Roger Maxwell's "14 Weeks to a Better Band"

In 1995 I was the band director at B-G-M in Brooklyn, Iowa. The school district was comprised of three communities – Brooklyn, Guernsey, and Malcom. While trying to improve the reading ability of band members, I wrote out music worksheets which could be used by students in grades 7-12. For their weekly band lessons, students would play a different worksheet comprised of a single rhythmic figure. (Examples of rhythmic figures would be two eighth notes, fours sixteenth notes, a dotted quarter followed by an eighth note.)

The band’s reading ability improved in such a short period of time that the pep band was invited to introduce music for the first time at the Iowa Girls High School Basketball Tournament in 1966. The tradition carries on as of this day - March, 2019.



Celebrating 50 Years of Pep Bands at the State Basketball Tournament

Music and entertainment have gone hand-in-hand with the Iowa Girls’ State Basketball for many years. 2016 marks the 50th year that a pep band played at the state tournament.

In March of 1966, the BGM pep band, under the direction of Roger Maxwell, was invited to play in the opening round of the tournament by then-IGHSAU Executive Secretary E. Wayne Cooley. The band played both the afternoon and evening sessions of the tournament.

Because of the positive overall experience I had teaching in the B-G-M school district, in 1972 – 73, I conducted a pilot study in Iowa which involved 18 high school bands. The purpose of the study was to see whether bands could improve their reading ability by concentrating their practice to one rhythmic figure per week. The bands used my pre-publication book titled “Fourteen Weeks to a Better Band”.

"A Jubilant Overture" by Alfred Reed

"Third Set for Band" by Jared Spears



Results of the Pilot Study

The below chart indicates a comparison of reading errors by the nine RAM bands and nine ARM bands during their INITIAL readings of “A JUBILANT OVERTURE.”

RAM Bands ARM Bands Reduction %
36 16 44

This major reduction of reading errors by 44% by the ARM bands occurred when the music was exchanged midway through the study. This means that the reading ability of the ARM bands improved significantly during the first seven weeks of the study. When the music was exchanged midway through the study, the RAM bands averaged four reading errors in contrast to the nine errors made by the ARM bands in their INITIAL reading of “THIRD SET FOR BAND.”

The below chart again shows this comparison of reading errors by both bands during their INITIAL readings of “Third Set for Band.”

RAM Bands ARM Bands Reduction %
4 9 44

Again, this represented an overall reduction of 44 percent.



More Results

Moreover, I find it to be very interesting that the RAM bands in their third and final reading of “A JUBILANT OVERTURE” reduced their overall number of reading errors to 9. The ARM bands in their third and final reading of “A JUBILANT OVERATURE” reduced their reading errors to 8. It is almost unbelievable that both bands came within 1 reading error in their final reading of “A JUBILANT OVERATURE.”

Likewise, in their final readings of “THIRD SET FOR BAND,” the ARM bands reduced their overall reading errors to 1.5 at the end of the 7th week. The RAM bands in their third and final reading of the same work reduced their overall errors to 1 at the end of the 14th week.

At the conclusion of the study, I shared the results with the C.L. Barnhouse Music Publishers. The company was so impressed with the results they published “Fourteen Weeks to a Better Band”.

Reflecting on the results for some forty years, I needed a scientific explanation as to what made the pilot study so successful. I found myself asking questions such as:

  1. How was it possible that seven of nine bands did not make a reading error during their 3rd and final reading of “Third Set for Band by Jared Spears?” One band made 2 reading errors and another band made 3 reading errors.
  2. How were bands able to reduce their reading errors by 44 % halfway through the study?
  3. How were small Iowa high school bands able to read music as well as larger high school bands considering that students in small schools were engaged in extra-curricular activities such as basketball, volleyball, track, soccer, golf and drama?

In order to try to answer these questions, I read a number of peer review studies used with the permission of the International Music Products Association (NAMM) formerly known as the American Music Conference. The majority of these studies as generated by universities, colleges and high school association throughout the United States focused on academic excellence and achievement.

As I found nothing comparable to my study, I knew from our study that something happened within the brains of these high school students which allowed each rhythmic figure to become permanently embedded in their brains.

Not being a neurologist, I did read a limited number of papers and studies as they would pertain to music and the brain. I found that a limited number of members in the neurological community differ as to the number of neurons and synapses contained in the human brain. The number ranged from 90 million to 125 trillion.

From these studies, I felt that I had found a scientific explanation as to how neurons and synapses interact in providing music to the brain. This information allowed me to understand why our pilot study was successful. When a student played a single rhythmic figure repeatedly, that figure was received by millions, perhaps billions of neurons and synapses thereby allowing it to become permanently embedded in the brain. The illustration found below give a graphic explanation as to the process.



How It All Comes Together

The below illustration shows a student observing two eighth notes. The illustration indicates, in the simplest terms, as to how the two eighth notes become permanently embedded in the brain:

  1. The eyes see two eighth notes on the staff.
  2. This information is sent to a waiting neuron in the brain which comprehends what the eye has sent.
  3. A waiting synapse receives the information from the neuron and transmits the information (two eighth notes) to a receiving synapse via an electrical current.
  4. A receiving neuron accepts this information from the sending synapse.

Now, consider this simple explanation, the interplay between neurons and synapses, to be multiplied by one million (1,000,000) to two hundred million (200,000,000) or more neurons and synapses. This process (the playing/singing of two eighth notes over and over through lessons, practice, rehearsals and concerts) allows the eighth notes to become again, permanently embedded in the brain for the remainder of a person's lifetime.

Dr. Daniel T. Tranel, Senior Neurologist, Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic in Iowa City Iowa assisted me in understanding the role which the basal ganglia and cerebellum play in receiving and remembering rhythmic figures.



Illustration

The below illustration shows eighth notes being transmitted via memory circuits to the basal ganglia and cerebellum. These two organs utilize the best neutral memory system within the brain. The training approach utilized by the “14 Weeks to a Better Band” book involves the use of psychomotor repetition to support sight reading in music instrument playing. This approach will tend to create more indelible, firmly etched neutral memory traces that are less prone to error and forgetting.


The Eleven Basic Rhythmic Figures found in
“Fourteen Weeks to a Better Band.”

Number and use of rhythmic figures by week
RHYTHM WEEK TOTAL
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11  
note - develop sight reading 1067 112 266 147 210 70 70 161 119 84 77 2383
note - develop sight reading   819                   819
note - develop sight reading     588                 588
note - develop sight reading       567               567
note - develop sight reading         504             504
note - develop sight reading           553           553
note - develop sight reading             497         497
note - develop sight reading               413       413
note - develop sight reading                 497     497
note - develop sight reading                   378   378
note - develop sight reading                     553 553
Total: 1067 931 854 714 714 623 567 574 616 462 630 7752
Grand Total

The above numbers are based upon each exercise and related study being played once a day to develop sight reading improvements.



Roger and Arenda Maxwell

Roger Maxwell graduated from the University of Northern Iowa (formerly known as the Iowa State Teachers College) where he was one of the founding fathers of the “Dimensions in Jazz” program. In May 2016, he was inducted into the University's School of Music's Jazz Hall of Fame.

He served as a trombonist, rehearsal conductor and arranger for the U.S. Army Band of the Pacific while stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii.

While teaching in Brooklyn, Iowa, his pep band introduced music to the Iowa High School Girl's State Basketball Tournament in 1966.

He is the author of many instructional works including “14 Weeks to a Better Band” – Books 1 and 2, “Fourteen Weeks to an Improved Band”, “Twelve Weeks to a Better Jazz Ensemble”, “Innovations in Jazz”, and “Sing a New Song”.

In 1982, he conducted “Everyone Sings the Messiah” at the Des Moines Civic Center. This unrehearsed performance was one of the largest presentations of the “Messiah” in the U.S. with an estimated 2000 singers participating.

In 1999, he and his wife traveled to Japan where he introduced his instructional book “Innovations in Jazz” to bands in the cities of Kofu, Takasaki, Hammamatsu and Shimizu.

The Maxwell’s are the parents of four children and five grandchildren.