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Top 5 Tips for First Year Music Students

Top 5 Tips for First Year Students

Being a part of a student’s first year of music instruction is equal parts awesome responsibility and constant inspiration. Based on our combined experience, here are our top tips for making the year as rewarding as possible – for your students as well as yourself!

1. Expectations

The beginning determines the end and what you expect is what you will get from your students. Young students are capable of a very high level of performance and professionalism if they are taught explicitly how to demonstrate these characteristics. A high level of expectations must be consistently tied to the development of a process, grit and work ethic. Not only must every student (and teacher) believe they can achieve a high level of success but they must understand and believe that they can also work hard enough to make it happen when something is new or tricky.

2. Routines

Explain and show students how you expect every classroom routine to be executed. Model the correct way to perform even the most mundane tasks; opening cases, how to hold the instrument when carrying it, resting position for instruments while playing, etc. Have students demonstrate the correct way to perform routines until they are performed without reminders. When they slip or forget, go back to square one.

Consistently holding students to the daily routines and the behavior expectations you establish can be exhausting and sometimes frustrating but it is critical in training students in the correct way to be a musician and part of your ensemble.

3. Playing Position, Hand Positions and Embouchure

Correct posture, body position, hand position and embouchure are non-negotiable. There is one way to do things: the right way. Clearly teachers have differences in tips and tricks they use for these concepts but a student will not exceed the standard that a teacher sets. Model these concepts with your own set of instruments. Even if you are not strong on every secondary instrument a beginning band teacher should be capable of modeling the correct position, embouchure and tone on each instrument. If you cannot, then it is time to get busy and improve.

Modeling and playing along with students every day provides them with an exemplary model and builds their concept of skill and tone. When students become fatigued or resistant, explain the analogy of a sports trainer or coach. A trainer will push an athlete to do more work and reps than they would do alone. A coach will repeat a drill or skill until it is part of muscle memory and a skill set. You are their coach and trainer. Most young students have been on an athletic team and will understand this immediately.

4. Music Reading

After spending a considerable amount of time doing call-and-response exercises to establish tone production, articulation, rhythm and pulse, introduce music reading. We give students approximately 15 hours of instruction before we begin reading music.

Once it is time to start reading use a large screen or whiteboard to project music. When students begin to read music the majority of confusion comes from not knowing how to track across the music at the correct rate. Showing the students music symbols in one place on the board and making sure that each child is looking at the correct place in the music makes the process move quickly.

After spending several hours of instruction using a screen for their music we begin to use music books on their stands and we refer back and forth between the two sources. If students are having difficulty with the material we will direct them to look at the screen to review the note types, names, fingerings, etc. and will play several times before they return to looking at their books or music.

We also rehearse each piece or exercise in very small chunks, often measure by measure. If a measure does not sound good, DO NOT MOVE ON, repeat until students reach your set level of mastery. This will make putting together the entire piece/exercise much easier.

5. Quality Literature

Keep things simple. Literature selections should provide a beautiful melody or tune, give every instrument fairly equal playing opportunities, and enable you to teach the characteristics of musicianship and ensemble. Set aside the “cool” pieces until students are technically and developmentally ready. The stress of chasing notes and rhythms sucks the fun and excitement out of performances for kids and teachers. The Queenwood “Red Book” series is one example that meets all of these requirements, is well crafted, and provides ample selections in a variety of genres and styles. Develop a set of core repertoire that you can rotate and know will work well with your first year students.

Jessica CoreyJessica Corry is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Music Education. A current member of he National Association of Music Education, she is classically trained on clarinet and enjoys playing jazz tenor saxophone.

Ms. Corry currently serves as a director of bands at Traughber Jr. High in Oswego and is excited to begin her third year of teaching as a Traughber Panther!

Rachel Maxwell

Rachel Maxwell
currently serves as the director of bands at Traughber Jr. High School and as the Jr. High performing arts and band coordinator for the Oswego, IL School Dist. #308. She has taught music ed. courses at VanderCook College of Music and North Central College and has been a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator at many music camps and festivals.

Under her direction the bands at Traughber JHS have received national acclaim and have performed at The Midwest Clinic (as a clinic presentation and rehearsal lab group), the Illinois Music Educators Association All State Conference (1999, 2008, 2010, 2014), the University of Illinois Super-state Festival and at the ASBDA 2004 National Convention.

Rethinking Middle School General Music

Chris Russell Blog Post

There are many master teachers who make middle school general music a wonderful class where students learn about music and achieve national and state standards.

For others, however, the mention of middle school general music produces a shudder.

The Problem

In some schools, general music is where students who want nothing to do with band, orchestra, and choir are placed. “Placed” might be a politically correct term—“dumped” may be more accurate. In such classes, behavior issues are rampant, and administrators experience a heavy disciplinary load from those classes.

Seven years ago, my district added a high school and moved from the junior high to the middle school model. General music was eliminated, and every student was expected to enroll in band, orchestra, or choir (with exceptions made only for programs such as AVID and remedial math and English courses). Although I do believe that music is for every child and that every child is for music, I do not believe that band, choir, and orchestra are the solution for every child. As a result—my own philosophy is at odds with that of our middle school model.

The problem is clear—any student who doesn’t play an instrument, doesn’t want to practice at home, or doesn’t want to pay instrumental fees (rental, books, reeds, oil, etc.) signs up for choir. This means that our choir ends up with two kinds of students—those that want to be there, and those who were placed there against their will.

We follow a PBIS-like strategy in our school, trying to encourage students to be above-the-line. Even so, some students deliberately choose to be below-the-line. I do not have any issue teaching these students (and usually have good relationships with them), but I don’t think choir is the right place for them. Some teachers simply want to get rid of those kids—I just want to teach them in a different setting.

The Solution

Thankfully, my administration was willing to let me hand-pick a group of 8th grade students – who have negatively impacted choir rehearsals in the past – and to put them into a non-singing class. My school is a 1:1 iPad school, and in an attempt to best serve these students, I created an iPad Music Class where we can meet state standards through music technology, rather than singing or playing a traditional instrument. I would note that this class is not open to everyone at the school, as we don’t want to impact enrollment in our band, choir, or orchestra programs.

Teaching Music Through CompositionThe “iPad Music Class” is based on the concept of using GarageBand on the iPad to teach about music technology. I am developing the course as I go along, but I am relying on Barbara Freedman’s book, “Teaching Music Through Composition: A Curriculum Using Technology” and Mark Czech’s Music Technology course at Hopkins High School (Minnesota). As both Ms. Freedman’s and Mr. Czech’s work is at the high school level, I have had to adapt the material both to work on GarageBand for iOS as well as to work with middle school students.  My goal is to make something that works, that kids like, and is sustainable over time.

This is the beginning of the process, but so far, the students I chose for the course are happy to be there, and the students remaining in the choir are pleased not to have the disruptions of the past. There has not been a single complaint from students in the iPad course or from those in choir. Two weeks in, the course is a win-win, and when my principal recently stopped in, she was amazed to see kids working on projects, even though we are in the early days of the class. Barbara Freedman suggests offering a lot of discovery (or “play”) time in the process, and so I have done so; it is amazing how much energy students will put into creating music with GarageBand.

As we go I am creating a book for students (there is a lot of terminology in music technology!), and we are using Schoology to list student assignments—all which are to be done (and graded) in class. The goal isn’t to make homework for students, but to help them to enjoy learning about music.

Why GarageBand?

GarageBand is free, and every skill learned in GarageBand for iOS can be transferred to any other DAW. Furthermore, GarageBand for iOS offers touch-based instruments plus the ability to connect instruments via USB or Bluetooth MIDI. We also have a few JamStiks in our program (a MIDI guitar with “how to learn guitar” apps) and there is a plethora of piano-learning apps on the market. As a result, students should also be able to learn some guitar and/or basic piano skills throughout the year.

What’s Next?

I am interested in bringing another non-singing course to our 7th grade students next year. As a middle school, we see students in grades 6-8. I feel strongly that there is nothing wrong with asking students to try a year of choir in 6th grade. By the end of 6th grade, we clearly know who is enjoying the choir experience and who might need another option.

My thought is to move those students into a 7th grade ukulele class (I still have to figure out how to get ukuleles and how to play one myself), and then into the 8th grade music technology course. The key for us, however, is to avoid making the non-singing courses an option for students but instead to leave those courses for hand-picked students. The end result is a win for everyone involved.

IMG_3982 PortraitChristopher J. Russell, Ph.D, is a middle school choir teacher at Oltman Middle School in St. Paul Park, Minnesota, which is part of the South Washington County School District. He speaks across the country on the topic of technology in music education, is the author of a blog called, and has two books on the subject available on the iBookstore.

Photo by December Orphen


6 Ways to Promote Gender Equality

Amy Phelps Blog Post

Although people generally think of the flute and harp as being feminine and brass instruments as being masculine, historic perceptions of stereotypes in music have changed over time. In the Victorian era, it was considered improper for a woman to distort her mouth to play the flute and most flautists were male.  Most concert harp players were also men in the late 19th century.

Some instruments, such as the violin, gradually became acceptable for women. Other instruments have remained branded as masculine; namely percussion, brass and double bass.

Over time, women have disproven the stereotypes that they don’t have as much wind capacity as their male counterparts by winning top jobs through blind auditions. As women become more prominent in sports, the assumption that women can’t haul around heavy instruments or breathe as well as men has lost favor. Ironically, there is no heavier instrument than the harp, even though that is typically perceived as a feminine instrument!

Gender stereotyping in any field starts at an early age. It is important to create a gender neutral environment in education so that children feel free to choose an instrument that they want to practice, free of gender labels or prejudice.

You can promote gender equality and inclusiveness in your K-12 classroom by modeling it through these steps:

Esperanza Spalding portrait

Esperanza Spalding by CarlosPericás

1. Post Images

Display photos of women playing stereotypically male instruments on your walls. Studies have shown that images influence how young children associate gender with instruments.

2. Show Videos

Carol Jantsch 2 -350

Carol Jantsch by Christopher Kadish

When presenting instruments or instrument families, choose from You Tube videos featuring artists such as trumpeter Alison Balsam, tubist Carol Jantsch, hornist Jennifer Montone, percussionist Evelyn Glennie or jazz double bassist Esperanza Spalding for a jazz unit. Conversely, you could also find videos of male harpists such as Emmanuel Ceysson.

3. Share International Women’s Day

Leverage International Women’s Day (March 8, 2016) as an opportunity to show a power point presentation or film about women composers and/or performers of the present and past such as Jennifer Higdon, Amy Beach, Clara Schumann,  Rebecca Clarke, Maud Powell or Nadia Boulanger. Or you might feature woman conductors such as Marin Alsop, Joann Falletta, or Shi-Yeon Sung.

Marin Alsop_credit-Grant-Leighton1 crop

Marin Alsop by Grant Leighton

4. Watch Your Language

Refrain from saying that someone “played like a girl.” Try modifying this phrase to “play it like the girl next to you who nailed that passage!”

Don’t refer to musical phrases as masculine or feminine, instead, use the descriptive words you really mean like dolce, legato, muted, accented, strong, rich, etc. Don’t address the brass as “Gentlemen” even if there is only one woman present.

5. Invite Guests

Contact women instrumentalists from your local symphony and ask them to come demonstrate their instrument in a short presentation. Direct contact with a musician makes it more exciting for the students and creates a bond with the presenter and the instrument. As a bonus, live presentations promote concert attendance at the local symphony!

6. Perform Music Created by Women

Program at least one woman composer or arranger on your concert each year. Having published more than 225 titles, Anne McGinty is a great start for concert band. Check out Soon Hee Newbold’s fun compositions for school orchestra. Encourage all of your students to create and write as part of a unit on composition or music theory. If you are not happy with the representation of women composers in your favorite music catalogues, urge the publishers to be more inclusive!

Amy PhelpsDr. Amy Phelps obtained a double-degree (B.A., B.M.) in Cello Performance and French Literature from Oberlin College and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and earned her M.M. and D.M.A degrees from the University of Iowa. Her dissertation and research project, “Beyond auditions: gender discrimination in America’s top orchestras” can be viewed here.

In addition to teaching at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Dr. Phelps is a member of both Orchestra Iowa (Assistant Principal) and the Quad Cities Symphonies. She also performs regularly with the Cedar Rapids Opera and freelances throughout the Midwest.

Teaching Improvisation by Ear

Teaching Improvisation by Ear

Improvisation is Scary

The excitement of playing in an environment with “no wrong notes” quickly turns ugly when a student realizes that only the “right” notes will create a solo that sounds like their favorite artist. Students should have an introduction to improvisation (jazz or otherwise) that generates confidence while also developing musicianship and ear training.

Rather than being force-fed music theory (“Play these notes over this chord!”), students will develop better improvisation skills if they are able to use their ears to hear what they want to play instead of concentrating on every change. Generating a musical conversation with motives and phrasing will ultimately result in more fluent musicians and improvisers. Professional improvisers aren’t guessing, and they aren’t puzzling their way through the changes as though improvisation were a game of Tetris. Soloists with excellent motivic development, phrasing, and musicality are successful because their ears tell them what to play.

So how do we approach teaching improvisation? Here’s a basic, flexible exercise that will get your entire class working on ear training and improvisation simultaneously.

The Exercise

Arrange students in a circle. Explain that you are going to “pass” a one measure musical figure to the next person in the circle by playing it twice, with a one measure rest in between.. Once the second person in the circle has heard the figure twice, they should (in rhythm!) repeat it exactly. If they don’t get it, rest for one measure and try again. Once the figure is correct, the second person will play a new figure and “pass” it to the third person, and so on around the circle. Notated, the exercise looks like this:

Teaching Improvisation by Ear

The best part of this game is that it can be customized for students at any skill level by controlling pitch and rhythm. Even beginner students can get around the circle without too much trouble when the requirements are “play exactly a whole note” and “your note must be from the Bb major scale.” Students can then advance to two half notes, four quarter notes, any combination of quarter notes and quarter rests, minor keys, alternative modes, and more.

High school jazz band students, for example, could do quarter notes, swung eighth notes, and triplets, but only on the notes of an C7 chord. Now students are practicing swing feel and part of a ii-V progression. However, rather than running patterns against an Aebersold track, they are listening to each other and generating their own ideas for use in a full-length improvisation.

improv exercise example 2

While this rhythm may be difficult for some high schoolers to recognize by ear, knowing that the only possible notes in the example are C-E-G-Bb keeps the example manageable.

The Benefits

This exercise deliberately connects improvisation to ear training. However, it offers many other benefits as well. The exercise:

  • Encourages all students to improvise by generating their own musical idea to pass on to the next student. In this way even the most hesitant students are exposed to improvisation.
  • Focuses on specific concepts — for example, odd meters can be practiced by passing a measure in a challenging meter (but with simple pitches!) around the circle.
  • Fosters sound rhythmic foundations by putting an empty bar between each attempt that students must count.
  • Teaches students melodic dictation — plus, having them reproduce dictation on their primary instruments generates an ear to arm/fingers/lips connection.
  • Helps students internalize the idea that improvisation (and music composition in general) is the result of collaboration and conversation with other musicians.
  • Introduces transcription (an important tool for advanced improvisers) by having students essentially transcribe short solos from their peers.

But the biggest reason that this exercise has been so successful for me as both a player and an educator is its flexibility. I’ve used this exercise in private lessons with a single student and with a 20 piece jazz ensemble. I’ve used this exercise with flutes, cellos, and more. It’s an inclusive approach to teaching jazz improvisation that engages students with a game-like exercise.


Here are some additional ways I’ve customized the exercise:

  • Have the rhythm section play behind the improvisers. This can help improvisers with time and pulse and gets more students playing at once. If your students are having trouble, a metronome can also come in handy!
  • Use a progression. Limit the rhythmic options (only quarter notes and quarter rests) but have the exercise use two bar segments that mirror a progression in a piece the group is performing. This is particularly effective for teaching students to improvise over a bridge or B section.
  • Have each student start their original figure on the same note that the previous student ended on.
  • Have each student’s original figure use the same melodic shape (leap up, step down, step down, for example). This trains motivic development in a deliberate, organic way.
  • Use the same “passing” concept to practice articulation and intonation. In this case, the figure is not improvised, but the goal of “matching” is applied to technique.

Students should fall in love in improvising because it offers an unparalleled opportunity for creativity, not because there is a “right” answer. Teaching techniques that encourage creativity help teachers push students in that direction. I hope this exercise helps your students feel more confident improvising and trains their ears!

Ryan SargentIn addition to his role as MakeMusic’s social media manager, Ryan Sargent is an active teacher and performer in the Denver-Boulder metropolitan area, and a member of the music faculty at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

A graduate of Baylor University, he has studied jazz composition and improvisation with Art Lande and Alex Parker.

SmartMusic Update October 2015

SmartMusic Carousel

Today we released an exciting SmartMusic update. Upon launching SmartMusic you’ll now see an updated carousel on the home page (pictured above). Not only does it include new content, the carousel now rotates, placing more playing options at your students’ fingertips.

In this same vein we’ve also added additional genres below the carousel, including Spooky, Holiday, TV and Toons, Latin Feel, Spiritual, and Romantic.

As mentioned yesterday, we’re delighted to have added some keyboard repertoire to SmartMusic. These titles are designed for use with a MIDI keyboard. Included are several solo collections including baroque, classical, romantic, and jazz repertoire, as well as three collections by Lorie Line.

Speaking of jazz, five books of Gordon Goodwin solos, for trumpet, alto and soprano sax, tenor sax, trombone, and drums were also added. These titles include stunning solo transcriptions from Gordon’s Big Phat Band, and accompaniment controls that let you choose to hear the soloist or not, making it possible for every student to improvise along  with Gordon’s incredible group.

Again, the goal of these updates is make all SmartMusic repertoire more discover-able for your students.

Have questions or observations to share? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

SmartMusic Repertoire Released: Ensemble & Solo Titles

SmartMusic September Repertoire Release

This week we added 30 new ensemble titles to the SmartMusic Repertoire Library. These additions included choral titles as well as pieces for concert band, jazz ensemble, string orchestra and full orchestra.

But that’s not all. We also released:

  • Several new keyboard collections for use with MIDI keyboards
  • Three books of keyboard solo collections by Lorie Line
  • Five books of jazz solo collections by Gordon Goodwin

All the titles and details appear in the two charts below:

Large Ensemble Titles

Title Comp/Arr Publisher Music Type Pepper Level
Undercover Bossa Jarvis, Jeff Kendor Music, Inc. Jazz Ensemble E
Variations on a Russian Hymn Connor, Mark J. Grand Mesa Music Publishers Concert Band M
Fires of Bandai, The Sheldon, Robert FJH Music Company Concert Band VE
Fanfare Supernova Clark, Larry Carl Fischer LLC. Concert Band B
Spirits Awake Calhoun, Bill Carl Fischer LLC. Concert Band E
Legacy of Honor Clark, Larry Carl Fischer LLC. Concert Band ME
Silent Night Gruber, Franz Xaver; O’Loughlin, Sean Carl Fischer LLC. Concert Band ME
Better Get It in Your Soul Mingus, Charles; Ford, Ralph Belwin Jazz Ensemble M
Shout, Stomp, and Swing! Sabina, Les Belwin Jazz Ensemble E
Scarborough Fair Traditional English Folk Song; White, Terry Belwin Jazz Ensemble E
Wayfaring Stranger, The Traditional; Collins-Dowden, Mike Belwin Jazz Ensemble E
Cheaha Sketches Roszell, Patrick Belwin Concert Band ME
Mi Bossa Es Su Bossa Edmondson, John Neil A. Kjos Music Co. Jazz Ensemble ME
Beyond the Forest (From The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) Shore, Howard; Phillips, Bob Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Full Orchestra M
Allegro Molto (from “Gran Partita,” K. 361, First Movement) Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus; Wagner, Douglas E. Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. String Orchestra M
Sinfonia No. 9 in C Major (Movement 1) Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix; Moss, Kirk Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. String Orchestra MA
Three Lyric Pieces Grieg, Edvard; Brook, Steven H. Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. String Orchestra M
Larghetto (From Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 12) Handel, G.F.; Dabczynski, Andrew H. Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra VE
Winstride Spata, Doug Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra E
Flight Day, Susan H. Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra M
Adagio and Presto (From Symphony No. 101 in D Major “The Clock”) Haydn, F.J.; Sieving, Robert Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra MA
Westridge Overture Meyer, Richard Highland/Etling Publishing String Orchestra MA
Peer Gynt Suite (Selections) Grieg, Edvard Highland/Etling Publishing Full Orchestra ME
Day Dreamer’s Waltz Gordon, Adrian Leap Year Music String Orchestra E
Cat and Mouse Gordon, Adrian Leap Year Music String Orchestra E
Chindia – SATB Pascanu, Alexandru Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir M
Exsultate justi in Domino – TTBB Adams, Brant Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir M
O Mistress Mine – TTB Ginsberg, Neil Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir ME
Boy Who Picked Up His Feet to Fly, The – SATB Shank, Joshua Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir M
Barter – SSA Clausen, Rene; Teasdale, Sara Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir ME


Solo Collection Titles

Holiday Piano Solos (Pre-reading)
Holiday Piano Solos (Beginner)
Holiday Piano Solos (Advanced)
Piano Solos: Roots of American Jazz
15 Two Part Inventions
Baroque Piano Solos
Classical Piano Solos
Romantic Piano Solos
Lorie Lines’ Practice, Practice, Practice!: Book Three, Holiday Book
Lorie Lines’ Practice, Practice, Practice!: Book Four,
Lorie Lines’ Practice, Practice, Practice!: Book Five, Christmas Classics
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Play-Along Series, Volume 1 – Alto Saxophone
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Play-Along Series, Volume 1 – Tenor Saxophone
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Play-Along Series, Volume 1 – Trumpet
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Play-Along Series, Volume 1 – Trombone
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band Play-Along Series, Volume 1 – Drums

You can request a piece for a future SmartMusic release here.

Obviously with the addition of keyboard music, exciting developments are underway. More details will appear in tomorrow’s blog post.

5 Tips to Win a BOA Super Regional

Claudia Taylor - Lady Bird - Johnson

Located in San Antonio, Texas, the Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson High School was founded in 2008. Today they’re the reigning 2014 Bands of America San Antonio Super Regional Champion. This week their director, Jarrett Lipman, shares some of the secrets behind their rapid success.

5 Tips to Win a BOA Super Regional

Our formula at Johnson has been to pick music we like and that we believe will entertain our audiences. Our shows are built around “get-able” concepts, and we try to build in exciting and memorable moments throughout the program. As we have gotten stronger as performers, we have been able to work our way up the rankings and finally captured our first championship in 2014. Here are some things we consider when putting together our shows.

1. Be Memorable

When developing your program, try to design to your strengths and create a product that is unique and memorable. There will be over 60 bands who perform in prelims, and you have a 10 minute window (or less) to paint a picture for the judges that sticks in their mind. Programming to your strengths will help your show come across well, be it strong soloists, a powerful brass section, a technically perfect drumline, a color guard that moves well, or even something outside the box like acrobatics. Sometimes being remembered as “the band with that great color guard” or “the band who had that awesome alto saxophone soloist,” will help you stand out through what can be a very long day.

2. Be Clear

Make sure your concept is understandable in “one read.” If the audience needs a libretto to understand your show, it’s probably too complicated for the judges to understand in one performance. You spend an entire season working on your show, but the judges and audience will see it once, maybe twice.

3. Be Clean

No matter how flashy the show is, it needs to be performed at an extremely high level. Lines need to be straight, curves need to be evenly spaced, flags need to spin around together, articulations need to be detailed, and percussion/electronics balances must be worked out. Don’t give away the easy stuff – make sure your students stand tall and have great posture throughout the show! If there is choreography, the kids need to move together. Bottom line: make sure your students perform their show at the highest level possible.

4. Be Musical

Focus on shaping, expression, dynamics, and contrast. Does your program have built-in moments that showcase the full range of emotions? This is on the judging sheet, and more importantly, performing musically will cause the audience to have an emotional reaction to your show. If it’s “in the box” you may earn a golf clap, or “check it off the list,” but remember why we do this: to share an emotional and musical experience with the audience. Exaggerate the moments you can play soft, allow your woodwinds time to showcase more than just “fast technique,” and allow your brass to do more than just play loud. Sensitivity and style go a long way!

5. Be Entertaining

“GE is KEY!” General Effect is the highest scoring caption on the sheets for Bands of America, and while this doesn’t negate the importance of performing great literature at a high level, figuring out a way to capture the full range of emotions in your show makes your product that much stronger. Does the audience clap? Do they laugh? Or cry? While sophistication is wonderful, making sure the show is still entertaining and appropriate for the football half time crowd is important. Every judge and every crowd are different. If you can find a way to build in moments and effects in your show that appeal to a wide variety of audiences, this will help your case for doing well in Bands of America competition.

Jarett LipmanJarrett Lipman is the director of bands at Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson High School in San Antonio, Texas. He is also currently on staff of both the Cadets and Crossmen drum corps. Lipman received degrees in music education and euphonium performance from Rutgers University. In 2014, he was selected the “Outstanding Young Bandmaster by Phi Beta Mu International Bandmasters Fraternity.

In addition to being Champion of the 2014 BoA San Antonio Super Regional and Houston Regional, the Johnson band earned the Bronze Medal at the 2014 UIL State Marching Contest and was a BoA Grand Nationals Finalist in 2011.

Mark Wood and Electrify Your Strings

Mark Wood

Dubbed “The Les Paul of The Violin World” by PBS, Mark Wood is a Juilliard-trained violist who first gained world-wide attention performing with the internationally acclaimed Trans-Siberian Orchestra. In addition to touring as a sideman with world-class artists including Billy Joel, Kanye West, Lenny Kravitz and Celine Dion, Wood is also a recording artist, producer, inventor, Emmy-winning composer and music education advocate.

We’re very excited to have recently added several of Mark’s pieces to the SmartMusic repertoire library.

Anyone who meets Mark quickly discovers the high level of intensity he brings to everything he does, and there’s nothing he’s more passionate about than music education. For 16 years he has led Electrify Your Strings (EYS), an intensive music education program that ignites students, teachers, and communities by injecting energy and funding into music education programs.

To date, close to 1,000 schools and universities and hundreds of thousands of young musicians have been transformed by the EYS phenomenon. This week Mark is in Oklahoma working alongside orchestra director Peter Markes (named as the 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year). Last week I spoke to Peter about his experience with EYS:

What initially drew you to Electrify Your Strings?

Two factors: the first was a long-standing desire from several of our instructors to have a high-energy, positive image-building program like Mark’s. The other catalyst was a local vendor, Inter-City Violin Studios, who are strong supporters of our string programs and who are Oklahoma’s sole Wood distributors.

Can you describe how the EYS program worked at your school last year?

We hosted Mark Wood and Bridgid Bibbens in 2014, and they did a day of workshops with all of our students combined (Mark with about 400 HS students and Bridgid with about 450 MS students). The following day culminated with a dress rehearsal and concert to a standing room only audience. The show closer, Hoedown, with Mark, Bridgid, and over 800 string players was quite memorable.

What benefits did you realize after the workshop?

The students were really excited, and for quite a while. Their long-lasting buzz was the catalyst for having EYS back to Edmond in 2015.

Which schools will be involved this year?

Edmond North, Santa Fe, and Memorial High Schools, and Cheyenne, Cimarron, Sequoyah, Central, and Summit Middle Schools….it’s big!

What are your goals for this year’s event?

Our goals this year are to expand the venue so that our students and a wider audience can see the whole show. We also continue to maintain Mark’s goal of really increasing the student’s positive self-image. The music component aside, that is really the biggest benefit and goal to EYS.

MakeMusic clearly shares Mark’s passion for increasing positive self-image and keeping music programs alive in the schools. In fact, we’re so excited about the energy surrounding EYS that we’ll be sponsoring EYS events at several schools this year. If you’re interested in such a sponsorship, contact Barbara Ring at or 516-767-6677 for more information.

Please note that the deadline for this program is October 31, 2015.

Five Tips for Starting Your Music Studio

Wendy Devaney Blog Post

After fifteen years of teaching violin and viola lessons, I recently closed my private studio in Austin, Texas, in order to focus on my new business, Orchestra Tutor. After many moments of, “well, that didn’t work, but hey – this did,” I wanted to share some of my experiences in the hope that they will save you time and energy while you start your own journey to a successful music studio.

1. Establish Your Studio Policies (and Stick to Them)

I fluctuated between different policies for several years before finding exactly what worked for me, so before soliciting work for your own studio, answer the questions below and then put everything in writing for parents and students to review and acknowledge.

Payment Policies

  • Will you charge tuition fees by the lesson? Month? Semester? Year?
  • Is payment due in advance or after the work is completed?
  • Will you charge late fees? Will you offer a discount for paying early or in a lump sum up front?
  • What forms of payment will you accept?
  • Will you offer payment plans?
  • Will you charge fees for returned checks?

Student Expectations

  • How often and for how long do you expect your students to practice? Will this vary depending on age and/or capability?
  • What preparation is expected for each lesson? What supplies will they need to bring each time?
  • What supplies will they need at home?
  • How will you enforce these expectations? Will there be penalties or rewards?

Cancelation Policy

  • How much notice is required?
  • Will you differentiate between excused and unexcused absences?
  • Will you offer make-up lessons? If so, how many are permissible over a certain time period? Will they be only on certain days/times?

Keep in mind that, if you want flexibility, your students and parents will expect it on their end as well. However, if you want stability and consistency the best way to get it is by establishing expectations as early as possible.

2. Decide Where You Will Teach

I spent my first couple of years driving everywhere. I taught at music schools, public schools, and everyone’s houses in between and beyond. At the time I thought it was no big deal – I would just claim the mileage on my tax return, and it would all even out in the end. It turns out that’s not true; the tax deduction doesn’t come anywhere near the costs of gas or wear and tear on your vehicle. But more importantly, the time spent driving to lessons is time away from teaching which translates to money you are not getting paid.

Teaching out of your home has definite advantages, but before deciding that this is the best choice for you, make sure you have ample parking that doesn’t inconvenience your neighbors, a designated waiting area for parents and siblings, a restroom they may use without invading your personal space, a safe and secure place for your pets to stay during lessons (remember that not everyone thinks they’re as cute as you do), and sufficient property insurance coverage in case of an accident. You should also think about ways to keep your house presentable at all times and ensure that your family, neighbors, and solicitors do not interrupt your work.

Studio 700

An alternative to using your home as a professional space is to find a nearby school with a strong orchestra program. The benefits of establishing a studio while working directly with an orchestra director are endless and warrant a stand-alone blog entry, but suffice it to say that a nearby school can offer convenience to both you and your students.

3. Choose Your Price Wisely

I started out charging $15 for 30 minutes in the year 2000. My intent was to get as many students as possible and then gradually raise my rates. Within less than two years, I was up to 57 students. Sounds great, right? It was, except that I was spending a significant portion of my earnings on gas and car maintenance, I had underestimated how much time I would spend on administrative work, and I was purchasing a lot more supplies than I had anticipated. In short: don’t undercut yourself. Know what your time is worth and that your experience does matter.

In addition to earning a living, make sure that your rates will cover the costs of doing business, including space rental fees, additional home insurance, and charges associated with recitals, such as printed programs, piano accompaniment, video recordings, and refreshments. Find out what other teachers charge in your area and seek advice from local orchestra directors.

Once you set your price, be consistent with everyone, and don’t forget to leave yourself room for a few raises along the way. Consider charging by the year, semester, or at the very least, by the month, rather than individual lesson. Remember that you are a teacher, and let parents know that your fees should be treated as tuition rather than a pay as-you-go system. Lastly, get payment in advance as often as possible to avoid working for free.

4. Don’t Accept Every Student Who Contacts You

I love teaching sixth grade beginners, but when I first started my studio, I accepted anyone and everyone, from ages four to 76. It was hard for me to shift gears that often, and in retrospect, I don’t think I was a very good teacher to any of my students except those sixth graders. It took longer than it should have for me to realize that they were my target audience – I liked getting them started and watching them progress through the early years of playing, but then I thought they were better off with someone else who could help them flourish at the next level. My advice: become a specialist, rather than a generalist. Narrowing your niche will make you a better teacher, and that positive word will spread quickly!

5. Consistency is KeyRun a Tight Ship

This seems like a no brainer, but it’s surprising how many private teachers cancel, reschedule, or don’t show up to lessons. They wind up with students and parents who treat lessons with the same lack of dedication, which results in fewer (and less productive) lessons, and even fewer long-term students.

Scheduling lessons back-to-back and always starting/ending on time does everyone a favor. Parents appreciate you letting their child out on time so that the rest of their schedule is not impacted. They return that respect by understanding that when they are ten minutes late, you are not expected to go ten minutes over because they know you have another lesson that needs to start on time.

Good luck!

I wish you the best of luck in your new studio endeavor. I look forward to sharing more tips on marketing and maintaining a successful studio on the SmartMusic Blog. For more information on Orchestra Tutor, a website featuring online video tutorials for string students, please visit:

Wendy Blog 250Wendy Devaney took up the violin at the age of 12 (the viola came later). She was soon performing with an El Paso mariachi band with whom she eventually toured the southwest – and France – and recorded several albums. She earned her B.A. in music performance from Texas State University, where she was principal violist in the Texas State Symphony.

Wendy has performed and recorded with several mariachi groups, local bands, and classical ensembles and is a guest clinician at the Texas State String Camp. After running a successful private studio in Austin, Wendy founded Orchestra Tutor, a tutorial website designed to help string students.

College Methods: a New Approach

Ted Scalzo Blog Post

After 36 years in the classroom teaching band, marching band, wind ensemble, jazz ensemble, composition, and multimedia I have come to the conclusion that college preparation for our field is in need of change. I currently teach a class at Hofstra University on the utilization of technology in the classroom for future music educators. This has inspired me to give considerable thought to this topic.

I believe that SmartMusic should be adopted by all schools of higher learning that are preparing our future music educators. I realize that this will seem like another shameless promotion for a product, but the difference here is that I use SmartMusic in this context and I have seen how it can work.

Among the many expectations we place on future educators, we require them to:

  • Sight-sing and sight-read
  • Take lessons on secondary instruments
  • Perform at a very high level on their primary instrument
  • Perform in ensembles including chorus, orchestra, band and jazz band

SmartMusic includes tools created to assist development in each of these areas plus a means for instructors to document related progress.

Imagine requiring future music educators to submit a performance piece on their secondary instruments in their college methods classes, to be evaluated by the professor and added to the student’s portfolio to be shared at the next job interview.

Imagine students practicing their secondary band instruments with the actual literature they will be expected to know and teach. Smart Music will help prepare them to step into the classroom with the skills and repertoire knowledge that has taken many of us years to develop. They will benefit from accelerated learning utilizing our most powerful teaching concept: deliberate practice.

Imagine an assignment for conducting class where students playback a professional accompaniment and record a video of themselves conducting the piece, then sending it to the professor as homework and evaluation.

My plan for nation-wide adoption would be something like this:

  • Every student gets a copy of SmartMusic to be used all four years
  • Each professor has a teacher subscription
  • All classes are listed
  • Students enroll as they sign up for each class
  • Assignments can be seen in SmartMusic allowing students to go at their own pace
  • Additional assignments can be added as the class develops through the semester
  • A four year portfolio of work is stored in the cloud and made available as a report for future employers to review. A SmartMusic certification program at each school could be an added benefit that further supports that this graduate is well prepared for today’s music student.

I realize there are some professors and institutions already doing much of this. I encourage them to add their voices to this conversation and start the change that is necessary to bring music education to the next level.

I would love the opportunity to continue this initial dialogue. If you’re interested in participating in the discussion, please contact me at

Ted ScalzoTed Scalzo is a veteran teacher of 36 years, including 29 years as the band director at Bay Shore High School in Long Island, New York. His wind and jazz ensembles have received numerous awards. Ted has used Finale to arrange for marching band since version 1.0, and taught music composition/theory and a multimedia class that he designed for Bay Shore students. A fervent advocate of technology in the classroom, Ted was honored as an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2005, was twice appointed to the NYSSMA Music Technology Committee, and teaches a course on music education technology at Hofstra University.