their articulation, intonation, phrasing, dynamic contrast, etc., and make corrective or reinforcing comments as needed. We should never accept a sound that is a poorer quality than the most focused, beautiful tone which they are capable of producing.

Remember, our students can usually very quickly replicate a performance concept if they simply have an adequate model. So, thanks to an increasing availability of recordings of outstanding bands at all age/ability levels, it is possible to obtain representative concert band performances that will clearly illustrate your preferred concept of ensemble sound for your middle school, high school or collegiate students. You might already use this method when demonstrating the desired tone qualities of individual instruments, but it is also a powerful way to model the quality of the full ensemble sound.

Additionally, it is helpful to frequently record your band not only for your own assessment purposes but also to enable your students to listen to and evaluate their sound as an ensemble. Involve your students in the assessment process and have them identify the strengths and areas of weakness they hear within their own band. What do they like about the sound they make? What do they not like about their sound? What can they improve? How can they improve it?

At this time, it is important to note that a “one sound fits all” approach to ensemble sound should be avoided. The fundamental band sound is one that is developed according to the principles previously outlined; however, conductors, through score study and interpretation, must derive at a quality of sound that is appropriate for each individual composition they are conducting with their ensembles. Some compositions or sections within a work may require a dark, rich quality of sound from the ensemble while others may need a bright, edgy sound. It is possible that a piece will require a sound that results from balancing the band according to figure 2, similar to an hourglass, or perhaps the appropriate balance for a work would more appropriately resemble a diamond structure shown in figure 3. Wind band compositions that have been written within the past few decades have grown increasingly sophisticated on many musical levels, thus compelling conductors to give adequate attention to the quality of sound that may be required of each unique work. The standard pyramid of balance, figure 1, may be appropriate in the majority of musical situations, but not all of them. Conductors must have the knowledge,

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creativity and confidence to understand when a change is needed in the band’s sound and what adjustments to make to create the appropriate sound.

And finally, it is often easy to overlook the contributions of the percussion section as we focus on the sound production and balance within the band’s wind sections. However, the quality of sound a percussion instrument or section contributes to a work can affect the overall ensemble sound as much as that of a wind instrument or section. Again, from experiences with my own ensembles and as a guest conductor, I find that percussionists tend to favor articulate, dry sounds produced by hard mallets or sharp, crisp performance techniques. Similar to my personal sound preferences of the wind instruments, I generally prefer percussion sounds that are dark and resonant rather than those that are bright and brittle. Of course, changes must be made in accordance with the musical context, but I prefer making adjustments from a position of the initial sounds being dark and resonant, rather than from the other direction. Take care to attend to the sounds the percussion section is delivering. Young players especially seem to be content if they strike the proper instrument at the proper time, but they often neglect to consider the quality of the sound they produce. And remember, the quality of a percussion sound can be changed greatly simply by changing the performance technique. It is not always necessary to start by changing a stick or mallet. Describe the sound you want and see how close your students can get to that sound by making their own performance decisions!

The sounds that our bands produce should be of primary importance to all of us, and we must take steps to aptly describe the desired quality of ensemble sound as well as nurture that sound in a careful, consistent manner. My advice is that you establish a sound routine (Pun intended!) through which you work each day to develop the sound of your band but take care to create variety within that routine so that your students do not become bored or complacent with this very important part of the rehearsal. Be patient. Like music itself, the development of an ensemble’s sound is an on- going endeavor, and although we conductors may eventually be satisfied with the quality of sound our band is achieving, there will always be room for refinement.


Chodoroff, Arthur. Performance: Ensemble Sound. In School Band and Orchestra, December 2010. Lowell, MA: Symphony Publications, 14-16.

Gorder, Wayne. Sound Training: Twenty-Six Chorales of J. S. Bach. Cleveland, OH: Ludwig Music Publishing Co., 1995.

Lisk, Edward. The Creative Director: Alternative Rehearsal Techniques. Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Meredith Music Publications, 1987.

McBeth, Francis. Effective Performance of Band Music: Solutions to specific problems in the performance of 20th Century Band Music. San Antonio, TX: Southern Music Co., 1972.

Paynter, John. A Daily Warm-Up Routine. In Band, Volume 1, Number 1. Traverse City, MI: Band, Inc., 1984, 6-9.

Williamson, John. Rehearsing the Band. Cloudcroft, NM: Neidig Services, 1998.

(From A Daily Warm-Up Routine by John P. Paynter. September/October 1984 issue of BAND.)

Richard Mark Heidel is director of bands in the School of Music at The University of Iowa where he conducts the Symphony Band, teaches graduate courses in conducting and band literature, guides the graduate band conducting program, and oversees all aspects of the University of Iowa band program. Ensembles under Dr. Heidel’s direction have performed at national, regional and state conferences including those of the College Band Directors National Association, National Association for Music Education, Iowa Bandmasters Association, Wisconsin Music Educators Association, Illinois Music Educators Association and National Band Association- Wisconsin Chapter. He has also led concert tours to Ireland and England as well as throughout the Midwest. Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2010 issue of the Iowa Bandmaster.


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