Middle School Dojo: Earn a Black Belt in Band Karate


While many people view karate as a martial art, it’s rooted in the greater concept of self-improvement on a physical, mental and spiritual level. At the Middle School, band teacher Ms. Regan Livingstone has adapted that idea of self-improvement, along with the belt system of karate, to learning music.

“Band Karate is a form of individualized learning where students have to successfully complete something to earn their ‘belts’,” she says. “For us, they have a belt test that could involve theory, playing a scale and playing lines of music – and they have to be 100%. I need to see their posture, the way they’re holding their instrument, that they are breathing properly to support the sound. This is a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. You earn your belts, which are a visible recognition of your achievements, but you also know that you’ve learned something and you can do X, Y and Z proficiently.”

Middle School musicians don’t actually earn belts for passing their test; instead they earn a bead that hangs on a binder ring on their instrument case. Regan says that visible recognition of the belt system really motivates students to take their instrument home and practice to earn the next bead.

“They are very keen on the little beads so they can be recognized for achieving a certain standard. What’s nice about this system is the standard never changes, but students work at their own pace with the ultimate goal of going as far as they can with the karate belts,” she says. “The goal is to be as proficient a musician as possible by the end of the year, which will always be different for each student, but this is the level you need to be at in order to progress to your next belt level. For one student, it may take them no time at all, for another student it may take three to four hours of practice at home, but that’s probably three to four hours that they wouldn’t have ordinarily done. And I’m finding it’s time they actually want to spend practicing because they get recognized for it.”

Students at the Middle School are using Fresh Grade as part of Band Karate. Belt tests are recorded on video and students upload their videos to their private profile on Fresh Grade. There, they and their teachers can comment on the work and see how much they’ve learned and improved over time.

Even though Band Karate is new to the Middle School, Regan says she’s seeing (and hearing) great strides in the young musicians.

“In class, they’re more conscious of things like posture and breathing; they are becoming better musicians because they’re motivated to practice,” she says. “It’s also making them really aware of their playing. I ask them, ‘How did you feel about that? And what went well?’ and they will be spot on with everything I would tell them. It’s quite interesting to see they can have that level of maturity.”

Since there are nine different coloured belt levels, students will have plenty of time over the course of the school year to earn more beads and be motivated to develop their musical abilities.

Check out how far our young grasshoppers have come at the annual Middle School Holiday Band Concert, happening this Wednesday (Dec. 9) at 6:30 p.m. in the chapel. The show will feature music from all the concert and jazz bands at the Middle School.

(photos by Kyle Slavin)



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