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Celebrating #GivingTuesday with SmartMusic


Giving Tuesday is an initiative that helps us step away from the annual whirlwind of holiday purchases and honor the Thanksgiving season by giving back to those in need. As the organization puts it, Giving Tuesday is “a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company, or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how are you giving.”

Everyone at MakeMusic is passionate about music education. Yes, we’re a company, but being able to connect with music teachers and students around the world helps us be a part of something bigger. This year we’ve found a way to give something back.

For Giving Tuesday, we’ve donated a full SmartMusic classroom implementation package to the Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy in Denver, Colorado. Part of Denver Public Schools, KCAA is an arts magnet school serving a low-income populationa majority of their students are on free and reduced lunchand these students might not otherwise have the opportunity to work with music technology.

Luke Wachter, the instrumental music teacher at KCAA, describes the school as “unique because we strive to provide a really meaningful, 21st-century arts education to a really under-served population. We are one of the few arts magnet schools in the country that is K-12, focused on socioeconomically underprivileged students, and integrates the arts into all of our core academic subject areas.”


In my conversation with Luke, he discussed how inspiring working with the students at KCAA can be: “I love getting students to understand that they have a voice, and that they can influence their community and their world if they learn how to use that voice effectively. In my class, they learn how to use music to make their voice heard.”

Even when speaking about challenges associated with teaching, Luke was unfailingly upbeat: “What is challenging is meeting the students where they are. That can be finding the right instrument, the right way to explain something, or, especially in my school community, finding them resources they can get anywhere else outside of school.”

Attending a K-12 school means that KCAA students have an unusually consistent music experience, and Luke uses that to his advantage in the classroom. He says, “I have the opportunity to work with students over a long period of time… The most inspiring moment of my teaching career was watching our first class of seniors graduate, and seeing kids I had known since they were in middle school become amazing artists, scholars, and people.”


We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to help support Luke, his students, and the music education community as part of Giving Tuesday and hope that sharing their story inspires you to give something more, too.

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.


Integrating the Private Studio with School Ensembles

Team Teaching with Wendy Devaney

One way to accelerate the growth of a new private studio is to work with an orchestra director at a nearby school. Such a partnership can offer you the convenience of seeing multiple students in one location as well as providing high visibility to many students and parents at once. Better yet, students can really benefit from having their orchestra director and a private instructor working together as a team.

While my expertise is in stringed instruments, please keep in mind that the following suggestions can apply to band instruments, too.

Reaching Out to Orchestra Directors

When reaching out to prospective orchestra directors with whom you’d like to work, you’ll want to clearly highlight the benefits you offer, over and above your teaching expertise, passion, and credentials. These may include the convenience to parents and students, a second pair of trained hands at concerts, and a professional string-playing assistant. One effective way to communicate your teaching style and prowess is to give the director a lesson; even simply offering to do so provides a sense of your willingness to work together.

How to Get Started

If you don’t have one already, create a website that includes your fees and lesson policies. This also serves as a great way to let prospective students know that by signing up for lessons with you they are agreeing to your studio policies – and that you and your studio and are completely separate from the school. If the orchestra has a website, you can ask the director to link to yours.

There are many ways to generate interest among students in the school. You might consider offering free trial lessons to recruit students or to offer a discounted rate or free scholarship to one student per semester (nominated by the director or a parents’ group). Another option is to offer to conduct sectionals for the orchestra director so students can get to know you.

Finally, never overlook advertising. Consider placing an ad in the orchestra concert program and hand out flyers during class, concerts and events.

Leverage the School Calendar

Once you’re teaching students in the school, be as involved with the school orchestra program as possible. Get a calendar of events for the year and plan on focusing on those which are important to the orchestra director (chair tests, UIL Contest, Solo and Ensemble, all concerts and functions). If a concert or test is approaching, be sure to focus on that music first before focusing on “your” music. Ask the director for specifics such as bowing and fingering preferences. Make orchestra music the priority of your lessons until students are competent enough to move on to etudes, solos, scales and theory.

Most importantly, be present. The orchestra director chose YOU as a partner, so avoid canceling and rescheduling as much as possible. Consistency is key to the students’ improvement and to your relationship with the director.

Helping Orchestra Directors Make it Happen

You can help a prospective orchestra director see how this could work by offering suggestions of ways common problems can be resolved. For example, what can be done for students who cannot afford private lessons? You could suggest that the PTA or Booster Club sponsor some lessons. Another option is to set up a private lesson fund and support it through fundraising.

In summary, offering students a strong team of teachers is a great way to ensure that they will remain committed to music in the long-term. A high-quality ensemble takes a tremendous amount of teamwork, and working closely with an orchestra director can help demonstrate this important lesson by example.

For instance, one director I worked with for many years at the Gorzycki Middle School in Austin, Texas, let students know early on that she and I would be working together as partners. Not only did that help eliminate the need for heavy recruiting on my end, but it also removed the ability for the students to say “my other teacher told me to do this,” a problem most of us hear all too often. As she was a cellist and I play violin and viola, when it came to fingerings and bowings we tag-teamed the upper and lower strings. She would ask me to work on specific sections with students in their lessons, and I would report back to her what spots they were having trouble with, which generally turned into test sections.

This team-teaching relationship really highlighted for me how perfect this three-way collaboration, between director, instructor, and students, can be in setting up students for success.

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.

Arranging for the Young Jazz Combo

Andrew Stonerock

You don’t have to be a seasoned big band arranger to write for jazz combo. Just as the combo format can be less intimidating to student performers — providing great opportunities for interaction and improvisation — it’s also more welcoming to less experienced arrangers. Even if you’ve never arranged for jazz combo before, the following tips can help you be successful and provide more opportunities for your students.

First, find music that students will enjoy playing. Feel free to think beyond typical “jazz standards,” and also consider popular tunes that are more familiar to your students. Secondly, and perhaps most important, secure an accurate lead sheet with the correct melody and chord changes. There are several “fake books” online and in print that contain errors in the melody, chord changes, or both. Find a good recording to use as an authority while determining what is correct. Finally, peruse the lead sheet to make sure it will be appropriate for your ensemble. Some considerations include tempo, complicated melody, complicated chord changes, etc. When deciding how complicated a set of chord changes are, a good general guideline is to analyze the tonal centers. Typically, the more tonal centers that are used, the more difficult the task of improvisation.

Bass Lines

Bass lines in swing usually consist of either walking (4 quarter notes in each measure) or a 2-beat pattern (2 half notes in each measure). In both cases the root of the chord should occur on the first note of each new chord change.Root Bass Chords b

Next, the bass line needs to fill out the rest of the measure. The easiest way to achieve this is in the walking style is to arpeggiate the chord change. In a 2-beat style simply alternate between the root and the 5th of the chord. Notice how both the walking style and the 2-beat style have the 5th of the Cmaj7 on beat 3.

Bass Arpeggios

To add even more interest to the bass line, often times the note immediately preceding a different chord change is either a half-step above or below the root of the next chord change. In the walking bass style, the quarter note immediately preceding a different chord change is used for the half-step motion. In the 2-beat style, an eighth note is added before a different chord change.

Half-Step Bass Lines

Notice the chord change symbols are included in all of the above examples. This is important because students will start to learn to develop their own bass lines by using the guidelines created. While this might be a little scary at first, encourage students to start to see patterns in the bass lines and apply them to other chord changes.

Chord Voicings

The harmonic instruments in a typical jazz combo, piano and guitar, often have opposite strengths and weaknesses. Generally younger pianists can read notes but lack the knowledge to spell chord changes. Conversely, younger guitarists can often read chord changes while not being able to read individual notes. Even though younger guitarists will be able to play several chords, it is unlikely they will know how to play chord extensions or have knowledge of typical jazz guitar voicings. There are several books and websites that deal with this issue. For the purposes of this article, I will focus exclusively on jazz piano voicings.

When a pianist is playing with a bass player in a jazz combo setting, usually “rootless voicings” are used. These piano voicings are exactly as the name implies; chord voicings that reflect the sound of the chord, but do not contain the root of the chord. The reason these voicings are used is because the bass player plays the root of each chord change.

There are a couple of guidelines when writing rootless voicings. First, be sure to always include both the 3rd of the chord and the 7th of the chord. Second, try to include any upper extensions of the chord, particularly if they have any alterations (b9, #11, etc). Finally, when moving between chords, try to move each individual voice as little as possible. Below are some examples of rootless voicings from simple to more complicated. 

Simple Piano Voicings


Intermediate Piano Voicings


Advanced Piano Voicings

At first, these voicings might sound a little thin or odd without the bass. Eventually, students will learn to hear these sounds as normal, especially with the bass added. As with the bass lines, notice the chord changes appearing in the piano voicings. Again, encourage your students to analyze these voicings and use them for different chord changes or other charts.

The rhythm used when comping can be as varied and individualized as musicians themselves. Below are a couple of common rhythms to use when comping.

Rhythmic Comping 1


Rhythmic Comping 2

In general, it’s best to rest more than play, particularly when another musician is improvising. It is also good to vary the rhythm so as not to become monotonous.  

Rhythmic Comping Mixed

Drum Set

Drum set parts for jazz combo are very similar to those in a traditional jazz ensemble. A few distinct differences will help things go more smoothly. First, the drummer is typically going to be reading slash notation. It’s good to include the time feel, tempo, and sometimes the actual rhythmic feel you want the drummer to play. However, because the drummer should be interacting with the other musicians, they should be listening more than reading.

Sweet Wheel

Second, include important rhythms the drummer should accent, just as in a big band.

Pavlov's Waterfall - Sextet

Finally, include the chord changes in the drum part. Although the drummer will not be playing the harmony or improvising using the harmony, it will help them follow the form and represents an opportunity for good ear training.

Ojos de Rojo

Horn Voicings

When voicing for multiple horns, there are several factors to consider: how many players, what is the instrumentation, what are the ranges of the instruments/players, etc. What follows are very general guidelines and a few tips that I have found to be helpful.

KNOW YOUR MUSICIANS! When arranging for a specific group, think about the individual musicians and their strengths and weaknesses. Write brass parts that match the range of the musicians, as well as woodwind parts that match the level of technique of the musicians.  

Know the idiomatic strengths and weaknesses of the instruments themselves. For woodwind players, playing high and then low in quick succession in not terribly difficult; however, it is quite difficult for brass players. It is also good to understand tricks of the different instruments as well (tricky valve combinations for brass, tricky slide position changes for trombone, tricky fingering combinations for woodwinds, etc.)

What sounds good on a computer may not sound good in real life and vice versa. MIDI can play anything put on a page regardless of how complicated, fast, or downright absurd, and it can do it all without breathing or needing to take a break. Unfortunately, students are human with all of the limitations MIDI is lacking. So, make sure that the individual parts make sense and are playable. Learning to listen to MIDI and tell if something is going to sound good in real life is an art unto itself. Most people learn through trial and error over time and develop the ability to discern what will sound good or not sound good by hearing live musicians play their arrangements.

Here are a few tips when voicing chords for horns:

  1. Try to keep the horns in the same tessitura respectively (don’t have the trombone playing really high while the trumpet is in the middle of her range).
  2. Keep the melody in the upper voice, especially if that voice is a louder instrument.
  3. Avoid using roots in the horn voicings unless it is a melody note.
  4. Try to include the 3rd and 7th of chords in the voicing when possible.
  5. In a three horn voicing, the “drop-2” technique can be effective. This means using the top three notes in the piano voicing, “dropping” the middle note down an octave and dividing it into the respective parts.

Drop-2 Voicings

There are several books that discuss jazz arranging and different voicings for horns. Following some guidelines and experimenting will help develop the right sound for jazz combo.

Jazz combo can be a rewarding experience for both the students and the director. While the term “jazz arranging” can sound intimidating, it truly is not. The key is experimenting to discover what works for you and your students. In the end, as long as the students have fun, the experience will be well worth the journey.

Andrew Stonerock BioDr. Andrew Stonerock is the director of jazz studies at Cameron University. He oversees all aspects of the jazz program and directs the jazz ensemble and jazz combos. He is frequently in demand as a saxophonist, woodwind doubler, adjudicator, and clinician. 

In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his family and his dog Basie.

Teaching Tricky Diphthongs to Your Choir

Jon Tschiggfrie

In the past few months, we’ve started up an informal singing club here at MakeMusic. As I’ve led rehearsals, I’ve been reminded that few pronunciation issues give choral directors more headaches than the dreaded diphthong. Trying to get an entire ensemble of unique voices to perform complex vowel sounds uniformly can test the mettle of even the most seasoned director.

Why is vowel uniformity so important? Besides the fact that intonation and overall intelligibility rely on matching vowel sounds, uniformity is crucial to producing the kind of blend that results in a truly beautiful choral tone. In short, singing the same vowels together makes the difference between an okay choir and a stunning choir!

The Problem

For many speakers of North American English, this perennial problem is simply one of awareness: we tend to think of most diphthongs as single sounds. A diphthong is a vowel sound that is perceived as a single sound, but is actually composed of two different sounds. If you say the word now out loud, the vowel sound represented by ow sounds like a single vowel. But stretch it out by saying the word very slowly, and you’ll see that there are actually two sounds, “ah” followed by “oo”.

Fortunately, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) gives us a clue toward the true nature of these vowel combinations. Take, for example, the word light, a not-uncommonly encountered word in choral music. At first glance, there’s a single vowel, i. Say the word out loud, and it certainly seems that way.

But when it comes to singing the word on a sustained note, it becomes evident that there is more than one shape made by the mouth when pronouncing the i. In IPA, the i vowel sound is written [aɪ], or roughly “ah-ih”. In fact, there are six commonly encountered diphthong combinations:

[aɪ] “ah-ih” (light) [ɛɪ] “eh-ih” (say) [ɔɪ] “oh-ih” (join) [aʊ] “ah-oo” (now) [oʊ] “oh-oo” (go)* [ju] “ee-oo” (few)

*Probably the least obvious of these is [oʊ], but if you slow things down enough, you’ll notice that Americans tend to pronounce o by slightly closing the lips at the very end of the vowel sound. For an easy-to-use chart with audio samples, visit

In almost every case, the accepted choral practice is to sustain the primary vowel in the diphthong and tack on the secondary vowel at the very end. So in our light example, the vowel sound on the sustained note is [a], with [ɪ] coming immediately before the final t. An inexperienced singer might let the diphthong smoothly glide from one vowel sound to the other, but this should be avoided in favor of a quick switch at the end. The only diphthong where this isn’t the case is [ju]: here, the initial [j] vowel should come just before the beat, not unlike beginning consonants (think the gl of gloria), and the [u] should be sustained as the primary vowel. The same is true for syllables beginning with a w.

Things get even more fun when you introduce rhotic vowels, giving us the formidable triphthongs [aʊɚ] “ah-oo-er” (our) and [aɪɚ] “ah-ih-er” (fire). With these two combinations, it’s particularly important to stress with your choir not to split the vowels between pitches if the syllable happens on a melismatic passage.

To me, the question is: How do you get your whole choir to actually perform these sounds uniformly?

[Side note: ironically, choir is a rare case of a quadthong, where a single syllable has four consecutive vowel sounds! Just imagine how many choir directors have been driven to madness trying to get everyone to sing the same sound on the final note of The Holly and the Ivy.]

The Solution

Try the following exercise as a warm-up. Have the choir sing a phrase that has words containing the same diphthong (such as the old chestnut “How now, brown cow”). As you conduct, signal that the choir should hold one of these syllables on a sustained pitch, and make sure everyone is singing the primary vowel for the entire length of the pitch.

You can even make it a game by only holding particular syllables unexpectedly: the choir will enjoy the challenge of watching your conducting while also remembering which vowel sound to sustain. Of course, be sure to prepare the end of the syllable in your gesture so they know when to pronounce the secondary vowel. Try this exercise with different diphthongs until this kind of pronunciation becomes second-nature.

Do you have another method that works in your choir? Please share it with us in the comments below.

Tschiggfrie BioJon Tschiggfrie writes, designs, and maintains MakeMusic’s documentation and help resources. A MakeMusician since 2011, a large portion of his time is spent improving the Finale User Manual so that users can find the answers they need quickly and easily. Outside the office, Jon lends his tenor voice where needed and writes primarily sacred and secular choral music (with a piano rag from time to time). His main area of musical interest is in documenting and preserving the American steam calliope tradition.

How to Start a Mariachi Program at Your School

Mariachi photo by Magallonphotography

Mariachi education is growing as more schools are incorporating mariachi to increase cultural awareness and provide our students and Hispanic community an opportunity to live and safeguard their cultural traditions. Unfortunately, not all schools are able to start their programs due to lack of funding or support. In cases like these, what comes first? How do you begin the process of having a successful program at your school? Do not fear: Help is here!

Support and Funding

Administration, community and parental support are necessary to begin to form your mariachi ensemble. There is a large body of research done on mariachi education that may help you create a Letter of Intent to present to your school or district. There is also many successful mariachi educators in the U.S. that may be of help and assistance in providing personal experience and research within their own programs. Some of the organizations that you could reach out to would be the Texas Association of Mariachi Educators or Texas Music Educators Association.

Mariachi resources, instruments and attire can become expensive. If your district provides little to no funding, there are ways to help in getting what you need to start your program. The most efficient and effective way is to get acquainted with the parents of your mariachi students and speak to them about starting a parent booster club to fundraise throughout the school year. Fundraising through your school will also help in providing additional funds to purchase music, instruments and attire. Performing for donations is another effective way to add money to your mariachi school piggy bank for the needs of your students!

When to Begin

It is always best to start our young students in mariachi early on in middle school just as we normally would start our band, choir and orchestra programs. This will allow them to be more fundamentally experienced in high school, thus provide opportunities for performing more complicated and virtuosic mariachi arrangements.

If beginning a mariachi program in high school, ask your band and orchestra directors if they are willing to assist you in allowing their violin and/or band trumpet students to be part of the mariachi program. This will be much easier on you as these instruments are more challenging to teach and may require more time to learn and master.


In a typical mariachi ensemble it is easy to have many students wanting to be part of the program, but a balanced instrumentation is key to a successful organization. The more students on each instrument the harder it will be manage and control.  Auditions for the ensemble will be necessary once they have developed their experience and note reading skills. The membership of the mariachi ensemble should be as follows:

  • 6 to 8 violins
  • 2 to 3 trumpets
  • 1 harp
  • 1 guitarron
  • 1 vihuela
  • 2 guitars

If the guitarron and vihuela are new to you, do not be intimidated; they are not as different from the guitar as you might initially think. Check out these short videos that offer an excellent introduction. You may have students who are only interested in singing, but it is highly recommended that every student learns an instrument of the mariachi ensemble as most mariachi competitions require all students to play an instrument. It will also be required if the student is interested in continuing to perform in a higher education institution or professional mariachi group.


Mariachi resources are not difficult to find. Most music publishing companies have mariachi method books and musical arrangements for sale. Some popular options include “Simplemente Mariachi” by Marcia M. Neel and Francisco A. Grijalva and “Mariachi Mastery” by Jeff Nevin and Noe Sanchez. You may also use orchestra and band beginner method books to begin your trumpet and violin students.

If you are in need of learning a particular mariachi instrument or perfecting your mariachi style, there are workshops available for educators every summer. Some are, The National Mariachi Workshop for Mariachi Educators in Las Vegas Nevada, Mariachi Spectacular in Albuquerque, NM, and the Jose Hernandez Mariachi Workshop and Summer Institute in Los Angeles, California.

Mariachi music is always fun and exciting to play! Having a school group will not only benefit your students and allow them to feel connected to the Mexican culture, but they will enjoy being part of something important and create wonderful memories they will cherish! Please feel free to contact me at any time.

Mayra GarciaMayra Alejandra Garcia is the mariachi director for the award-winning Palmview High School “Mariachi Los Lobos” in La Joya I.S.D. and director of the award-winning all-female mariachi group “Mariachi Mariposas” from the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Her mariachi groups have established a legacy of excellence by becoming one of the top high school and professional mariachi groups in the state of Texas.

The group photo above is by

5 Ways to Impress Judges at Jazz Festivals

Dean Sorenson

Jazz festivals are terrific opportunities for bands to travel, perform, and bond. The best festivals provide a high-quality performance experience along with insightful teaching. Whether the festival is competitive or not, the band will be playing for judges or clinicians tasked with listening critically and offering comments and suggestions for improvement. Today I’d like to suggest some“best practices” for jazz festival participation, intended to help your band make a positive musical statement whether the festival is competitive or not.

1. Choose Unique Repertoire

An exceptional festival performance begins with exceptional planning and preparation.  Festival judges and clinicians often spend very long days listening to many bands. After the fourth time hearing the latest Adele or Pharrell Williams arrangement (or the latest version of “Satin Doll”), fatigue sets in very easily! A fresh set list gets the attention of judges and clinicians immediately, and forces them to take notice.

What makes a program unique? For starters, leave the pop arrangements at home. It is fine to perform the latest pop hits at a hometown concert, but the limited time and increased focus at a festival demands a more sophisticated program. Exposing students to classic jazz tunes (yes, like “Satin Doll!”!) is important, but strive to locate arrangements that are different from those that others are likely to be performing.  Play a “head chart” that the band learns by ear. Relatively simple arrangements can be played using no music and it makes for a very different performance experience. If the players are up to it, encourage student writers! There is no better way for a student to learn the craft than to have their work performed and critiqued, and there is no better way for a band to create a unique program than to create the music themselves.

2. Maintain a Professional Stage Presence

The band should take the stage, find their seats, and be ready to play in as orderly a way as possible. Rhythm section players should be coached to make equipment adjustments as efficiently as they can – and make sure bass players and guitar players have all necessary cables. Nothing kills a groove like waiting for 10 minutes while the drummer adjusts stands and the saxes argue about who sits where.

During the performance, have soloists play in front of the band rather than in place. Ideally they will be able to do this without music but having a music stand out front is OK, too. Playing in front of the band makes the soloists easier to hear, and looks better to the audience. It also gives them a little extra encouragement to practice. If moving from their place in the ensemble is impossible, at the very least make sure they are standing in place during solos. This rule applies to everyone except trumpets (who are already standing), pianists (one Jerry Lee Lewis was enough!), and of course drummers.

3. Tune to an Instrument – NOT to a Tuner

There is certainly a place and a time to use a tuner. The place is most often a practice room and the time is during individual practice time. While it may seem more efficient to flash a tuner in front of each student in the band and allow the arrows to tell them to push in or pull out, it does nothing to help them truly listen. Intonation is not a “set it and forget it” skill, and the tuner flash encourages this kind of thinking.

It goes back to planning and preparation. True listening skills take time to develop, and if a band is tuning in this way by the time a festival rolls around it tells me that there has been no work done in the preparation period to teach students how to listen carefully and play in tune. It is of course OK to use a tuner for reference in rehearsal, but do not depend on it. Teaching students to adjust their tuning using their ears and not their eyes will take a little longer, but the long term results are well worth it.

4. Provide Bound Scores with Permission from Publishers

Judges want to be able to follow scores and most festivals require directors to provide copies for every judge or clinician. Most publishers are more than happy to allow copying for this purpose. All directors need to do is ask, and this can usually be accomplished with a quick email. Respecting copyright is something that we should all be modeling as teachers, and this is a very easy thing to do.

Having the scores bound (a simple staple in the corner will do) with the pages in the correct order is a real help. Judges often want to reference specific bar numbers in comments, or want to check the score for performance accuracy if they hear something that sounds amiss. Providing scores that are clean, easy to follow, and LEGAL allows the judge or clinician to focus on listening and music rather than finding their place in the score.

5. Don’t Overstay Your Welcome

Most festivals run on a fairly tight schedule. Keeping your program within the allotted time shows respect for the festival host, the judges and clinicians, and the other performing ensembles. Festivals are long days even when everything runs on time, and when even one band runs overtime it creates more work for everyone.

It goes back to planning and preparation. While your program does not need to be planned down to the second, you should have your soloists and solo lengths planned in advance. While I love a good jam session as much as anyone, a festival performance is not the time for open-ended solos. Many of the great solos we study are short statements that are made within the context of a larger performance. Plan things out accordingly. In addition to programming, getting on and off stage efficiently (see #2 above) will also help a great deal in this regard.

Most of these ideas are simple common sense, and apply to jazz and concert festival performances alike. If you choose your repertoire carefully, and prepare the band with attention to musical details, your festival performance will be a success. Please feel free to contact me if I can be a resource to you in any way.

Dean Sorenson BioDean Sorenson is Associate Professor and the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Minnesota as well as a prolific and highly sought-after composer, arranger, trombonist, educator, and clinician. Dean’s latest project is Colors of the Soul, a CD of original music for sexet. His most recent book is First Place for Jazz, a new and innovative method for beginning jazz players published by the Neil A. Kjos Music Company. He is frequently featured at festivals and conventions around the country and abroad, and maintains a full schedule of concert and recording dates as a Yamaha performing artist. For more information please visit

Preparing Instrumentalists for Audition


Instrumental auditions, whether for an all-state ensemble, or college admission, represent significant milestones in your students’ lives. You can help make these experiences positive by guiding your students through the process. To follow are some suggestions, based on my experience both as an adjudicator and instructor, to help your students prepare for (and succeed at) auditions.


Many auditions have several components, including scales (major and minor), a work from the major literature, and sight-reading. Usually scales are the first part of the audition, often with tempo and rhythm requirements. Keep in mind, these are the first sounds that the adjudicator or panel hears. It is important that they are played with a beautiful tone, accurate intonation, and solid time.

Practicing scales with both a tuner and a metronome will ensure even tempo and good intonation. While this may seem tedious, students will develop a sense of time and intonation that will transfer to other pieces of music. Give students simple exercises and treat them like warm-ups; short, sweet, and performed every day.


In some instances, a list of excerpts or literature will be suggested or provided. If a choice is given, select works that show your students’ strengths. As educators, we are often in a position to assess student strengths and assign repertoire accordingly. Woodwind players with particularly good finger coordination but who struggle with register changes can find etudes that emphasize speed rather than range. Brass players with excellent tone in the low register can find solos that emphasize this strength.

Refine the technically demanding sections (again, a metronome may be the key) and work to perform the solo demonstrating command of appropriate style and musicality. Teach students to be cognizant of articulations, dynamics, and other expressive markings. If anything, have students overemphasize these markings so that the audition panel has no doubt that the student is performing them accurately.


If an accompaniment is required, be sure to engage an accompanist who can complement the performance. Only a few pitches are tuned to the piano. It is necessary to adjust all other tones with minor changes in embouchure, slide, finger placement or alternate fingerings.

There are students who have very successfully used SmartMusic for their accompaniment. A few of the benefits of SmartMusic are that it follows tempo, provides an opportunity to methodically develop technically demanding sections and record each take. The recording allows the performer to assess performance. In addition, an accompanist does not have to be engaged. No appointments need to be made or fees paid. The SmartMusic accompanist is always present. However, accompanists report that students who prepare with SmartMusic, prior to the first rehearsal, are better prepared than those who do not.


Frequently, the final segment of the audition is sight-reading. Students are given a short amount of time to study the example. It is possible that a metronome might be employed to set tempo prior to study and at the conclusion of the study period prior to performance. In some situations, students are not permitted to make a sound on their instrument during study. Under this circumstance, students need to think the rhythms, visually scan the example, check for accidentals and silently go through fingerings on the instrument. Students who can successfully navigate the sight-reading examples in SmartMusic Sight-Reading Exercises, Level 10, are generally successful performing audition sight-reading.

Students do get nervous in an audition setting. They need to be reminded of all the hard work and time that went into the preparation. One strategy for gaining confidence is to have students perform the solo in front of different groups of their peers. Have the peers react to the performance. It is a great learning opportunity for the performer as well as the listening students. Provide the peer audience with several written questions, which could be general (“What did performer do well?”) or specific (“Could you tell which notes were intended to be staccato or legato?”). Ask the peer audience to write several sentences in response to the question. Not only will this make the audience focus on musical values, it also links to Common Core requirements.

Besides the musical performance, students are giving a visual performance. Posture is not only an important component of the visual performances, it is important in tone production as well. Attire is important; encourage students to dress appropriately and nicely. This sends an important message to those viewing the performer.

Make sure that your students’ instrument is in its best playing condition. For example, brass players will need to make sure that the slides are greased and valves lubricated. Woodwinds make sure to have playable reeds that show the most beautiful sound.

Finally, on the audition day, encourage students to spend time warming-up, but not to the extent of being exhausted before the audition, and to be focused for the task at hand!

David Dolgon taught band, music and AP music in NY’s Syosset Central School District until his retirement in 2007. He also developed and taught eight graduate-level staff development courses for the college of New Rochelle, and has presented workshops from Maine to Maryland. Currently he performs as a clarinetist with the Concert Pops of Long Island, Atlantic Wind Symphony and the Lehman College Band. He is an adjunct music lecturer at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, City University of NY where he has taught music technology, woodwind methods and supervised student teachers. He is also a NYSSMA All-State and major organization adjudicator.


SmartMusic Repertoire Released: 26 Ensemble Titles

This week we added 26 new ensemble titles to the SmartMusic Repertoire Library. These additions are listed below and include choral titles as well as pieces for concert band, jazz ensemble, string orchestra and full orchestra.

The carousel on the SmartMusic home page has also been updated, replacing Spooky repertoire with Holiday titles, and the Sample page seen when you click “Skip to Demo” on the SmartMusic LOG IN page has been updated to allow those trying out SmartMusic to get a better sense of the new carousel interface.

Title Comp/Arr Publisher Music Type Pepper Level
Answer to a Child’s Question Strang, Timothy; Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir ME
Auld Lang Syne (Of Days Gone By) Traditional Scottish Tune; Farrar-Royce, Jan; Burns, Robert Belwin String Orchestra E
Carol of the Kings Traditional; Rogers, Mekel FJH Music Company Concert Band VE
Dancing Kites Bernotas, Chris M. Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Concert Band VE
Famine Song – SATB VIDA; Culloton, Matthew Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir ME
Fanfare Rondeau Mouret, Jean Joseph; Wagner, Douglas E. Belwin Full Orchestra VE
Goin’ Home for the Holidays Dvorák, Antonín; Allen, Robert; Clark, Larry Carl Fischer LLC. Concert Band E
Harbinger Sheldon, Robert Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Concert Band VE
Highland Holiday (A Celtic Christmas Medley) Giardiniere, David Belwin String Orchestra M
I’ll Be Bach for Christmas Various; Hopkins, Michael Kendor Music, Inc. String Orchestra M
I’m a-Rollin’ – TTBB Spiritual; Rardin, Paul Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir ME
Jingle Bells! Samba Bells! Pierpont, James; Owens, William FJH Music Company Concert Band VE
Joyous Christmas, A Beethoven, Ludwig van; Standridge, Randall D. Grand Mesa Music Publishers Concert Band VE
London Symphony, The Haydn, Franz Joseph; Woolstenhulme, Jeremy Neil A. Kjos Music Co. String Orchestra E
Mills on the Merrimack Sheldon, Robert Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Concert Band ME
Old Sioux Trail, The Holmes, Brian Wingert-Jones Publications, a division of J.W. Pepper. String Orchestra M
Redshift Stalter, Todd Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Concert Band E
Reign of Fire Bell, Jeremy Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Concert Band ME
Rock Solid Jarvis, Jeff Kendor Music, Inc. Jazz Ensemble E
Rytmus – SATB Hrusovsky, Ivan Santa Barbara Music Publishing Choir M
Santa’s Noisy Workshop Traditional; Clark, Larry Carl Fischer LLC. String Orchestra VE
Simplicity Atwell, Shirl Jae Neil A. Kjos Music Co. String Orchestra ME
Sing Noel French Traditional; McAllister, Janice Neil A. Kjos Music Co. String Orchestra E
Star of the County Down – TTB Wagner, Douglas E. Belwin Choir M
Vive L’Amour – TTBB Parker, Alice; Shaw Robert Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Choir ME
We Three Kings Hopkins, John Henry; O’Loughlin, Sean Carl Fischer LLC. String Orchestra M

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

Why Don’t Singers Think They Can Read Music?

Emily Willaims Blog Post

In my experience, many young singers suffer from a misconception that they simply cannot read music. While it may be true that their current skills do not match those of their instrumentalist counterparts, I am baffled by how often I hear my newer singers say, “Oh, I can’t read this,” or “I don’t know how to read music, I just know how to sing.”

I want to address three factors that contribute to a singer’s negative perception of their music reading skills. I believe that we as teachers need to address them from multiple pedagogical angles to help solve this crisis of confidence and create braver, better readers.

1. The Sheer Terror of Singing a Wrong Note

Singing in front of other people is scary. I think it stems from the popular fallacy that you’re either a Good Singer or a Bad Singer. No one expects to play the trumpet for the first time with perfect intonation and breath support, reading music notes correctly and with fluency. They have to learn how the instrument works and practice. The same line of thinking is not generally applied to the voice.

Somehow, because we are born with a musical instrument pre-installed, we are expected to be able to use our voices beautifully, with no training, or else to not use them at all. In this way, our students are encouraged to embrace their ignorance and lack of skill. For them, it’s safer not to know than it is to risk looking silly by trying to learn. They’d much rather parrot a popular song on the radio than experiment with their own unique sound. In the phrase “I don’t know”, they find an excuse instead of a challenge. But “I don’t know” is not an acceptable excuse in any area of discipline or study. Music is not an exception.

Singing is just like any other skill or craft, in that effective, guided practice, discipline and hard work will result in improvement. As simple as this idea is, your students need to hear you say it – and come to trust that you believe it by seeing you live it out.

Dismantling the myth of Good and Bad Singing is the key to giving your singers the courage to make mistakes. It begins with creating a culture of curiosity and mutual support. In a curious classroom, solo and small-group singing is common, and met with immediate positive reinforcement and specific feedback. Mistakes are addressed with authenticity and technical language instead of value judgments. Provide this model consistently; your ensemble will follow suit. Students take ownership of their improvement when they have the confidence and skills to self-evaluate without fear of judgment.

I have a lot of success with my singers when we approach the voice as an instrument. I want them to understand that, like trumpet players, they need to become familiar with their instruments before they can use them efficiently and beautifully.

2. The Gap Between Music Theory and Ear Training

The key to trained ears and good relative pitch is gradually developing the skill of audiation, which is the skill of recognizing and “pre-hearing” notes before they are produced. My singers work on this every day, for a few minutes at a time. We use a program called 4-Minute Mastery, developed for and piloted by our school district, which introduces Music Theory concepts through sight singing examples. When Theory concepts and Ear-Training are introduced side-by-side in a lesson, the skill of audiation is strengthened; the singer understands the concept intellectually and is able to reproduce it musically.

3. Inconsistent Levels of Difficulty Between Sight-Reading and Repertoire

Our music classrooms are filled with students at various levels of music literacy. It is our job to program educationally rich, interesting repertoire for students at every level. While it’s not necessary to choose music based on the lowest reading level in the class, it’s important to provide repertoire that will allow students to experience some success at their current level of reading.

We also need to plan differentiated rehearsals around identifying familiar concepts or symbols in the music, while using literacy skills and other resources to “decode” unfamiliar notation. While it may be tempting to program something flashier and muscle your way through it, you will force your singers to rely on their ears instead of their reading skills to make progress, undermining the self-efficacy you’ve worked to instill.

Creating an authentically supportive and curious classroom culture, reinforcing audiation skills and reading strategies, and providing level-appropriate repertoire will all increase confidence and musicianship in the Choral classroom. Our singers need and deserve to feel accomplished and confident while they continue to improve and become self-sufficient, curious, life-long musicians.

Emily WilliamsEmily Williams is in her fourth year of teaching choral music. After receiving her degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and teaching in Colorado for three years, she relocated to the Pacific Northwest and is currently teaching middle and high school choir in the Northshore School District.


Three Considerations for the Young Conductor

Dr Barry Kraus

For young directors, the vast responsibilities related to instrumental teaching leave little time to continue development of conducting technique. However, this skill set is invaluable in teaching effective habits to our students.

As veteran teachers know, conducting skill increases through frequent interaction with a live ensemble, and an observant teacher becomes aware that the resulting ensemble sound, individually and collectively, is closely linked to what the students perceive from the podium. If an ensemble plays dynamically narrow, manages tempo poorly, lacks energy, or produces fragile or harsh articulations, are these improper habits being reinforced by improper conducting technique?

In working with collegiate students and young teachers over the years, I have found that the ability to realize the relationship between gesture and resulting sound is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the process, and teachers often enter the profession with limited experience in what will be one of their most important skill sets.

A resilient teacher will realize this relationship and seek to improve their skill, making connections between conducting technique and pedagogical concepts. At any level, refined conducting technique can reinforce proper instrumental pedagogy in the classroom, and we often need to reconsider how our conducting relates to what we expect from our students.

Consideration 1: Revisiting the Physical Framework

Posture counts! Often, lack of preparation draws our posture toward the music stand, which can be a magnet for the head and torso. A more complete knowledge of the music at hand, whether it’s a method book etude or passage from an advanced band composition, will allow for an upright posture. This makes your gestures and facial expressions viewable by all ensemble members and helps you more clearly communicate your ideas and musical concepts. Through a proper posture, gestures result from a framework that is more conducive to pedagogical intent.

Does our movement catch students by surprise, or can they react to it and produce the expected result using proper fundamentals? The timing of our gestures in space relates to our students’ development of stable rhythm and articulation. Each time we stop or start the ensemble, our patterns, cues, and baton motion should display even movement in time upon which students can react musically with ease.

Returning to basic conducting class, consider the initiation of the preparatory gesture. Does one size fit all? Or, has the conductor developed a physical vocabulary that reinforces pedagogical concepts of breathing, tone, and style that matches verbal instructions? The movement of the baton or the left hand should help illuminate the skill required by the student who views it.

Our large joints can inadvertently place our smallest joints out of time if not coordinated carefully. While conducting, our smallest joints (fingers and wrist) should move first. Larger joints (elbow, shoulder, waist) should move last as needed. Often, we overuse large joints in response to weaknesses in our ensemble.

Can students predict where the gesture or baton motion will be complete, or are they constantly confused by gestures that are out of time? Overuse of large joints, particularly the shoulder, potentially results in long-term injury to the conductor and reinforces similarly harmful concepts in the development of our students’ embouchures and rhythmic skill. A stressed posture and erratic motion create similar tension in our ensembles.

Strive for a relaxed and upright posture that allows the joints to move freely in space, better representing proper concepts of instrumental pedagogy. While the conductor does not make a sound, posture and gesture can help or hinder musicians.

Consideration 2: Not All Beats Are Equal

Our early training reinforces the ability to conduct in simple meter and display every macrobeat. The conductor, even at the middle school level, bears the responsibility of highlighting important musical ideas, providing a visual map that reinforces both notation and musical thought. Even in simple meter, we should conduct in a manner that visually reinforces notation. Show activity when musical intention is desired, and reduce activity during periods of rest. Be prepared to conduct each part, showing the notation and direction of musical line for each player.

How often can we recall a student playing in a rest when the conductor gave a convincing preparatory beat for a moment in which no sound is required? Is it necessary to conduct four equal macrobeats in a whole note? In common time, can you show the notation for a quarter-half note-quarter rhythm without beat three?

We can reinforce proper rhythmic reading through active or passive gestures. Refine the skills necessary to conduct sound and silence to allow the players to accurately interpret their parts.

Consideration 3: Motion Between the Beats

As young conductors, we are trained to manage placement of the beat with the framework of the meter. We are trained to place beats equally, yet we often lack advanced training in showing how sound develops after the baton leaves the ictus. What is the shape of the sound past the articulation and how can one use space to better elicit the desired sound after the start of the beat?

The ensemble sound, either in beginning band class or collegiate wind ensemble, is drawn through the space between the ictuses. Baton movement or left hand gestures should accurately model how the bow or air stream should move. Tone quality, dynamic intensity, and phrasing direction can all be shown in the motion between beats in the given meter. As well, length of note and articulation are easily represented in connected or disconnected motions of the baton.

Often, I ask young groups to, ‘play through the note heads rather than at them.’ The flow of the airstream or bow through the note can be easily represented with the baton in space forward of the body.

Barry Kraus 2c


Conducting skill is an extension of one’s own musicianship and, when refined, can be beneficial to skill development in students at all levels. Understandably, there are many approaches to teaching instrumental music in the band and orchestra classroom, and a baton is not a necessity in early training.

However, at a point in later years, our most common means of instrumental music education is found in the traditional model of band and orchestra ensembles where students become increasingly more responsible for their own musical decisions playing independent parts. The conductor becomes a guide to this process, and refined conducting skill becomes the means to teach pedagogical and musical concepts. As students develop independence, conducting vocabulary that reinforces proper instrumental pedagogy can be a time saving asset to a young director.

Record yourself on video and take the time to analyze what you see versus what you hear. Seek feedback through colleagues, and attend one of the many available summer conducting workshops. Continue to improve your skill knowing that the result will be beneficial to your ensemble and the enjoyment of the music making process.

Kraus, Barry 200Dr. Barry Kraus is the Director of Bands at Belmont University in Nashville, TN where he conducts the Wind Ensemble and Concert Band and teaches courses in conducting and music education. He taught instrumental music in Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona and held previous faculty positions at the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University. A frequent clinician and adjudicator, he has served on the executive board of the Middle Tennessee Band and Orchestra Directors Association and the Tennessee Music Educators Association.