I have been extremely fortunate to have had a group of youth, all in the same grade, who have formed the core of our current youth band. They started in Jr. High and have moved up through the years. This is their Jr. year in high school though, and that means jobs, less time, more responsibilities, and eventually graduation.
Youth are only with us for limited amount of time. This means each year I will lose a few members. If I can’t find ways to engage more, younger members it’s only a short amount of time before the band is gone. So I thought I would share just a few of my thoughts on how to build a sustainable team.
1. Have a variety of ages in the band – As I said before the core of my group are all 11th graders right now. Luckily I have begun including youth of various ages coming in behind them. In addition I have two 8th graders, 2 freshman and a sophomore. I plan to work this next year on recruiting more players of various ages to the team.
2. Have students mentor each other - Whenever possible I pair up older players with younger players of the same instrument. They help them learn to play, and learn the music. When they are comfortable playing I will have team members trade off and play different songs. I will also add parts, like have one guitar player play more rhythm and one lead, or have one percussionist on drum set and one on auxiliary percussion.
3. Always look for future members - I try to keep my eyes and ears open for future youth band members. I talk with our children’s choir director about students we have in 4th or 5th grades who play musical instruments, or sing. I try to find out which kids are playing in 6th grade band, and what they are playing. I teach guitar and piano lessons to younger students. This way I can contact them about playing when they get into the youth program.
4. Create a way for everyone to play - If someone wants to be involved we try to find a way to make it happen. In the past We have had a youth choir that anyone can join and sing with. We have had additional youth bands that rehearsed and worked on basics. From each of these groups we have had students grow in confidence in their instruments, voices and with themselves. They then have moved on to our main youth band.
5. Create non crucial playing opportunities - To play we generally need drum set, bass, electric guitar, and keyboard or acoustic. We add several opportunities to our group by adding extra keys, auxiliary percussion, lead and rhythm guitar and others. This not only adds opportunities for more youth to play, but provides backup. If your drummer doesn’t show up, your auxiliary percussion player can move over to drum set.
These are just five suggestions that I am currently trying to use. The truth is that I do not have it all figured out, and I am sure there are many more ways to build sustainability. In fact I am sure you have some great suggestions, and I’d love to hear them. Leave them as a comment, or find me on twitter.com/rgmmusic or Facebook.com/russellmartinmusic.