I was asked the other day why more students didn’t learn the trombone. I had been admiring the piano teachers several days of full classes (on compass) and comparing to my list of 8 trombonists. Actually – I am quite happy with 8 in this particular school. It did however get me thinking about why he has 30 kids and I have 8, why the guitar teacher has over 40 and why the French horn teacher has 2!
We are all aware that some instruments are easier to recruit for than others. Some are trendy, some parents want kids to play particular ones, some are smaller, some are cheaper.
Unfortunately, the ones we usually need to actively recruit for are usually the big, expensive, slightly weird sounding and unheard-of instruments. So how can we effectively recruit students to play our – bassoons, bass clarinets, oboes, French horns and tubas etc.
One of the main reasons students don’t learn instruments is often as easy as never having been exposed to them. It’s a bit like picking a career. A huge percentage of people end up in the same career as their parents. This is simply a case of exposure. They know about that job, they know how to do it, what needs to be done, how to access it, the hours – it is the path of least resistance. It is the same with instruments. If you know someone who plays it, have heard and maybe had a go then it is far more likely
Get a group of friends started.
Starting with a group of friends is always a winning situation. I remember once we seriously needed oboe players. I took one to one of my year 7 classes – we had a lesson about the oboe and listened to it. I also made a big deal about needing players to learn quickly so it would be good if it was people who already read music. We discussed how important it was in the orchestra and that only really good musicians should learn it. Worked a treat – 3 from one class, all who were pianists already and wanted to join a group.
I always like to recruit from the piano players. These musicians have been practicing for years by themselves and there are seldom enough ensembles for them all to play it. There is a high drop-out rate when piano players get to high school as life generally becomes far more social. These pianists are sitting ducks for recruitment. The double bass is their fastest way into an ensemble, tuned percussion is also good fun and quick for them to pick up. They go from being one of many to being sought after musicians pretty fast.
Tell them what you need.
Talk to them about how much easier the gigs are to get for some instruments than other, how happy and delighted teachers and conductors are to see ‘odd’ instruments. How they will stand out from the crowd.
Target individuals and their parents. This approach is much better than the general approach of “I would like someone to learn”. The approach of ” I think you would be perfect for” is much more inviting. When you have talked to the students, then follow it up with an email to the parents so that there is a conversation at home as well.
Telling them they are naturals.
Flattery will get you everywhere. The trick is to not tell all the kids that they are naturals at everything – they are not that thick. Don’t laugh I have seen this done at a recruitment night where all the kids took around pieces of paper to each of the instrument stations. Teachers had to circle how each student did on their instruments from OK – good – talented – gifted. Every single kid at the end of the night had gifted for every single instrument! If you have such a sheet, then seriously – ration out how many ‘gifted’ and even talented each teacher is allowed to give out!
It is massive instrumental stereotyping, but I am firm believer in matching personalities to instruments. I think this is where students really bond with their instrument but also make friends with other players. Match not only their personalities but also the roles of the instruments. String players need to be good team players, trumpet players need to have an inner confidence. Horn players have to have confidence and be prepared to take risks. And of course, trombonists are the most well rounded and fabulous humans.