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Effective Techniques for Woodwind Sectionals

By: Neal Postma

We all know the great potential that sectionals have for our ensembles, but we also know the potential of them being wasted. Effective sectionals come from cultivating the right paradigm within the ensemble and program, which can take years to be done well, but there are some things you can do in the short term to make sectionals more efficient.

Empower your student leadership. Students want to lead their peers, and other students want to follow the experienced members of their ensemble. Have meetings with these student leaders and teach them how to effectively lead their sections. Discuss basic pedagogy techniques, and strategies to help them inspire their peers.

Discuss goals. This should be done with leadership especially but also with the ensemble as a whole. Each section should be well aware of what they are trying to do during their allotted time more than just playing through the music. This includes sections that do not have to necessarily practice technical passages. As a low reed player mysellf, I recall being bored during sectionals in high school because we were under the impression that sectional time was only for working on technique. Talk to your students about how to dial in pitch, and give them the tools to do it!

Acknowledge that some socializing will happen. Thinking that no socializing will happen is absurd, especially since socializing is essential to developing sections that play well together. Have your leadership team discuss how they will approach socializing, and how to move the sectional from talking to effective rehearsing.

Bring in guests to work with sections. This does not have to be every week, perhaps once a semester, but bringing in a professional on the instrument can really inspire a section. The guest can also provide rehearsal techniques for your student leaders to imitate.

As a teacher, float around and assist the sections, but once they are able to effectively run themselves, let them do it!