How Middle School Band Prepared Me for a Career in Music
It is easy to think of one’s career in terms of a professional resume, CV, or bio, wherein
one includes only the most significant achievements and honors that make someone stand out.
While working with tuba and euphonium students as young as middle school age, I have been
reflecting on how my experiences in middle school band contributed to shaping my path as a
professional musician and teacher. The following anecdotes describe some of my most impactful middle school band memories that I hope will inspire band directors and fellow private teachers to employ similar activities in some capacity with their students.
The Scales Test
Every semester we had a scales test, wherein we had to play all 12 major scales from
memory around the circle of fifths. Given that I was just starting out on the flute, my first band
director, Mr. Walavich, waived my memorization requirement for the first test. Despite this, I
chose to play it from memory, albeit very slowly and with many errors along the way. The truth
is that this was easier for me due to not being able to read music very well yet, so I was learning
my scales and fingerings based on what sounded right to me. It was not until years later that I
knew that I was inadvertently practicing ear training, which was extremely helpful when
switching to the tuba soon after.
The Scales Challenge
Apart from the required scales tests, we had an optional “Scales Challenge.” The challenge was to play all 12 major scales, full range (at the time that was mostly 1 octave scales with a few 2 octaves), at a minimum of 120bpm in 8th notes without any mistakes. There were unlimited attempts and those who succeeded would have their names added to a plaque, with the
tempo at which they succeeded. In 8th grade, now on tuba, my goal was not only to pass the
challenge, but also to break the record tempo (140bpm at the time). After three failed attempts, I
broke the record at 150bpm. This challenge taught me two very important lessons that have aided my career: it is okay to set high expectations, and it is also okay to fail in the process. Failure yields growth and improvement.
My Solo Debut
At the start of each semester, we had to choose a solo to prepare and perform for the class toward the end of the semester. I remember looking through solos and always picking out pieces that looked like they were a little too hard for me. For example, my first tuba solo was rhythmically simple, but I chose it because it went up to a fourth-line F in the staff, which was beyond my range at the time. Every spring semester, Mr. Walavich would choose one student from each grade to perform their solo from memory in the final band concert of the year and would personally arrange the accompaniment to be played by the band. In the spring semester of my 8th grade year, I played Professor Donald Little’s transcription of Handel’s Larghetto and Allegro. To my surprise and excitement, I was selected as the 8th grade soloist and had what I consider to be my unofficial debut solo performance in my final middle school band concert. I truly believe that my current love for performing as a soloist and any of my success in solo competitions has stemmed from that 8th grade performance. Since that day, my goal was to be a professional performer, and this experience has fuelled my ambition to this day.
Reflecting on these memories has reminded me of my musical beginnings and has
inspired me to assign similar activities to my youngest students as well. My students have had a
positive response so far and I encourage band directors and private teachers to try these
activities with their young students as well.
Ramón Garavito, Jr. is a Mexican-American tuba artist and music educator from Tucson,
Arizona. An avid soloist, Ramón has been a prizewinner of various international solo
competitions including the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference, and the Leonard
Falcone International Euphonium and Tuba Festival. Other accolades include being a winner of
the 2020 U.S. Army Tuba-Euphonium Workshop Tuba Solo Competition, the 2019 Frost Bands
Concerto Competition, and Gold-Medalist of the 2015 Tuba Student Competition at the Falcone
Festival. Ramón competed in the 1st Geneva International Tuba Competition in Geneva,
Switzerland in 2020. He has also performed as substitute tubist with the Tucson Symphony
Orchestra Brass Quintet.
An active music educator, Ramón is currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the
Tuba/Euphonium Studio at Florida State University and teaches private lessons both virtually
and locally in Tallahassee. During his studies at the Frost School of Music, he served as
Graduate Teaching Assistant for the Tuba/Euphonium Studio and taught private lessons in
Miami. Ramón is also on the teaching roster for Through The Staff, an organization that
connects students from low-income households with free private music lessons.
Ramón holds degrees from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami (M.M. Tuba
Performance) and Arizona State University (B.M. Tuba Performance). He is currently pursuing a
Doctor of Music in Tuba Performance degree from Florida State University.
Ramón’s primary tuba teachers are Dr. Justin Benavidez, Dr. Aaron Tindall, Dr. Deanna
Swoboda, and the late Dr. Kelly Thomas.