From Sheet Music to Supplementation: Ideas from a Music Educator

Jill Dobel is a 17-year veteran of the music classroom, having taught instrumental music at varying levels in grades 5-12 during her tenure. She is a former Chair of the Iowa Bandmasters Association Middle School Affairs Committee and a founding member of the Iowa Women’s Jazz Orchestra.

She’s currently the Music Education Marketing Specialist with Sheet Music Plus and is an active as a performer, clinician, and private studio teacher in Iowa.

In her free time, Jill enjoys home reno projects, watercolor painting, and spending time with her husband Scott, their two pit bull terriers Greta and Snickers, and their ill-tempered orange tabby Hobbes.

No method book is perfect…

No matter what method or curriculum of study we choose to follow, our students will always need different or further instruction to master specific skills and concepts. To meet their individual needs, we must supplement. Supplemental instruction will look different for each director because methods, resources, and student populations are so widely diverse. So, how do we know what and how to supplement?

Here are a few questions I like to reflect on:

“What are some skills/concepts my students seem to struggle with every year?”


“What are some things that our method glosses over or doesn’t spend enough time on?”

This is the easy part – identifying what to supplement. Again, this may look different for every director. Focus on the needs of your students. Over the years, some things I often chose to supplement in my band method were things like below-the-staff notation for clarinet players, lip slurs for brass players, and enharmonic pairs. Not to mention trying to cover topics like vibrato and pitch correction, which are scarcely included in method books, or not at all!


Once you know what to supplement, it’s time to address how.

More questions to ask are:

“Do my students need better preparation for this skill? Better instruction? Or do they just need extra practice?”

When you’ve identified the roadblocks to learning, you can develop supplements to help your students overcome them. For the examples I provided earlier, here’s what my thought process looked like:

Below-the-staff notation for clarinet players

When students begin the clarinet, they spend pages and pages on the left hand only, and they become very familiar with those notes and fingerings. When it comes time to learn the right-hand notes (below the staff), they’re given a half page of exercises and expected to have mastery.

My supplement: Better preparation. Before we even approach this page of the method, I have students working on playing the right-hand notes descending, one at a time. They learn the muscle memory first, and then we add note names once they have success. Once they reach that page, they’re already skilled at playing those notes and can focus on simply learning to read ledger lines. If this sounds familiar to your classroom, you can easily create custom exercises for your clarinet students using a music notation program like Noteflight! (Pro tip: You can access exercises from the Essential Elements method books in Noteflight Learn, allowing you to edit existing exercises and adapt them to the specific needs of your students.)

Lip slurs for brass players

Lip slurs are essential for embouchure and pitch development, and methods don’t focus much on them.

My supplement: Extra practice. I create a full page of exercises for players to choose from as part of their warm-up for each practice session, and we don’t begin lesson exercises until we’ve completed lip slurs. I want it to be automatic for students to pick up their instrument and have the first thing they play be a lip slur. To stay on top of your students’ practice habits, you can create weekly recording assignments in Noteflight utilizing SoundCheck performance assessment! You can also assign the lesson to your students via Google Classroom and other LMS platforms. Plus, weekly recordings can help showcase your students’ progress over the last week or even the entire school year. (Pro tip: This could also work as a digital practice log!)

Enharmonic pairs

There are certain concepts that students struggle with year after year, and for me, it was always enharmonic pairs. I find a way to get students to grasp it, and the next year, the new kids don’t understand it, and I’m back to square one.

My supplement: Everything but the kitchen sink. I create multiple scaffolded supplements – customized by instrument, including visual organizers and practical applications, with written and performance-based assessments. My strategy is “whatever works”.


In the end…

You know your students and their learning strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else! The better you know your curriculum, the easier it will be to anticipate stumbling blocks and prepare to supplement.

Your additions can be anything ranging from an extra exercise or two, mastering new rhythms, or an entire warm-up packet of extended tone studies. Let your students’ needs be your guide!

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