Recruiting for band can be exciting and also a constant state of wondering "is this the best, efficient way to recruit?" I've been there! Recruiting can make or break a band program. So how do you make sure your recruitment methods are working? I'm here to give you some tips and tricks in how to recruit for your program and how to save you time in the planning process.
ART OF ANTICIPATION
In my years of teaching, I've found that dangling the carrot in front of students really gets them excited for what's to come. We spend from January to March talking about band instruments with our upcoming beginning band class, the 5th graders. We make sure to expose them to all the instruments that they can chose from and what all they can do with that talent, such as marching band, performances, color guard opportunities, etc. We talk about all the things that happen at the high school and invite them to attend football games to see the band perform and really understand what the band does. BUT the biggest carrot we dangle is our "Band Week". It is THE WEEK where students find out what instrument they are playing. This is where they are given their acceptance letter with all the information, they get their certificate and their picture taken to be put out in the 5th grade hallway. They get a goodie bag full of fun things (more on that later) and the pride of walking around the school knowing they made band.
At the beginning of March we send a parent handout explaining that Band Week is coming up quickly and giving brief information to the parents as to what to expect leading up to band signups. From there, parents can watch a short Q&A video going over what band is like for 6th graders. We find that a lot of misinformation is thrown at parents about band and we want to debunk those myths. The best way for kids to sign up for band is to help the parents get on board.
IN-PERSON VS. SIGN-UP FORM
Now, we have done band signups two different ways; a petting zoo mentality or a simple Google Form to fill out. Both have pro's and con's. Covid took away the in-person signups, which was heart breaking at first, but after we got our numbers from doing JUST the form, our numbers never wavered, in fact, they increased. With a few tweaks the following year, we decided this is how we will do our signups from here on out. However, you know your program better than anyone, so I'm going to explain how we did both methods and you can decide what will be the best fit for you. Either way, your kids will love the experience and feel like they are apart of something amazing.
INSTRUMENT PETTING ZOO
Let's start with the in-person petting zoo method. Before they start the petting zoo, parents and students sign-in at our holding area (usually the gym or cafeteria). The form is simply asking general information; parent name, student name, phone number, address, music teacher, etc. This starts our documentation of student entry. While they are waiting, we have a video looping; either Q & A video, student interviews or videos of our high school band performing. Before the families are called to the petting zoo area, each family gets a number and we call them into the petting zoo by number. This helps with crowded areas and gives everyone a calmer environment when trying instruments.
We have several band rooms that are connected, so we utilize this particular space for our students to explore the wondrous world of band. We set up stations around these band rooms with signs showing them where to go and how to get to where they want to be. We encourage the kids to try all the instruments and to have their cards filled out by each instructor to determine their best instrument fit. When they get done trying the instruments they want, they go check out. There we have a band director and an instrument rental representative. The band director takes the kids top three instrument picks and puts the information in the spreadsheet that dumped in from the sign-in sheet earlier (this helps keep everything in one place and organized).
It would be then that the kids find out what they get chosen for. We created "top numbers" for each instrument; for example, we would only take 40 trumpets, 45 clarinets, etc. We also had a waitlist for instruments that were full but the kid really wanted to be in that instrument. So, if someone changed their mind midway through summer, we could contact the student and let them know there was an opening. From there, the parents get a packet of information about instrument purchase and they can chose to go to the rental company representative to either sign a contract or just check out their options of instrument purchase. We also have a program for our school that allows students to rent from the school at a very low cost - this is to ensure all students have equal opportunity to participate in band.
Please know, I know our program is very fortunate to have this option and that we can provide in this way. Giving all students opportunity is very important for our program and we strive to keep it this way. After the kids get their information, we have a photo booth prepared for the kids with props and a hashtag that parents and students could use when they post about which instrument they made. Parents love this idea and definitely helps it feel "real" to them.
BAND SIGN-UP FORM PREP AND PROCESS
Now, this might not be convincing to you, but we have had SO MUCH success with students just signing up for band and that be it. But, before you totally judge me on this and write it off, just hear me out and then you can make up your mind if this is for you or not. During Covid, we had to figure out a way for students to signup for band without touching an instrument. We were scared and concerned about our numbers and we weren't sure if anything we did could match to the excitement of the petting zoo concept.
Thats when we were forced to come up with our "Band Week" concept - of dangling the carrot. In March, we ramp up Band Week. We hype it up! We talk about it, give handouts explaining the process and answer just generic questions without giving a whole lot away. The week before Band Week, we open signups. Our Google Form that we created is VERY extensive, with general information collection, register financial assistance if needed, but also resources for parents and students to determine what instrument would best fit them; almost like an instrument quiz. We inserted video demonstration of instruments, picture diagrams of mouth shapes, and body questions.
Now during that same signup week, some of our band directors teach 5th grade music, so we have them almost do like a Sorting Hat of instruments (insert Harry Potter reference). They have the students come up to them and the teacher assesses their mouth and face type and give them predictions of what might be their best fit instrument. Now, this....right here....actually is exciting for the students. My only guess is the anticipation of finding out what you and your friend MIGHT be picked for. Regardless, it is a great lead into Band Week the following week.
The week leading into Band Week is all about signup. That's it. We talk about it, we go over the form with the students, we give them as much detail about the form as possible. We send out a few parent email reminders that Band Week is coming up quickly and in order for their child to participate in Band Week, they have to sign up the week before. You would be amazed of how many kids signup in just one week.
BAND WEEK IN ALL IT'S GLORY
Now, let's talk about Band Week. This is the moment the kids have been waiting for! The anticipation has been built up and high expectations have been given - so it is time to shine! So, bring in on!!!
With the data we got from the kids in what they wanted to play, we try to give them their first choice instrument because we believe that passion for the instrument can overpower a lot of struggles a student might have. However, we do keep in mind that some adjustments might need to be made based on modification and accommodations for some students and how they can best be successful in the classroom. We keep within the goal numbers we setup and then we create the certificates and goodie bags. When they show up to their music classes, their instruments are announced like an award ceremony, for all to see and celebrate!
The goodie bags are VERY simple. The bags are purchased at a dollar store - they are clear and plastic...absolutely nothing special about them. We get a big bag of candy and disperse them between all the goodie bags. We have our class write encouraging notes to the new band members (which they love doing). Stickers are also included in the goodie bag - you can normally get these off of Amazon and there are TONS of stickers that can be put on water bottles and they are in bulk of 100 to 200 for under $20. We disperse these in the goodie bags as well. Our BIG purchase for the goodie bags are the rubber wristbands with our band name on them and the year that they will be in beginning band. Kids LOVE these and wear them the whole year. They receive the entire goodie bag when they get their certificate and acceptance letter.
CERTIFICATES AND ACCEPTANCE LETTERS
The certificates are simply made with just a template off of Google. We make a certificate specific to each instrument; so it might say "You are a TROMBONE PLAYER for ::insert school name here::" and then the band directors sign the bottom of the certificate along with the child's name being written at the top. Attached to the certificate is their acceptance letter and ALL the information about how to purchase the instrument and where to get them. It also has our email address on there so parents can have our specific contact information if questions arise, because there are always questions.
After the kids receive their certificates and acceptance letters in class, we take them over to a photo booth setup and take their picture with a prop that says what instrument they are playing next year. They hold up their certificate proudly and smile big because they are going to be put in the 5th grade hallway for all to see. And they are SO PROUD of their accomplishment getting picked for band. The pictures might be my favorite part! I make a big banner that says "Congrats to the next Beginning Band of BMS." Oftentimes, kids will come up to me as I'm putting the pictures on the walls and they proudly pick out their friends and cheer them on...and then ask me if they can join too...to which my answer is always YES!
So, as a quick overview and additional tips and tricks, lets look at some options you have to recruit for your band program:
You schedule an afternoon or evening for parents/guardians to bring their children to try out instruments
You will need several hands on deck depending on the size of your program and school - as you'll have several stations that need to be manned.
If you don't have any extra directors to help you, ask high schoolers to help or ask local universities if any of their students would be willing to help.
Make sure you have enough instruments for students to try and mouthpiece cleaners and a lot of reeds.
Have a check in and check out system where parents can give you their contact information and their child's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pick.
Have students walk around with a rating card or piece of paper where they can get feedback on what instruments worked best for them.
You can do the band week after the petting zoo and create that anticipation environment.
Band Signup Form
This is a no-instrument contact Google Form where parents and students answer questions and a guided questionnaire is given to help them make the best decision for their child - facial feature, body limitation, ear training knowledge, etc.
You create a handout with quick Q&A about the band program to ease any parents concerns or general questions.
I would also say making a quick video answer these questions is also helpful and adds a personal touch. Initiate Band Week after signups and celebrate with the kids!
YOUR NEXT MOVE
Whatever you decide to do for your program and it's recruiting, you know better than anyone what is going to work best. Sometimes it takes trial and error to figure it out, but it's worth it in the end. When we made these changes, our numbers went up 30 kids in one year - going from 160 to 190. But overall, a general rule applies, if you are passionate about band and show that to kids, it will be contagious. So, no matter the decision you make, show your passion and enjoy the process.
WHERE TO FIND MORE
I have poured a lot of time and effort into creating a resource for recruitment for any band program. It has all the materials you will need, that I've mentioned above. It includes:
Google Form Signups (both virtual signups or in person)
Instrument Petting Zoo Bingo Card
Full Band Acceptance Letters and Certificates (templates that you can edit for your program)
Resource links and explanations and so much more.
Trust me. This is going to save you HOURS of prepping for the event just by the templates alone. My hope is that you get to destress a little bit knowing that the paper work is handled and you can focus on your students!
If you want to download the Action Plan to help you organize your recruitment event, you can download it here, for free!
If you want the resources and materials already created to save you time, you can go here for more information:
If you are looking for more resources for your music classroom or band classroom, please feel free to visit my other blog posts below!