Posted by: Project MicroMundo | August 8, 2010

One Band, One Sound

This is Jess, and for my debut blog post, I’m going to talk about my project here at Volunteer Petén: working with the marching band! The School of Natural Resources has a small band that meets a few times every week. It’s mainly comprised of percussion, trumpets, and trombones with almost no woodwind representation. That’s because the main goal here is volume – for a small band, they produce a huge sound! There are often parades, or desfiles, in town (three since we’ve been here), so the band is kept busy.


The band marches in the desfile on Saturday

Quads, Snares and Bass Drums

Quads, Snares and Bass Drums

The biggest difference between the band here and bands in the U.S. is how music is learned. In the U.S., students are taught from a young age to read music. Here, students play entirely by ear, with not a sheet of music in sight. The director plays the tune on the xylophone while the students listen closely to pick out their parts. Then they practice and practice until they’ve got it down.

The difficulty in this method is consistency. What one student hears might not be the same as the next student, and this leads to discrepancies within parts. The goal of any band is unified sound – as they say in Drumline, “one band, one sound!” That’s why my project over the next month will be giving the band an introduction to reading music: el pentagrama (the staff), las notas (notes), and las claves (the clefs). Through our practices we are going to learn more about tuning, listening to other parts, correct breathing and posture – all the tools needed for a more cohesive and refined sound.

Despite the limited resources and challenges, there is a strong enthusiasm and hunger to learn here, and we’ve already made a lot of progress! In our first week, students learned the basics of reading rhythms. Things got a little hairy when we got to la síncopa (syncopation), but the students pushed through and were counting like champs by the end. Next, we tackled the concert B flat scale on the trumpet and trombone. This was a great introduction to slide positions, concert tuning notes, and attention to pitch.

Students (and Jess) after learning how to play a B flat scale

Our last post discussed education in Guatemala and the challenge of keeping kids in school past their early teens. Getting kids involved in extracurricular activities is one of the best ways to prevent drop outs. Students whose friendships, social lives, and hobbies are tied to an extracurricular have much more to lose by dropping out than students with no involvement.

As a lifelong member of the marching band, this project is very close to my heart. That’s why I want to send a huge thank you to Beth Wofford and the Mighty Sound of Maryland, who have enthusiastically agreed to work with me in getting these kids the resources they need! The students already know a bit about the MSOM, as I brought my 2009 DVD and showed our Pregame performance in our first lesson. They were quite impressed, and your support is going to be a big help, so thanks!

Coming next: Breathing exercises, complex rhythms, and reading basic music!


  1. Wow! Sounds like great progress in a short time! The students sound wonderfully motivated. That’s lot of parades each week – fantastic that you can help them keeping learning.

    –Eileen (Smith)

  2. Yeah Jessica! Wow, I am so impressed! I am going to suggest that you send an invite to the MicroMundo blog to Alex. You know this is his major, perhaps he could help with some pointers. I KNOW he’d love to follow along with this project.
    I can tell you first hand, he’s the only person who has had any success teaching me to sight read (and I played piano for 8 years as a kid.)
    Much love, Kris

  3. You have some very ambitious plans. You go girl !
    I don’t suppose there would be any way to have a brief before/after video (with audio) of your students?

  4. One word again describes Micromundo – AMAZING!!!

    Thanks for sharing!

    lisa kaminski

  5. Thanks Jess!! Sounds like you’re doing a great job. I can’t wait to get started!!

  6. Awesome post, Jess! It’s amazing that you’re starting from the music basics… I’ve tried (note the “TRIED”) to teach music theory and comprehension to kids before and I know how difficult it is. Sounds like you’ve made a great impression on these kids and that they’ve made great progress already. They’re are going to learn so much. What a gift! Go Jessica, go!!!

  7. Wow Jessica, I am SO PROUD of you!!! You’re really going to make a difference in these kids’ lives. Teaching how to read music is hard in the first place; I can’t imagine teaching in another language, you’re amazing!

    As far as teaching tips go, I find that substituting words for rhythms works like a charm, instead of always counting them out. For example, I use fruits a lot: pear for quarter notes, apple for eighths, pineapple for triplets, etc. I’m too lazy to think of spanish equivalents, but you get the idea.

    It sounds like you’re doing an awesome job already, and I’m so proud of the great work you’re doing!🙂 Love and miss you!

  8. Love it! So true what you wrote about extracurricular activities! I’m so excited for you and the marching band kids!

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