This also eliminates competition in the band setting which some would argue is a good thing, but is it?  When a student is named 1st chair, 1st clarinet, other students will look to that student for help, they will tend to watch, listen to, and emulate the sound of that player.  If that player is the section’s strongest musician, this can elevate the musician’s throughout the group.  It is a nice thing to think that one will not compare him or herself to others and that we will all judge ourselves based on our own progress, but it is more than a little naïve.  Every day students compare themselves to others in order to reach a concept of what normal behavior is, what is good, what is bad, and where they rank themselves in relation to others with regards to this activity or that.  This is a natural way in which people develop their skills, by competing with other people.  I believe that the problem is not the competitive nature of our society, but the attitude that has come along that winning is everything.   It is the attitude that competition is not worth one’s while if one is going to lose.  The reality is that true skill cannot be achieved until one is willing to risk failure.  Society today is in mindset that if you lose, you are a loser.  Winning at all costs has become the name of the game. 

          In our bands, students will be seated according to their ability because I believe it is important for them to see where their ability level is and how they are progressing relative to the other students.  However, chair placement at the beginning of the year should not be a final, end all statement of a student’s skill on their instrument.  Students will have an opportunity to challenge the student ahead of him/her in order to show that they have progressed to a level that they deserve to advance in chair.  This is a form of competition, but whether or not the focus of this competition is on winning or improving as a musician depends a lot on how we as adults focus on encouraging our students.  It should not be the end of the world for a student when he/she loses a challenge, nor should a student feel satisfied to have won a challenge.  What is important is learning from the experience of matching one’s musical experiences with another individual.  In the past, I have had challenges every week.  I believe this puts too much emphasis on the competition and not enough on the process, by which we all improve, which is practice.  Therefore challenges will occur once a month.   Challenges will be arranged between students, but only on days that I announce in class.  Every third or fourth week (depending on my availability) challenges for chair placement will occur during lunches and break.  Decisions of the challenges will be decided by Mr. Kay and will be final until the next challenge.  Students may ask questions about their challenge, they may disagree with Mr. Kay’s decision, but they may not argue with the decision.


Private Instruction

            Private instruction is extremely valuable, and highly encouraged.  I cannot give students the individual attention they need and deserve.  You can contact a local music store, or see names posted on our classroom bulletin board.  We have also worked out a special program with music students at Leigh High School who have had private instructors.  Some high school students have agreed to tutor Union Middle School students at a rate of $15.00 for a 30-minute lesson, once a week.  See Mr. Kay for names and phone numbers of these students.  Professional private teachers charge between, $40.00-$60.00 per 30 minute lesson.






Concert Dress

 Green travel shirt.  This shirt will belong to the student and will be used in some, less formal performances, as well as in travel situations such as during certain times for the Spring Trip.

       Symphonic band students will receive, and be fitted for a UNIFORM before the Santa Clara County Veteran’s Parade on October 12.  Students are responsible to keep all zippers securely fastened on these jackets and to keep the jackets in a good, clean condition.  You will also be issued a garment bag.  DO NOT store shoes in these bags.  Jackets must be stored at home once they are issued.  Garment bags, the sturdy plastic hanger, and jackets must be returned in a good condition at the end of the year, or students will be charged for these items.    

We will utilize black trousers in Symphonic Band, which will be issued to each student as part of the uniform, as well as a black, silver, and green band jacket.  Students will need to purchase black marching shoes through the music department that they will own.   Students need to provide their own black (not dark blue) socks, and socks should be calf length, not ankle length).


Concert Schedule

            Because your student is enrolled in a performing group, all members are expected and required to participate in all performances.  Performances are tests that cannot be made up.  Illness or family tragedies are the only legitimate excuses.  Please arrange your schedules around the following dates.  Please review and sign the last page to confirm that you and your student have reviewed and agree with these music class rules and procedures and that you will be able to attend all of the performances listed.