Teaching Focus and Intensity

Some groups really seem to have it, and others don't. What are the tips and tricks you use to help a developing high school line rehearse and perform with focus and intensity? I'm looking for ideas to take it up a notch.
Personal accountability.  Hold them responsible for learning beats, having their music, set books, sticks, and so on.  Make sure it is clear that any deviation from that is unacceptable, and instead of yelling make them know you're disappointed rather than mad.

The more you can make them want to succeed, the more focused you can make your rehearsals.
One thing that I have found helpful is not to dumb the kids down or talk down to them. Let them know that they may need to work on things but dont tell them that they shouldnt even try to that they suck and just cant play it and it wont happen.

Also, use comparisons that they can understand. Prove to them that the hard stuff gets easier, like riding a bike or learning to talk. You have to learn the basics before you can run and such. Things like this may seem minuscule at times, but every little bit helps.
I have found that's it's very important to be honest with them.  If something that they played was bad, tell them.  However, don't freak out on them.  Let them know what they can do to fix things.  I agree with Tyler.  Hold them accountable.  As a teacher, you can only do but so much.  They have to learn the music.

Also... PLAY WITH A MET!  The more solid they become with the met, start taking it away.  I have them on the ";2 reps with the met, 1 rep with out the met"; diet.  This had helped a lot because they start to figure out where they slow down and where they speed up.

Exposure to great lines also helps.  Get them to watch some Lot videos or get them to a drum corps show or practice  this summer and have them analyze what they are doing and how they are doing it and why they are doing it.

Hope this helps man & best of luck.
Thanks for the thoughts. I'm planning on having an informal field trip and taking some of them to see a show this summer. Hopefully the exposure to some top notch lines will inspire them.

Along these same lines what tips do you have for teaching playing through the head? The one inch below the surface always worked for me, but some of the kids struggle to apply it. It may be they're still struggling with technique, but this is such a fundamental part of quality sound production I like to teach it very early.

We're developing a decent base, but I'm struggling to put across some concepts like intensity and emotion, and making every rep count.

[quote]Along these same lines what tips do you have for teaching playing through the head? The one inch below the surface always worked for me, but some of the kids struggle to apply it. It may be they're still struggling with technique, but this is such a fundamental part of quality sound production I like to teach it very early.[/quote]

How much time do you spend on actually listening to everyone's sound?  If you have any private lesson/one-on-one time with the students, take time to have them go through what it feels like to under and overplay, then find a balance for what you like.  Also, stress what is a weak and full sound.  If they can hear it, they can apply it better.  If you're limited to full battery time only, try doing some add-on warmups.  Start doing reps of 8's or double beat with your center playing only (with good sound quality of course :-)...) and have each member add in one by one, stressing that they need to match that sound down the line.

Saying ";play through the head"; makes sense to us, but to most high schools kids that equals pound away or tighten up.
I've definitely thought about doing the add one at a time thing. It's something I want to start doing this fall. I don't get much one on one time if any, though I think I'll make time for some.�� I read an article and I think it was Mike McIntosh that would have his line start by just playing legatos, adding one at a time, with the center varying the tempo a little bit at a time. Sounded like a great idea to get them warmed up, conscious of how they fit in the sound and make sure they're listening to the right place.

Back in my corps days we used to have single people play through a rep by themselves going down the line, but I'm a little skeptic of that because I don't want to single anyone out too much at this level. Though on the other hand, it may force them to step up to the plate.
There are a lot of great ideas here. Over the course of last season our line made considerable strides both in focus and in playing ability. Personal accountability and being comfortable playing alone is a big thing to stress. The time I grew most as a player myself was when we were made to learn an exercise then play it by myself in front of the line. We'd play the exercise as an ensemble then one individual would play, then ensemble again... you get the idea.

Having an open dialog with students is very helpful for me. We had a discussion on a bus ride home after a competition about what things they though we should work on in rehearsal, things the staff could do better... and answered any questions they had about why we did things the way we did. I dont know why we hadn't tried it early. The kids gave us quiet a bit of good insight.

One of the things I am trying to work on is being able to explain things a few different ways. Playing an inch below the drum head for example, makes perfect sense to me.. but maybe that doesn't click for some of the kids so I'd say try playing with a higher velocity or something like that. I love watching other instructors teach because I pick up new ways to teach things myself.
Monkey see, monkey do- require your high school line to attend not only DCI shows, but rehearsals too.  I would track down where a top corps was staying over the summer and make my line go watch for [i]several hours.[/i]  That way they could see the hard work being done, and not just take my word for it.  If they don't understand what they're trying to achieve, they're not going to get there. 

I really think kids are kids, and you can mold any group into a solid ensemble.  It drives me nuts when I hear about ";building years"; or ";all my seniors graduated so it's going to be rough.";  High standards and intensity starts with the staff.  Your first minute of your first rehearsal is where you make an impression and set the tone.  I don't think you [i]ever[/i] need to scream and yell, but if you're 5 minutes late and act like a goofball, expect the same from the kids.
There are some great suggestions in these replies.��

I'm not trying to be a know-it-all but in my opinion this is an area that many, many high school groups overlook; and, not just the percussion.�� I've��got four degress in education but I still go to rehearsals, clinics, shows, and concerts when possible to see/hear what I can learn in order to be a better instructor.

Most everyone notices immediately, especially with the better prepared groups, their focus and intensity.�� Watching a group warm up in the parking lot or rehearsing at the local high school, I've had young students (9th grade) ask: ";Why do they look so mad?";�� For the lay person they may or may not see it, sense what it is, or completely understand focus and intensity.�� They just know that the group is quite good or into it.�� In order to reach a young group (especially one that is new to the whole concept I believe that:

1)�� You, the instructor/teacher, must develop the ability to model (at a level they understand) the desired percussion techniques that your group requires.�� Don't be afraid to get other people involved in your area that can, at the very least, come out to a rehearsal and share another perspective.�� (Two heads are better than one.)

2)�� You must be able to display the correct attitude in regards to a) promptness, b) enthusiasm, c) a willingness to share your knowledge again and again, and d) you yourself must be willing to listen to their needs.�� The last one is difficult especially when we are under the gun and trying to meet a deadline.

3)�� You have to make time to take to expose them to a higher quality of playing under relaxed conditions for you and for them.�� This is when you go to a local or regional show if you can't make it to nationals.�� I say relaxed so that maybe over a meal and/or the ride home you can reflect on what was seen and heard while it is still fresh on their mind.�� And, introduce and/or reinforce ideas by using dvd's and or introducing/reminding them of Web sites that offer free info and/or close up videos online.

4)�� Keep your standards high.�� They (the students) will follow whatever you teach and expect.�� Over time it will become more of an expectation amongst themselves that they hold each other to those lofty goals.�� A group with great leadership wants to improve over what it has done during the previous season even if it was a winning season.

I make every attempt to get my students to understand that it is the ability to deal with [b]details[/b] (as you guys know there are tons of them) on a [i]consistent[/i] basis.

Understand that they are high school students.�� They make mistakes, too.�� How you decide to handle their mistakes can make or break the groups efforts to be a cohesive ensemble and show continued improvement.

If your attitude is in the pocket, they will come to realize what is possible for their group.�� Good luck to all.
I think those 4 things southerncomfort listed are about as concise and excellent a guide for successful instruction as I've seen. Great post!

I've learned a bunch already from everyone's responses... thanks everyone!
Hey guys whats up...�� This is a great thread,�� and I hope it stays a hot topic.�� I'll throw in my 2 cents...

I found out early that a ";laid back"; approach to rehearsing would not work with high schoolers (at least not for me) and that they would not have focus and intensity unless I did.�� So I quickly made some changes that seemed to work well for me...�� These are the main 3 changes I made:

1)�� Create small goals to be achieved at each rehearsal and say them [b]out loud.[/b]�� For example,�� ";today our goal is to play measures 58 thru 75 cleanly at 160 bpm.�� We have till 3 o'clock to accomplish that.�� We will not move on till you guys can play those measures cleanly 3 times in a row.";�� Then if they accomplish the goal early I give them some pats on the back and maybe an extra long break.�� If they don't achieve the goal then they share in the dissapointment along with me,�� and are willing to work harder next time.�� ��When the kids know the specific goal�� they seem to be able to focus more on their own,�� I think because maybe they feel more included in the process.�� ��When the goal is ambiguous their minds tend to wander more.

2)�� Run a very fast moving rehearsal.�� I stress very quick starts and stops.�� I make them keep their eyes on me at all times,�� and stop immediately after giving the signal (and make it a clear signal).�� Then,�� I start speaking instantaneously and I keep the words to a minimum before starting them again ASAP.�� Many times this process will take just a few seconds.�� When the rehearsal runs at an intense pace the kids seem to respond with their own intensity.�� This also helps them to keep their mind on the task at hand.

3)�� I can't agree more with CMachado about the accountability aspect.�� I call out the kids individually on a regular basis to play their part in front of the group,�� and I also use the ";ensemble -�� down the line�� - ensemble"; approach that CMachado spoke about earlier.�� Again,�� I try to do this very quickly and I try not to do much criticising.�� Messing up their parts in front of the group is usually enough without added criticism.�� I think this approach really helps the kids to stay focused during rehearsal.�� Knowing that they could be called out at any second seems to make them focus and try harder.�� This also helps to reinforce the ";team"; aspect of a percussion section.�� ��

I'm getting some really good ideas from this thread.�� I hope these ideas help some of you...

The comments are great! Here's my two cents,

[b]Cent 1[/b]�� Getting anything from your kids on a regular basis depends not only on the techniques you use, but also the [u]consistency[/u] in which you use them.

[b]Cent 2[/b]�� It is not really in a high schooler's nature to be disciplined, focused, and stand still for long periods of time. They need to be taught by [b]your[/b] example. If you're a hardcore focused bad*** on monday, then you have a bad day at work on tuesday and come into rehearsal kinda lax, then wednesday you're focused again, you'll never get your kids to be disciplined. They will simply follow your lead that it's ok to slack off when they feel like it.�� (I've been there more times that I'd like to admit....)
I make sure they can stand at set and look good doing it.  Then I run rehearsal for a good while so they can train to be in that frame all the time.  I do a lot of the ";1 note exercise"; just to practice feet starting, sticks out, and the first attack and stick in.  that is how I get them all listening together and moving with intensity for the first time .  words of encouragement also help focus the minds for a short period of time, but eventually my goal as a teacher is to get them to remind themselves. 

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