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Thanking Our Mentors on National Teacher Appreciation Day

Recognizing Terry Monday on Nation Teacher Appreciation Day

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, we’re celebrating teachers who made a difference.

Recognize Your Mentor

Show your appreciation by entering your special teacher in a drawing to win $500 in gift cards. Details and an entry form can be found at the bottom of this post.

In further observance of the day, we asked our co-workers for stories of outstanding teachers, and today we’ll share two. While many of us cited music educators, it’s clear that all kinds of teachers made us who we are today. Our first story is about one of those “other” teachers.

Ashley Trupp Recognizes Terry Monday

“Here’s the deal, kid; this is just another show in just another barn. Work hard, do your best, and be proud. The rest is out of your hands.”

So said my high school technical theater teacher, Terry Monday, to me, as I was freaking out over boxes of broken props, a mere hour before we were to open The Secret Garden on the main stage at the Florida State Thespian Competition in 1998. 

Mr. Monday, who presided over my technical theater education at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville, FL, recognized my love of theater and the performing arts early on. From stage manager, to sound designer, to set designer and costume master, I worked in every aspect of theater, dance, and band/orchestra recital under Mr. Monday’s guidance. His technique for teaching me how to focus a stage light illuminates how he’d put education – and humor – ahead of pretension every time: he took off his ever-present baseball cap and instructed me to shine the brightest part of the light on his bald spot.

The letter of recommendation he wrote for my college applications was similarly unique. Mr. Monday was never too verbose, nor was he effusive with his praise, but I remember his closing remarks. “I have nothing more to say except that she is a damned good kid and you’d be lucky to have her.” At a time in my life when I needed praise and validation for my unorthodox career path, his support made a big difference: that letter traveled with me for years. I come from a family of educators, and for their youngest daughter to announce that she was going to a conservatory to learn Stage Management and then move to New York to work on Broadway, well, it took some convincing. Mr. Monday always reminded me that I was doing what I was meant to do. 

Mr. Monday and I have stayed in touch over the years. He always had his favorites, his “kids,” though I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to show any favoritism. A few years ago, while living in New York City and working as a Production Manager at The Public Theater, I arrived home to find a package outside my apartment door. I opened it and pulled out a bobble head figurine that Mr. Monday had made of himself sitting on his motorcycle. No note, no explanation. But I didn’t need one. It was just Monday, letting me know he was still there and still telling to strive for the best. That bobble head now sits on my desk at work, and has since I received it in 2007. It’s a great ice breaker when I start a new job – yet another gift he gave this once shy theater kid. 

“Work hard, do your best, be proud.”

Good words to live by. 

Ashley TruppAshley Trupp is the Event & Partnership Manager at MakeMusic, Inc. She spent a decade working as a stage manager and production manager in and around New York City, most notably at The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival. As an event manager Ashley worked on countless athletic events including the USA Pro Challenge and the New York City Marathon.

She is thrilled to be able to come back to her roots and advocate for arts in education through her position at MakeMusic. Ashley currently lives in Longmont, CO with her husband, three year old son, and their dog, Oliver. 

Doug Rasmussen Recognizes Tom Myer

As a high school senior I knew I wanted to go on to music school. I was a very serious student of the jazz saxophone, and fairly knowledgeable about the swing era and historical jazz, but was pretty much in the dark about music made after 1950. Then, through my high school band director, I got to know some music students at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse.

Tom, an undergraduate saxophone student, invited my friend Scott and me to hang out at his campus apartment and listen to music; he would play the records he thought we needed to experience. It was there I heard several saxophone giants for the first time; everything from Charlie Parker to Phil Woods. Tom broadened my musical world by introducing me to a wider range of music. This interaction played a big role in preparing me to become a college music student and a lifelong jazz musician.

Tom Myer went on to do postgraduate work at North Texas and eventually became the saxophone professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. Oddly enough, today Tom and I again live in the same county (although we’re nearly 1,000 miles from La Crosse) and I’m fortunate to work with one of his very capable CU-Boulder graduates, saxophonist Stephanie Doctor, who has high praise for his professorial skills.

But I know from experience that Tom’s dedication to teaching began long he earned his first degree. Thanks to Tom, and every musician who takes the time to share their experience with younger players, and play them the music they need to hear.

Doug RasmussenMakeMusic QA Tester Doug Rasmussen received his B.M. in saxophone performance from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. He spent the 80’s in Seattle where he was a member of the Fred Radke Orchestra. He also played with Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Four Tops, the Temptations and many of the swing era greats including Steve Allen, Helen Forrest, Frankie Lane and Frank Sinatra Jr. Doug was also a founding member of the Jazz Police Big Band and wrote many of the charts played on their two CDs.

After moving to Minneapolis he joined up with MakeMusic and in 2008 formed the ACME Jazz Company, a big band committed to playing original tunes. Several of Doug’s big band and concert band pieces have been published by (and are available from) Really Good Music.

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Update on the New SmartMusic Beta Test: May 2, 2016

Update on the new SmartMusic beta testLast month we offered our first peek into the beta testing currently under way with the new SmartMusic. Since then great progress has been made thanks to the hundreds of music educators who’ve provided us with input.

Here are just some of the accomplishments we’ve made together in the last few weeks:

13 Bugs Identified & Fixed

Again, these were primarily small bugs, mostly related to the assignment and grading loop, but we’re grateful to put them behind us.

30 Features Added

New features added this month include:

  • An improved way to copy/paste instructions across parts in the assignment loop
  • The ability to create multi-level rubrics on the fly, aided by the use of color for categorization
  • The control of assignment constraints (location, tempo, cursor) in the student’s view. This control simplifies the student’s experience and ensures that student submissions match requirements.
  • Tempo is now expressed in BPM in addition to percentage.

More Improvements Coming in May

In the coming weeks we’ll begin releasing content to the beta team, including solos, ensemble titles, and method books. What’s more, we’ll make the first version of the content search engine available so they will be able to find this repertoire. They’ll also see major graphic/interface design improvements in the assignment loop and gradebook.

We’re very thankful for the expertise these educators lend us in helping us define our road map and re-prioritize our features, and we’re very excited about the progress we’re making together. In sharing the results publicly, it’s our intent to keep all SmartMusic users posted on our development, and hopefully to share some of the excitement. You can learn more about the new SmartMusic at

Have questions? Please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.


Improve Bass Technique in Your Jazz Band

Improve Bass Technique in Your Jazz Band

The bass player is one of the driving forces of any musical group, especially if that group is jazz combo or big band. If you’re a director who’s not a bassist, it’s not always obviously what to look and listen for in your young bassists — or how to guide them. Here are a few simple bass technique tips that this I’ve found to have a big impact.


While it’s always everyone’s job to keep time, the bassist and drummer provide the rhythmic heartbeat for any jazz rhythm section. When you’re swinging, that pulse comes from the ride cymbal and the bass, which is typically walking four to a bar. So, when you’re setting up the band, make sure your bass player is located to the drummer’s right (where a right-handed drummer would place the ride cymbal). This removes any physical barriers and makes it easier for them to agree on that quarter note pulse.

The bass player’s other partner in crime is the lead trumpeter, who leads the rest of the ensemble in phrasing and swing feel. Be sure to position the trumpets closely to the rhythm section to keep things tight between sections.


Once your bass and drums are in agreement, focus on the bass line itself. My first bass teacher once told me to imagine that every big band chart had a giant slur from the first bar to the last bar. Simply put, your bass player needs to give every quarter note its full value and connect each note in the line, even when they’re digging in. If your bassist is playing a double bass, be aware that this approach to pizzicato playing may be a little different than what they’ve previously encountered in an orchestra.

Bass Technique

In order to achieve this articulation, bassists must coordinate their hands in specific ways. For the left hand, use the tips of the finger to provide the firmest connect between the string and fingerboard or fret wire, and therefore the cleanest pitch. But be sensitive to smaller hands, which may need to make adjustments in lower positions to prevent excessive wrist bending.

At the same time, the angle and position of the right hand contribute greatly to articulation and tone production. On the double bass, fingers should be roughly parallel to the strings and near the end of the fingerboard. By contrast, on bass guitar the fingers should be more perpendicular to the string. Have your bass player experiment with resting the right thumb on the side of the fret board. While this position may be higher than they are used to in pop or Latin styles, it softens the articulation to more closely emulate the double bass. Combine this with rolling off the bass’s tone knob to turn down the treble and round out the sound even more.

Keep it Low

Big bands fill a wide frequency range. It’s always tempting for bassists to keep climber higher and higher up the fingerboard. While this is not a problem in a small group setting or the woodshed, this may encroach on someone else’s tonal territory in a large ensemble. This phenomenon was once illustrated to me during a live performance of the great jazz singer Kurt Elling. While introducing the band, Elling jokingly praised his bass player’s technique. He appreciated that the bassist kept his left hand high, which kept the pitches low.

While each of these items may only make a subtle difference on its own, taken together they can make a significant difference for your young bassist and the sound of your band.

Chad MathisChad Mathis has been with MakeMusic’s Customer Success team since 2013 and holds a Master of Arts in music performance from Eastern Illinois University.

His favorite yoga poses are those that are easier and less embarrassing than hauling bass gear through the middle of a crowded wedding reception.

Help Music Students Discover Critical Thinking

Help Music Students Discover Critical Thinking

Where We Live Today

We live in a time where the tide is turning. Instead of giving everyone a trophy, we’re beginning to teach students how best to deal with both the ups AND downs of life. We’re moving away from helicopter parenting/teaching. Instead we’re allowing students to take calculated risks and see the benefit from both success and failure – giving them a longer leash by which they can engage in self exploration and discovery. Today there is a shift from giving students the answers to guiding them to discover the answers for themselves. If we are not making those shifts in philosophy, I think it is time we do so, and there is no better place to model that shift than the music room.

Think about it – the music room (band, choir, orchestra, classroom music) is a safe haven for most kids. It is a place where they come and are supported by passionate, dedicated teachers that care about them as human beings, not just as students or musicians. We want to foster and preserve their creativity and love of learning so it reaches far beyond their school years and translates to their adult lives. Although giving music students the answers (i.e. singing their part to them, etc.) and holding their hand may yield short term success (and a fine public performance) I do not believe this approach teaches them the core values that we all believe are most important.

Life Skills We Teach

We want our students to learn life skills through music. In our classrooms students learn skills that are applicable to their entire future. Isn’t that an awesome responsibility? We will teach them how to be a manager, a member of a team, and to work with a diverse group of people with varying skill sets and talents. We will teach them how to be a leader, how to be a follower, how to give direction, and how to take direction. We will teach them ways to come up with multiple solutions to problems and test them. We will teach them to evaluate the results of their experiment and revise their ideas. We will give them opportunities to become self-directed and self-corrective. We will allow them to experience the excitement of achievement and sometimes (even more importantly) we will allow them to experience the discomfort of not achieving excellence on the first try.

Critical Thinking Defined

Our charge as teachers is to guide students to develop their own skills and help them apply those skills as they practice for “real life.“ Our use of critical thinking helps students as they discover and experience learning. So what is this critical thinking I speak of? According to, critical thinking is, “the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.” Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t it read like poetry?

Think about what is happening when you are teaching a lesson or rehearsal and stop to address an issue you heard. Imagine this scenario: You are working on a beautiful legato section and your students played all the right notes, but the tuning of the last chord was a little off. You stop the band. Then what? You have so many options of how you can handle the tuning issue. One way would be to listen to them play the chord and simply say, “Johnny, your A is sharp. Play it flatter.” Done. Problem solved. While there are definitely times to teach with this kind of pointed direction, I would suggest trying to lead Johnny to the answer and let him discover the feeling of discomfort (out of tune) to comfort (in tune). How? It is fairly simple.

Provide Guidance, Not Answers

The first thing to do is ensure that you are consistent in relaying information about how to solve problems in their musical performance. In class and in lessons, share with your students the many ways to solve common performance issues. For example, in the scenario of tuning the chord, I would have students perform the chord and then I would describe all of the possible problems. “Everyone listen to the chord. Something isn’t matching in it. Maybe it is the tuning, some people may be sharp or flat or flarp! Some students may be spot on with their pitch. Listen around you and think about your pitch. If you think you are sharp, lower the pitch using your embouchure or air speed. Experiment! If you think you are flat, try to raise the pitch, again by experimenting. See if it sounds better. If you think your pitch is right, leave it alone!”

This is the beauty of implementing a critical thinking approach. You are guiding them, and helping them, but letting them find the answer. You will achieve the same result – an “in tune” chord – however, your students will become more willing to make a decision, try something new, test it out, and re-evaluate. It may take a little longer to get that chord in tune, and you will have to be creative in how you approach musical concepts and engage all of your students in the process, but that is another reason teaching this way is so exciting! When they do get that chord in tune you should most definitely celebrate it and let them know that THEY were the ones that made it work.

You are an incredibly important role model in the lives of your music students. If they see you experiment and see you get excited about their musical discovery, they will be willing to do things for themselves. By giving your students the power to make decisions about their musical performance you will be helping them to build true confidence, not inflated confidence. You will be helping them to deal with both the challenges of life and the exciting successes of life. You will be doing what we all set out to do; to help students love learning, stay excited, and remain curious. You will be helping to support students by maintaining their childhood excitement and creativity as they grow into adulthood.

Never forget that you truly make a difference!

Chris BernotasComposer, conductor, clinician, and educator Chris M. Bernotas has been an instrumental music teacher at New Jersey’s Mountain Lakes High School for more than 20 years. An active composer and arranger of concert band music, Mr. Bernotas is published with Alfred Music Publishing, Daehn Publications, TRN Music Publishing, Northeastern Music Publications, Carl Fischer Music and Bandworks Publications. His music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and has appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists. Mr. Bernotas is co-author of the third and fourth books in Alfred’s Sound Innovations series, called Sound Innovations: Ensemble Development, along with Peter Boonshaft. Mr. Bernotas is also an active guest conductor and presenter at clinics and conferences throughout the United States. Please visit his website or facebook page for more info.

Featured photo is of the 2016 Sobrato High School Band from Morgan Hill, CA; Greg Chambers, director.

Help for the Rock Guitarist in Your Jazz Band

Help for the Rock Guitarist in Your Jazz Band

Here’s the scenario; the middle school jazz band needs a guitarist. The best applicant is a rocker, who has some facility, can play in time, and is interested.

The first tune is a Basie-style swing tune. The chart says Ab7. The guitarist can produce a six string barre chord of the same name, but what’s next?

What’s next is uncomfortable for everyone in the room. I know, because I was that guitarist.

Freddie Green Can Help

In time I was fortunate to befriend more experienced musicians with whom the name Freddie Green often came up.  Green was the rhythm guitar legend of the Count Basie band. At first I didn’t fully understand his greatness; I often found it hard even to hear him in the classic recordings. Can you always hear your heartbeat (even in a noisy room)? Nope. Does that make its rhythm any less crucial? I don’t think so. Check out the chugging sound in this clip.

What do I wish I had known before that first rehearsal? Well, lots of things. But let’s start with some appropriate voicings that you can share with your students.

Three Note Rhythm Chords

Chord voicings are integral to the Green style, specifically voicings that only use a few strings. In addition to being easy to grab (and lending themselves to motion) their sparse nature also leaves more sonic space for other instruments. This space, combined with Green’s complete lack of grandstanding volume, may offer a life lesson in that it’s more about making the whole band sound good than convincing the audience the guitar player is awesome.

Sermon aside, the good news for young guitarists is that these voicings are not hard to play. Let’s start with these two:

Two chords to help the rock guitarist in your jazz bandNOTE: Numbers represent finger (pointer is #1) and the x means these strings are muted.

Check this out: the C7 chord doesn’t even have the root (a C) in it. That took me a bit of time to get used to. This fact that the root is optional is a valuable lesson, although guitarists may visualize the root (in this case 3rd fret, 5th string) when playing it. With just these two voicings your student could play an entire simple blues (sliding C7 up two frets to play D7).

G7  |C7  |G7  |G7
C7  |C7  |G7  |G7
D7  |C7  |G7  |D7

The trick here is to mute the other three strings so all strings can be strummed while only sounding three notes. In the G7 chord, the side of the first finger just touches both the 5th string, and the 1st and second strings, preventing them from vibrating. Getting this to happen takes a little trial and error, but’s it’s not physically tough like barre chords can be.

The Right Hand

To start, students should play these voicings with quarter note down-strokes. Chug, chug, chug, chug. Next have them add an accent on beats two and four. The simple blues above, played with just these two voicings, can really drive a whole tune in a musical way. It’s just a little practice to make it happen.

Learning Harmony

One music theory goal could be to get your guitarist to see every note of these voicings as it relates to the root of the chord. The G7 voicing (low to high) is root, b7, 3rd. The C7 is 5th, 3rd, b7. When they can identify these chord tones to you, and you’ve explained the difference between G7, GMaj7, G, G6, and so on, they can begin to discover their own voicings by understanding how each note relates. Plus this is all made a little more obtainable by the fact there are only three notes: it’s less to juggle in their mind.

Note how this is a very different process than trying to memorize a chord chart; I’m reminded of the Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Take Things Further

Got a student who’s already mastered the simple blues above? Here’s something that’s a little more fun:

Blues example to help the rock guitarist in your jazz band

Here are a few things to observe:

  • If a chord chart says G7, could one substitute G or G6 or Gmaj7? This is a type of conversation you might have with your students. G7 and Gmaj7 look very similar, but work very differently; G or G6 could work,
  • Check out the C#dim7: this is just the C7 voicing slid up a minor third (creating bb7, b5, 1).
  • At the top of bar 7, I threw in a G triad, which is a subset of G7. The third is in the bass: again, you don’t need the root, and it doesn’t HAVE to be in the bass!

Additional Ingredients

Of course additional ingredients include listening to music – including classic recordings – and playing, both with a metronome, and with others.  But you knew that.

If you have a rock guitarist in your jazz band, I hope this is of help to both of you. If so, click on the Like button above or comment on Facebook and Twitter. If we hear from you we’ll share more on this topic.

Scott YohoIn addition to being MakeMusic’s content manager, Scott Yoho is the leader of the Auto Body Experience, a horn-driven septet that plays his quirky music.

A graduate of the Musicians’ Institute, he earned a B.A. in English from the University of Minnesota. For ten years he played guitar with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Gene Pitney, and has performed on stages as diverse as hay wagons, VFW basement floors, and Carnegie Hall.

Scott’s recordings have been featured in music magazines including Guitar Player, Vintage Guitar, and Keyboard, and was once interviewed by NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

The Three Pillars of a Great Music Program

Three Pillars of a Great Music Program by Bob Phillips

The goal of every music teacher is, or should be, to involve the maximum number of students in the music program. This starts with a well-thought-out recruiting and retention strategy that involves all disciplines within the program; band, orchestra and choir. Teachers must cooperate to create a highly effective and complete program. Ancillary programs such as jazz band, specialized choirs, musicals, fiddle ensemble, rock band, guitar class, piano class, mariachi band, drum lines, and marching band all add to the fabric of a rich musical environment. Building a great program rests on three pillars: an effective recruiting and retention plan, a high-quality musical environment with great instructional leadership, and clear communication of your values and student successes to the community, school board, parents and administrators.

1. Recruitment and Retention

Recruiting the maximum number of students for each program, orchestra, choir, and band, can and should be done cooperatively. The most successful programs are always strong in all three areas. This starts with a clear recruiting strategy that entices students and parents to participate. Fortunately a number of fine resources are available.

String Clinics to Go: The Art of Recruiting by myself and Bob Gillespie has helped teachers increase their starting numbers in significant ways over the last fifteen years. A new and incredibly exciting set of materials was unveiled last year by inspirational speaker Scott Lang. The series, Be Part of the Music, can be viewed at and You can also visit  and for discipline-specific information. Scott has created a complete set of recruiting materials that include videos, letters and strategies. Be Part of the Choir will be released soon. Thousands of additional music students have been added nationally since the inception of this program two years ago.

Retaining students is an ongoing process that requires careful thought and planning. The first step is to know the exact dates students will be presented with registration materials for upcoming school years. In most high schools this occurs in January with middle school following in February and elementary students in March. It is critical that you present students with a comprehensive retention program in advance of the distribution of the general scheduling materials. This should include identifying possible student issues and offering pro-active solutions. These may include schedule problems, extra-curricular conflicts and any others issues that prevent students from re-enrolling in music.

Once this has been done it is extremely important to survey the students and use that data to help students make informed choices. I always asked students to indicate: 1) yes, I am continuing, 2) I am not sure, or 3) no, I will not be continuing. The “undecided” responses offer a great opportunity for you to talk to them and find out what the issues are.

In my own career I asked students about my teaching, the atmosphere of the class, what they were learning, and anything thing else that I thought would help me to be a more effective teacher. I would also put their responses into different categories to see if I could discover any patterns. An example would be athletes versus non-athletes, economic status, ethnicity, gender, or college prep versus non-college prep. What I wanted to know was, were there any certain populations that were dropping out disproportionately. If so then I knew I needed to look at the program and my teaching. It could also point out a schedule problem or other community factors. Armed with this information I could more intelligently guide students and help them continue in the program.

2. A High-Quality Music Environment

Building a comprehensive music program happens over time. The richer the musical offerings, the more students there are that will find a home somewhere. The most important factor however is high-quality teaching and musical leadership. Sometimes the fastest way to grow your program is improve your knowledge base. I have been a teacher, clinician, writer/composer for forty years and I am constantly trying learn new things and improve my skills. Education is a non-stop process for both students and teachers. Great music programs always have great leaders. People who put students first and are constantly trying to improve the musical environment for the entire community increase the number of students involved.

3. Communication

The last pillar involves communicating the success and values of the program to the community, school board, parents, and administrators. Make sure you view every performance as an opportunity to do just that. Concerts can be informances as well as performances. Explain what you doing and why. Have students talk about and reflect upon their experience. Have students play at board meetings and throughout the community at large. Be an artistic presence in your school area.

It is important to communicate with administrators and school boards. One very powerful way to do this is to create an annual “State of the Music Department” report. This type of report will speak volumes to both these groups, and was pioneered by music advocacy expert John Benham.

Benham’s theory of reverse economics has saved hundreds of school music programs throughout the country. It suggests that music is often cheaper to teach than other disciples because of our larger class sizes. More importantly it states that when you cut elementary programs it doesn’t save you money but cost more because of how it affects your middle school and high school numbers in subsequent years. For more information read his book Music Advocacy and visit

When communicating with administrators, the most important data point is the per student cost of instruction versus other areas of the school. Below are some additional points to consider, based on Benham’s work.

List honors and awards of student and faculty:

  • Solo and ensemble
  • Professional awards
  • Festivals
  • Non-music awards of students and faculty

List of and number of performances of each music ensemble:

  • Curricular performances (in school day)
  • Co-curricular performances (outside school day)
  • Extra-curricular performance/activities (primarily public service or public relations)
  • List of offerings at each grade in curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular areas

List by ensemble or grade level:

  • Average G.P.A. of music students
  • Average scores on SAT, ACT, and other relevant tests (District report card)
  • Participation in other school activities (honor society, athletics, etc.) –survey students
  • Number of students by grade, building, and area (band, choir, orchestra, general)
  • Percent of student participation compared to number in overall class by grade and area (band, choir, orchestra, general)
  • Total music numbers across disciplines
  • Percentage of total music students compared to total enrollment
  • Maximum number and percentage of students possible with current staff
  • Percent of attrition by grade and area (band, choir, orchestra, general)
  • Budget over time, music versus academic, where is the money going

Faculty – list data by ensemble, grade level, discipline:

  • Student/Faculty Ratios (SFR), based on actual enrollments in music – teacher track
  • Student/Faculty Ratios by curricular area and grade level in other subjects
  • Average FTE value of music faculty, based on actual teaching loads and student enrollment, as compared with non-music instructors
  • Cost per student for faculty
  • Cost per student of total music budget
  • Breakdown of Individual Faculty Loads (FTE) by area

Building a great music program happens by design. If the music staff works cooperatively with each other then everyone wins. It starts with recruiting and retention, is followed with great teaching and leadership, and finishes with clear communication to build a broader arts coalition.

Bob PhillipsPedagogue, composer, and teacher trainer, Bob Phillips is an innovator in string education. During his 27 years of teaching strings in Saline, Michigan, Bob built a thriving string program of over 700 students and was honored as teacher of the year 9 times by regional, state and national organizations. A recognized expert in the use of large group pedagogy and alternative styles, he has presented clinics throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. Phillips has authored over 19 book series that include 130 books for use in the classroom including Alfred’s revolutionary new method, Sound Innovations for String Orchestra and Sound Innovations for Concert Band as well as the ground breaking Philharmonic series. He has had over 140 works published for orchestras and bands and is an award winning ASCAP composer. His conducting resume includes professional, all-state, and youth orchestras. Currently the director of string publications for Alfred Music and the past-president of ASTA, he was inducted into the University of Michigan School of Music Hall of Fame in 2013. Bob and his wife, Pam are also part of the creative team for Barrage 8.

Alfred Music Joins the Peaksware Family

Peaksware + Alfred_blog

Earlier today, SmartMusic’s parent company Peaksware, announced that Alfred Music, the world’s largest educational music publisher, will be joining its portfolio of companies. This is very exciting news for us at MakeMusic. But what does it mean for our products and our customers?

Both Alfred Music and MakeMusic will continue to operate independently. Our customers and current partners won’t be impacted; they will experience “business as usual.” This will, however, allow our organizations to share resources which will result in additional content and distribution channels for both companies. It’s important to note that this relationship will not change MakeMusic’s long-standing commitment to work equally with all publishing partners to provide the highest level of quality content for musicians and educators within SmartMusic.

“Our long-term goal at Peaksware is to build an end-to-end ecosystem that connects composers, publishers, educators, directors, and musicians,’ explained Peaksware CEO Gear Fisher. “Alfred brings additional distribution opportunities for artists and composers while expanding the repertoire within SmartMusic for teachers and musicians.”

“Music educators know and trust Alfred Music,” said Heath Mathews, SmartMusic director of licensing. “For more than 90 years the company has built a remarkable reputation, particularly in the world of music education, and we are honored to play a part in continuing to grow that reputation. Among our common goals is to provide educators with tools to engage and inspire students, so it makes perfect sense for us to expand our work together beyond simply including so much excellent Alfred content in SmartMusic. We believe this partnership will further extend the reach of SmartMusic into the education market. As a result we’ll be able to bring music from all of our publisher partners to more educators and their students; clearly a win-win for all involved.”

Read the full press release here.

Have questions or comments? Please share them with us on Facebook or Twitter. You may also wish to visit the Alfred Music Ledger Lines blog and follow Alfred on Twitter.

Integrating Common Core into the Music Classroom

Integrating Common Core into the Music Classroom

Integrating Common Core Standards into the music classroom is an important (and often required) contribution to the school’s learning community. As music educators, we need to reexamine the music rehearsal to encompass all aspects of learning while simultaneously maintaining high-level, culminating performances. Integrating writing and reading skills into the rehearsal room is a common sense approach to including Common Core Standards that can deepen music learning and lead to expressive performances.

Since the Common Core Standards have been adopted by a majority states, it is likely that most music teachers are being asked to integrate these standards into lesson and rehearsal plans. Here are a few quick tips to help you integrate the Common Core Standards into the music classroom in easy, common sense ways…


One of the Anchor Standards for Writing [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7] states that students should, “Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.” Music teachers can address this standard by asking students to answer focused questions about the music being prepared for the next concert. Students could compose the answers outside of class and submit them electronically (or in written form).

One alternative can be to integrate an “exit slip” strategy used by other disciplines. An exit slip is a written student response from a question posed by the teacher. This quick, informal assessment asks students to summarize a portion of the content learning from the class period in a few sentences as they depart from class. Sample writing prompts might include:

  • Describe a musical phrase in your own words.
  • Why do composer’s change keys in music?
  • What percussion instruments are used in the piece?
  • What is an anacrusis?
  • How do the meters in the piece relate to one another?
  • What is a canon?

The best writing prompts for exit slips directly relate to a musical topic from the rehearsal, but it is also possible to use more general questions to inspire student focus in rehearsal or to glean feedback from the students for planning the next rehearsal. More general writing prompts might include:[1]

  • This piece of music shows…
  • The best part is…
  • It was hard for me to learn…
  • A question I was curious about and want to learn the answer to is…
  • What changes did you make today?
  • Today we worked on…


Another Anchor Standard for Writing [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10] states that students should, “Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.” Teachers can craft writing prompts that can be answered by the students in one sitting, or develop more complex questions that require extended time (perhaps a week or two).

  • What is folk music?
  • What is your favorite American folksong? Why?
  • When does the composer use augmentation and inversion in this piece?
  • What is a mode in music? How does modal music make you feel?
  • How is a phrase used in poetry? How is it used in music?
  • What is Ballad form? How is it used in this piece?


An Anchor Standard for Reading [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1] states that students should, “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it.” A second Reading Standard [CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10] states, “Read and comprehend complex literary and informational text independently and proficiently.” Another way to integrate Common Core Standards is to ask students to read an informational text related to the music a (or about the composer).

Music teachers can find a plethora of informational texts related to a study composition by using quick internet searches. Students may write a short response or summary about the readings – again, integrating writing standards into the curriculum. To focus student responses, teachers may provide additional writing prompts:

  • Why did the composer write this composition?
  • Who premiered the composition? When was it premiered?
  • Does this music include a program? Describe the program in your own words.
  • What style of music does this piece represent? What musical elements are included in this piece that are typical of the style?
  • If you were visiting with the composer, what would you tell him/her about this music?

The ability to design student activities that reach musical goals using the Common Core State Standards is only limited by the instructor’s creativity (and investment of time).  Rehearsal time is a cherished resource in any music program. Music teachers may be worried about “adding more” to an already overflowing plate. However, it should be noted that most of the activities recommend in this article could be completed outside of the classroom or in short, in-class activities that require only a few minutes of time.

When music teachers adopt a common sense approach to integrating Common Core Standards they develop immediate, useful and practical applications that lead student musicians to an enlightened and expressive performance while simultaneously supporting the school’s learning community.

David Kish, author of Integrating Common Core into the Music ClassroomDavid Kish is director of bands and professor of music at Metropolitan State University in Denver, and was recently appointed conductor and musical director of the Colorado Wind Ensemble.

David has taught instrumental music at all educational levels. His writings have been published in The Instrumentalist Magazine, Journal of Band Research, Music Educators Journal, and four volumes of the popular resource texts, Teaching Music through Performance in Band. David recently authored Volume VI of his book series, Guides to Band Masterworks.

Dr. Kish earned the D.M.A. and M.M. degrees in Instrumental Conducting and Music Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and B.M. in Music Education from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. He maintains an active schedule as guest conductor, clinician, and lecturer throughout the United States. 

[1] Adapted from Tools for Powerful Student Evaluation by Susan R. Farrell, Meredith Music Publication, 1997.

Teaching Swing to Young Musicians

Teaching Swing to Young Musicians 1Many young jazz ensembles focus on funk and rock arrangements to hide the fact that they don’t know how to swing. Rather than limiting our concert programs to “25 or 6 to 4” and “Fantasy,” we should be teaching swing to young musicians from the beginning of their jazz careers.

Of course, jazz directors of all experience levels know how hard it is to teach a swing feel. Even the name — “swing feel” — implies that this is something you feel, not something you reason out or intellectually understand. As a teacher with both private students and full ensembles, I’ve heard (and tried) all sorts of different explanations of swing. Many teachers start with that little musical diagram that’s part of the tempo marking (pictured above).

When you’re working with middle schoolers who barely understand triplets, asking them to internalize a rhythm with tied triplets is already a tall order. To make things worse, jazz often has different articulations than what students are used to. Students need something simpler. The next thing teachers try is usually “Well, just play long then short.” This can turn the greatest Count Basie tune into the Mickey Mouse March. Emphasizing a long-short pattern causes all sorts of ricky-ticky side-effects.

The Secret to Teaching Swing

The most effective method I have found for teaching students (especially young students) to swing is to use “back-accent tonguing” (but don’t tell the students it’s called that). Rather than have students hung up on the precise rhythmic values of swing (which vary based on tempo and style anyway), get the articulation correct and the rhythms will follow. Have students start on an upbeat with a firm accent, and slur into a tenuto downbeat. Add notes until students start to get the familiar swing “doo-BAH-doo-BAH” sound.Teaching Swing to Young Musicians 2

One key to making sure this exercise goes well is to focus on keeping the downbeats long.

The Slur

Next, add the slur. The goal is to make the accented upbeat drive forward into the long downbeat. Note this is easier to play than to read; be certain to model the sound so no one is intimidated by the notation (they can look like ties, not slurs). Don’t let students get overeager with the accent — the slur into the downbeat is just as important as the emphasis on the upbeat. 

Teaching Swing to Young Musicians 3

Once students are starting to swing, apply the articulation pattern to something that students are very familiar with: scales. Now starting on the downbeat, use the scale up to the 9th to practice the accents and slurs:

Teaching Swing to Young Musicians 4

Going to the 9th not only ends the scale on a downbeat for rhythmic comfort, but gets students used to extensions common in jazz and de-emphasizes the importance of the root (which students will rarely play in voiced chords). Practicing back-accent articulations on scales also kills two birds with one stone: your warm up already got students practicing scales and swing. Even better, you now have a vehicle for teaching advanced theory concepts like modes — use the same pattern on dorian or mixolydian scales.

The Benefit

The biggest benefit to teaching students swing feel using the back-accent method is that it wires their brains and ears to automatically articulate soli passages in an idiomatic way, improving their sight-reading skills. Take a look at this example:
Teaching Swing to Young Musicians 5

Experienced jazzers will naturally articulate the line like this:

Teaching Swing to Young Musicians 6

You can see that back-accent articulations are similar to what experienced musicians will intuitively use on a swing line. Young students may still need some courtesy articulations written in, but the back-accent approach puts them in a position where they will start to automatically articulate in swing style.

Have you tried this approach to teaching swing with your students before? Going to try now? Let us know how it went on Facebook or Twitter.

Ryan Sargent

In 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.

Update on the New SmartMusic Beta Test

beta blogAs you may have read last week, we are hard at work on the new SmartMusic, and eager to make sure that all SmartMusic users are up-to-date on our progress. Back in February we recruited nearly 500 music educators to participate in a private beta test of the new SmartMusic. Such a test allows these educators to try the software as it is being created, provide us with their feedback, and play a large role in shaping the results, which we’ll make available to everyone this fall.

Today, as we approach the halfway point of the beta, we’d like to give those of you not participating in the test a glimpse of what we have accomplished so far with the assistance of these dedicated educators.

25 Bugs Identified & Fixed

While we’re thankful that most of these bugs were minor issues, we’re glad to get them out of the way. Fixes include the retention of the student’s voice upon launch (instead of defaulting to flute every time), the resolution of a crash that could occur when creating loops, and the addition of high-quality Garritan clarinet and bass clarinet sounds.

50 Features Added

Features added as a result of beta input include students being able to specify their preferred cursor, and many user interface enhancements (including larger, more legible fonts). We initially counted down multi-measures rests by beats; 16, 15, 14, 13…; but have since changed to a clear preference for incremented bars; 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 4… Similarly, in creating an assignment, we initially proposed a linear view of the assignment, but changed to a page view based on the majority of requests received.

More Improvements Coming in April

In the next few days tempo will switch from a percentage to beats per minute (we had many comments on this). Additionally, the software will soon be able to copy the configuration of one part to all the other parts with a single click, as well as support the creation of rubrics.

We asked for feedback about grading points and weightings, and the response was clear that we should retain the existing system where educators can assign any number of points to any assignments.

In Closing

We hope you’re as excited as we are to see the new SmartMusic when it’s released this fall. If you’d like more information, including how it will differ from the current SmartMusic, check out