Lights, Camera, Practice! An interview with Brian Balmages, creator of the new Foundations Series

Lights, Camera, Practice

Tell us about the Foundations Series. What is it and why are you so excited about it?

I believe this series solves several problems that ensemble conductors and private teachers struggle with on a daily basis:

  • Motivating their students to practice more
  • Helping students make more of an immediate connection between the music they are playing in band or orchestra and the world around them
  • Achieving more meaningful student engagement during the technique portion of ensemble rehearsals (and for that matter, making technique more fun for students in general!)

Essentially, the Foundations Series is a collection of technical exercises that are set to actual movie soundtracks. These are not “play-along” tracks where kids are just playing the melody (or a watered-down version of the melody). Rather, they are specifically designed to engage students and get them to practice without even knowing they are. Every movie cue includes a “technique builder” objective and practice directive. Wind players focus on everything from long tones to articulation, lip slurs, dynamics, and more. String players may be working on octave string tuning, bow distribution, the D tetrachord, or harmonics. Percussionists tackle various rudiments, roll technique, and more. There are so many kids that go home and try to “figure out” themes from their favorite movies. While we want to encourage that exploration, this still results in a lot of kids developing poor technique in order to do something they haven’t learned yet. With the Foundations Series, kids are able to interact with a ton of movie soundtracks at varying levels while refining their own technique at the same time. This includes students who have literally been playing for only a week!

What sparked the idea to start?

It all began as a whim of an idea in the Fall of 2023. At that time, Meg 2: The Trench was in theaters. The music was incredibly exciting, but not melodically driven. So we asked a question: “Could we write technical exercises that would help kids improve while allowing them to play along with the soundtrack?” Several weeks later, we released Mega Foundations. I was stunned at the thousands of band and string students that engaged with the content, and we knew immediately that this was a fantastic way to motivate students to practice.

How do you envision these exercises being used?

I have heard from a ton of teachers who are using these in ensemble rehearsals. Some use these as part of the warm-up (focusing on articulation, intonation, bowing, etc.) and others use these to reinforce concepts that they are teaching to the students. The soundtracks provide variety from a constant metronome or harmony director, yet function the same way. Some teachers have reported that kids are locking in even more because they are more engaged with the soundtracks. Of course, a lot of teachers are having kids play these at home as well. Since they are technical exercises, students benefit from continuous practice both individually but also in an ensemble. For the ensemble aspect, we made the parts printable within MakeMusic Cloud (without a print add-on subscription!) so groups would be able to take full advantage of these exercises in rehearsal.

Villainous Foundations is brand new: what is unique about it?

While a lot of the Foundations Series have been designed to promote individual technique, I really wanted Villainous Foundations to incorporate ensemble playing as well given that so many groups are getting ready for adjudication. So while these are incredibly fun and useful for individual practice, they also address important elements found on adjudicator sheets such as intonation, tone, articulation, blend, dynamic control, bow mechanics, and more. These can become part of a daily routine in which kids are made hyper aware of matching note length, pitch, tempo, and in the case of strings, thinking about contact point on the bow, how much bow they are using, etc. Of course, there is an entire section for beginning students as well. And for the first time, we are also including printable scores so directors can easily work the entire group at once.

Can you tell us a little about the process of selecting accompaniment tracks to match your exercises? 

It’s actually the other way around! I work with Fred Flowerday, who handles all of the audio production for the series. He typically looks for tracks that would be well suited for the kind of material I want to write, and then we begin the process of vetting and fitting everything together. In some cases, a track is very drone-based, which may lend itself well toward tone production. Others may be more melodically based, which may be better suited as a chromatic/finger-twister type of exercise. The primary element we start with is the theme of the series. So far, we’ve had Mega Foundations, Spooky Foundations, and Festive Foundations. The engagement has grown with each new release—more kids are practicing! 

What’s next?

We have several series in the works, some of which will be driven by movie releases down the road. One series I am particularly excited about is going to be released next fall: Hogwarts Foundations: Year 1. Beginners will get to experience band and orchestra through the music that accompanied Harry in his first year at Hogwarts (yes, starting with a single note!). More advanced players will get an entirely different skill set to work on. I also think this will be a wonderful recruiting tool for teachers—it’s all very exciting, and just the beginning of what’s to come…

Not a subscriber? You can try Foundations for free! 

All of the Foundations Series is available to MakeMusic Cloud subscribers. If you don’t currently have a subscription, now is the perfect time to begin your free 30-day trial and make the most of it. Experience how MakeMusic Cloud can power up your festival prep over the next month and start your trial today

Request a Platform Trial to receive trial teacher and student subscriptions, or start an Individual Trial instantly. 

One more special bonus…

While the Foundations Series is already positively impacting thousands of students and teachers, we want to share its benefits with even more musicians. We’ve made two exercises from the new Villainous Foundations free as a YouTube play-along (Articulation Builder for concert band and Eighth Note Technique Builder for string orchestra)) AND we are offering free printable parts and scores for you to try out right away with your students.

Articulation Builder – Concert Band

Technique Builder: Eighth Notes – String Orchestra

Lights, camera, practice!

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