Karen Crocco, DMA
Band Director, Northport K-8
FBA Mentoring Committee Chairperson

The short answer to this question is, it is YOUR job. There is a caveat to that answer. If you are happy with the number and quality of students entering your program, no matter the grade levels you teach, then stop reading here and call me, because you have got the recruiting thing knocked! If, however, you would like more students starting your program or more students who are prepared to meet the demands of your program from the start, then maybe you should continue reading.

Effective recruiting is a HUGE factor in determining the future success of any band program. Unfortunately, too many directors do not understand the importance of recruiting, or are too buried under with other tasks, or are not interested in the hard work of recruiting to be successful at it. Here is my brief statement on that – RECRUITING IS IMPORTANT AND IT IS YOUR JOB TO GET STUDENTS INTERESTED IN YOUR PROGRAM! Now, to more calmly explain what I mean. It is not the middle school director’s job to get their eighth-grade students into your marching band camp. It is important for every middle school director to do what he/she can do to encourage his/her students to continue in band as they enter high school, but it is not their job to get students into your program. If you are a middle school director, it is not the elementary music teacher’s job or the guidance counselor’s job to get students into beginning band. It is your job to sell your program to incoming students and their parents, no matter the grade level.

Expecting students to sign up for band on their own, or with a flyer, or note home doesn’t work like it used to; directors must attract students.  Students don’t know enough about band to know that they want to join.  Students and parents must be shown and told about the band, its activities, and benefits; and they need to be convinced they should be participating. For those of you whom I haven’t lost already, here are a few tips and thoughts on developing productive recruiting practices.

Expand understanding and visibility

The fact is, all students are better served when they learn an instrument. Parents and students may believe youngsters must be “talented” to play, but that is not true. It is the director’s role to help all stakeholders to understand that the desire to learn is more important than “talent.”  Being visible to potential students is also important in increasing understanding. Recruiting requires getting out to all schools as often one possibly can. Being visible to your potential students year-round means more than visiting their class the day before course selection. Can your principal or AP help by scheduling your prep time so that you can spend more time off-site with in your feeder system?  Maybe you can create opportunities that involve younger students in one of your performance or social opportunities.  Physical materials such as flyers, posters, letters and videos can help in recruitment once students can make a connection between you and those materials.  Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing to know is that students will want to be in band because of you.

Enlist the help of your current students

Even though you are a key factor in student recruitment, your current students can be equally influential in recruiting their younger counterparts. Plan to have a few older students follow you to classrooms to talk about your program. It’s best to have students promote your program and let the incoming students know how much the older students enjoy playing music and being a band member.  With the right training, your current students can become peer mentors to the young ones who start playing — they may even be able to get community service credit for helping you and the younger students.

Build a Band Culture

It takes a few years of successful recruiting and retention, but after a while you, your students, and your organization will build a reputation based on success and excellence.  The parents and students you want in your program want to be part of something that is successful and they can be proud.  They want to have a sense of purpose, to develop passion for something meaningful, and to be with like-minded people.  Being in the band fills those needs and the culture it builds can saturate your school, and community. The stronger your school and community’s musical culture the more natural recruiting becomes every year. 

Band directors are a part of the handful of instructor whose employment depends on their recruiting and retention skills; it is crucial that directors understand this and work to grow and preserve their program and their position. Excuses are plentiful and blame is easy to cast, but when all is said and done, it’s up to you to create an attractive program where every student is valued; where the music-making experience is valuable on a daily basis, and where students are engaged and excited about being musicians. When recruiting, continue to ask your students what they love most about your program, and try put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, “What do I and this program have to offer students and their parents?” and, “Why would I want to be a part of this group?”  If you know the answers to those questions, it will be evident to students and parents that you value your students and that being a band member is a valuable experience.