SmartMusic Blog: Meet Bruce Pearson

Most of us first began our musical study with a method book. While I can’t recall the color of any of my other grade school textbooks, I retain a vivid image of my first method book: It clearly represented an important doorway in my life.

When you think of how many lives a popular method has the potential to shape, you begin to appreciate the awesome responsibility it is to create one. This is clearly a task that should only be entrusted to our best and brightest; people like Bruce Pearson.

Bruce Pearson is a world-renowned music educator, author, composer, conductor, and clinician. He is also a highly awarded music educator with more than 30 of experience. Bruce is the author or coauthor of several methods found in SmartMusic, including Standard of Excellence, and Standard of Excellence Jazz Ensemble Method.

SmartMusic recently added Tradition of Excellence, a new method Bruce co-wrote with Ryan Nowlin, and Bruce was kind enough to speak with me about it.

Scott Yoho:  Your Standard of Excellence is a hugely popular and influential band method. What did you set out to do differently in Tradition of Excellence?

Bruce Pearson: Perhaps I should first clarify that Tradition of Excellence is not an update of Standard of Excellence. It’s a whole new, different book that combines new teaching techniques along with new technology. Frankly, communicating this is a challenge, because Standard of Excellence continues to be a very popular book.

SY: So both methods will continue to have separate lives of their own.

BP: Yes!  Both Standard of Excellence and Tradition of Excellence will have separate lives of their own. Tradition of Excellence starts with new teaching methodology, as well as technology.

Regarding methodology, for example, it’s very clear that we’ve employed what’s called the “sound before symbol” music reading approach. While this was incorporated in Standard of Excellence, I think Tradition of Excellence makes it more apparent, and the sequencing of it is stronger, and therefore it’s easier for kids to learn how to read music.

Another motivating force, and one of things we hear time and time again as a pedagogue, is: “How do we deal with the diverse and varied skills of students?”

Of course this speaks to differentiated instruction or differentiated learning, or in some cases, differentiated testing. We built all three of those into Tradition of Excellence so that kids of varying abilities and skill levels can progress at their own level of competency or their own achievement level.

We’ve incorporated three full concerts with band arrangements in the book. I did a few, but most of the compositions were created by my colleague Ryan Nowlin who was an extremely successful educator in the Cleveland area, and is now serves as staff arranger for “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.

We changed pacing and sequencing between the two books, and added greater emphasis on rhythmic development.

SY: Can you talk about how SmartMusic and Tradition of Excellence work together?

BP: Let’s face it; SmartMusic is the industry leader, recognized worldwide as an effective assessment tool. So when we built in differentiated instruction/learning/assessment it was with SmartMusic in mind. I’m grateful for the relationship between our two companies.

Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface of Tradition of Excellence here. I should point out that it offers three entry points: for private lessons, for instrument class instruction, and for large ensembles. I should mention that in combining the latest technology with new and classic pedagogy, Bruce believes it provides teachers a way to “enter the students’ world rather than always asking the student to enter the teacher’s world.” Ultimately, I’ll have to leave some of the details to the Tradition of Excellence website.

As I casually mentioned to Bruce how I anticipated difficulty in properly detailing everything included in Tradition of Excellence in a brief, readable blog post, he explained: “This is the world I live in. In writing these method books it is a balancing act. We try to be as thorough as possible without being overwhelming.”

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