It's that time of the school year, where ensemble directors are closely monitoring incoming middle school student numbers, and considering size and membership for the fall marching ensemble.
For most high school marching bands - the battle is to try to recruit, retain, and engage with as many new students as possible.
We have identified 4 strategies that will help you drive new recruitment for your ensemble, and while you might have considered or practice a couple of these tactics, they probably bear repeating and exploring.
(1) Identify students that aren't but should...
If you've spent time around ANY band room, band hallway, or fine and performing arts department, you will always see a subset of students that hang out with your music students, but they do not participate in your ensembles. Those friendships provide a social bridge into your program for new students.
Maybe that student quit the trumpet less than 18 months ago, or could be persuaded to pursue a new instrument ("Hey, try out this marching tuba!")?
Or perhaps that student could find his or her way into your percussion section, as those piano lessons they took in elementary school can be brushed-up on and that marimba could use another player.
Then there is always the color guard, or an "equipment manager" position.
If your program has kids that always show up in your band room or your band hall - get to know them and feel them out. If they sense that they are welcomed and supported they may just take a risk and follow through!
(2) Create positive peer influence...
Your strongest influence to persuade students to join your program happens via peer social interaction. Obviously you wouldn't want to have kids join your band program for NO OTHER REASON than to hang out with their friends, but the social element is something that does come into play, more often then we realize.
Your program culture needs to be welcoming and accessible to students regardless of age or grade, talent and ability level, socio-economic background, and cultural diversity.
Your existing students provide the best pathway for new incoming students. Empower your kids to bring new kids into the program, as they will be much better at "painting the picture" for new kids than you will. Those long weekends, late night competition trips and long days of band camp are the stuff that cement friendships.
(3) Work the parent angle...
Just like your students, your existing band parents can help "de-mystify" the band commitment. The schedule and the length of the rehearsal and performance season can seem daunting to new parents. Allow your boosters (with your guidance) to create comfort with those new parents (or even parents that are still not sure and on-the-fence about allowing their son/daughter to join).
It's not uncommon to have the path to membership "roadblocked" by a parent that is fearful of the commitment, or just doesn't take the time to fully understand what it's all about.
Needless to say - numbers (2) & (3) on this list will work hand-in-hand with one another.
(4) Review your groups "barriers to entry"...
The best way to understand the factors that limit participation is to simply ask students why they quit, or why they didn't return for another season.
The answers may surprise you, but sometimes it comes down to "It wasn't fun enough", or "It took too much time and I wasn't able to do this other thing I want to do".
Take a long, objective look at the factors that influence these decisions.
- Is there a way to better balance rehearsal time against other activities?
- Is there an opportunity to expand the aspects of the program that lead to more social interaction?
- Is it too expensive? What sort of fundraising can be brought to bear to help lighten the financial burden?
Don't just assume - "He/She was lazy and didn't want to work hard enough to improve..." That's too easy to fall for, and there is almost ALWAYS more to the equation than that.
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