October 5, 2009 in City

Spokane teacher talks about working with beginning band students

Jodyl@Spokesman.Com, (509) 459-5593
Jesse Tinsley photo

Spokane Public Schools music teacher Patricia Bassett readies a viola for fifth-grader Tayvia Patrick, right, at the district warehouse Sept. 22, where the district’s 1,500-plus instruments were being rented out for $20 for the school year and demand was strong.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane Public Schools recently distributed 1,500 instruments to fifth- and sixth-graders preparing for a year in band or orchestra. Tammy King, who teaches music at Linwood and Lidgerwood elementary schools, says the first “real, true song” she teaches her band students is “Hot Cross Buns.” “It’s such a simple song, but when we get it right they think they should be in Carnegie Hall,” said King.

Q.What instruments are available for kids to play?

A.The district offers flute, clarinet, baritone, trombone, trumpet, violin, viola, cellos and limited basses – which can only go to families that have transportation because the bass cannot be taken on buses. No percussion or saxophones. There is a usage fee of $20 per year.

Q.What instrument is the most popular?

A.Most of the time, it’s pretty evenly divided. The most popular is the clarinet and the trumpet. Next is the flute.

The theme from “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” inspires the kids to play the bass instruments, such as the baritone and trombone.

Q.Are all of the district’s fifth- and sixth-graders involved in band?

A.No. In fifth and sixth grade, at Linwood, they have to take an instrument (because it’s a pilot school for music). We call it their instrument exploration time in fifth grade. We have them building from kindergarten, then in fifth grade it’s put to the test.

The other pilot elementary schools are Adams, Bemis, Brown, Cooper, Finch, Franklin, Holmes, Hutton, Indian Trail, Logan, Moran Prairie, Regal, Sheridan, Whitman, Willard and Wilson.

Q.What’s the first step to teaching a child to read music?

A.In kindergarten, we do rhythm, movement, singing and dance. The children play on rhythm instruments, such as the bells, triangles, xylophones, drum sticks and marimbas.

Also, in kindergarten through third grade, I teach pitch. I use a music software program, and one by one I have them come up and write a note on a staff. I’ll ask them to write a low note for me. And they know where to put it.

Using technology has really helped. This is basic. I’m just trying to get them to realize the high and low notes.

Reading music can be abstract. I liken it to algebra. You have a symbol, and you apply a sound to it. I start with three symbols: a quarter rest, a quarter note and two eighth notes.

Q.Do you wear earplugs?

A.I used to, yes. Lidgerwood Elementary is one of those buildings with new construction, and I had to wear earplugs because it was so loud. But adjustments have been made, so it’s not like that anymore.

Q.What’s the most important lesson to teach in music?

A.The most important thing they get from it is enjoyment, and the love of music. If they have the love of music, that will be their desire to learn more.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email