The Easiest Social Media Setup For Your Program!

I had an awesome time at TMEA this past weekend!  I am honored to teach in the best state for music education in the country, and to have an awesome professional association/convention such as TMEA.  If you teach in Texas and didn’t attend, you are missing out on an excellent opportunity to recharge your batteries and grow as an educator.  If you live out of state, come join us! I’ve been to a couple of conventions in other states and they are miniscule compared to TMEA. YOU NEED TO GO NEXT YEAR!!!!

Ok, back to business.  There is one question I answered more than any other at TMEA this year. “How should I set up/manage social media for my program?” Great question! And one that can be answered easily.Social-media-for-public-relations1

There are tons of free, easy to use, and integratable platforms out there that make having a professional social media presence easy! Here’s how I manage my groups all from my cell phone!

  1. Social Media – The followers of your program (parents/students/community members) are everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +. Create an account for each site for your program. IN a minute I’ll show you how to post to them all with ease!
  2. Google Calendar – This is an essential part of my day!  I have different calendars set up for each of my ensembles/classes, and can view any or all of these events on one screen.  I can share events with my coworkers, allow them to view my calendar so they can make scheduling decisions without me having to be present, I can set reminders to alert me of upcoming events, and I can embed any of these calendars (like my band calendar) into a website.  I can now update my public band calendar that’s visible to parents on our website from my smartphone by just opening my calendar app.
  3. Remind – Want a safe way to send messages to your student group and parents? Remind (formerly Remind 101) is a one-way text messaging system that students and parents can subscribe to.  You can send them SMS messages from any internet connected device (including your desktop computer), but they can’t text back.  I use this every Friday night to notify parents when we leave football games and when we’ll return.  You can also schedule reminder text messages so kids don’t forget to bring important items, or use it as a reminder for scheduled rehearsals.
  4. HootSuite – Now that you have created all those accounts mentioned above, manage them all from one easy to use service. Great functionality to post simultaneously to all your social media outlets, or to simply read all your feeds in one place. Best of all, there’s an app for that! I can post pictures of a concert or contest to all the social media outlets, and my website from my cell phone! Yes my website. That’s because I use…
  5. WordPress Blog For A Website  – It’s very fast and easy to create a basic website using WordPress for your school groups.  You can embed your Google Calendar, post to it via HootSuite, embed a Remind widget to post those text messages to your website, and basically give everyone a home base to get all the information they need for your groups.  Create multiple pages, or multiple blogs for each of your groups. It’s all free!

The entire process of setting all of this up and making it functional should take under an hour! Best of all, it’s easy to keep everyone up to date and keep the lines of communication open, freeing up time in the process.

What sort of tech/education questions do you have?  Leave a comment below and I’ll answer those questions in an upcoming post.


5 Ways To Save Your Music Program Money!

Man what a crazy year! I’m sure your year is just as crazy as mine, but after a job change, moving houses, and my wife and I having a baby, I’ve had my hands full! But I’m finally in a place where I can start blogging again about useful tips and ideas on how we can become more effective, and more efficient music educators!

BudgetOne of the challenges of my new job is a very tight budget! I’ve been working hard all year long to come up with cost effective ways to run a program with 6 different ensembles, and it hasn’t been easy. But I’ve found a number of ways to cost save, and thought I might share what I’ve found with you! Here’s 5 ways to save your music program money!

Mouthpiece Sanatizer – Mouthpiece sanitizer is an awesome product that allows players to stay healthy, and teachers to reuse equipment without spreading the flu across the whole class. But those commercial sanitizers can have a “mighty” high price tag. Because of this I just make my own!

Go to your local dollar store and purchase wintergreen-scented rubbing alcohol, and cheap mouthwash. I mix the two in a 1:1 ratio and put it in a spray bottle. When you’re ready to use it just spray it on, let it sit for a few seconds, then wipe it off with a clean paper towel. It’s that simple! I can make a year’s supply for less than $5!

Free Sheet Music – If you haven’t looked for free music on the interwebs recently, you’re really missing out! And no, I’m not talking about pirated copyright infringed works. I’m talking about public domain music that’s free for anyone to use! The International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP for short) is an awesome tool for finding older public domain works in a variety of contexts. Looking for a manuscript copy of  The Stars & Stripes Forever? It’s right here! It’s absolutely amazing what you can find for both large and small ensembles, as well as tons of solo works. Most of what you will find are scanned copies of very old published versions. With a little time spent in your favorite music notation program, you can have a beautiful new edition ready to perform! 

Want newer music? Check out the various websites of our Armed Forces ensembles. The US Army Field Band Jazz Ambassadors have tons of educator resources for free, including posters, videos, as well as 14 full length jazz charts in various difficulty levels in PDF format that are free to print and use. This is all my jazz groups have been playing this year, and they love them!

Listening Library – Find recordings of pieces you like on YouTube, and simply create a playlist that you can share with your students. Not a fan of YouTube? Try Spotify! Spotify has paid and free versions of their product, but either option will allow you to create playlists. Once you create the playlist, use the embed code and embed the playlist and player into your website. Students can go to your website and listen to the music for free. Best of all, if you ever add or delete music from your playlist, your website will automatically reflect the changes!

Basic Repair – Repairs are expensive, and can often take a while. To save frustration and some money, try doing some basic repairs yourself.

For some reason brass players can’t help but damage their mouthpieces. The Deg Mouthpiece Trueing Tool works well for repairing those damaged mouthpiece shanks. Simply place the tool in the shank, a few taps of a rawhide mallet, and you have a mouthpiece as good as new. 

DEG Magnum Mouthpiece Puller is a must if your brass players are like mine. I don’t know how they always manage to get their mouthpiece stuck. There are cheaper mouthpiece pullers out there, but this one works the best in my opinion, and I always have it with me.

Valentino Deluxe Repair KitThese kits are the ideal emergency repair kits! I always travel with one to contests because instruments always seem to break down when you need them the most. The pads are self adhering and easy to pop in or out, and seal up nicely. They won’t last forever, but they are a great, inexpensive fix that can keep most of your woodwind repairs in house and in a hurry!

For resetting springs get a set of Spring Hook TweezersThese tools can reach into tight places and put a spring back in the correct place with ease.

Repurpose – Several years back I had a bunch of unusable instrument storage shelving that we needed to remove in order to expand our uniform room. The shelves were so huge that they wasted space no matter what you put in them. Way too big for a tuba, but not big enough for two, and about 8 feet off of the floor.

They were insane. We removed them and gave them to one of our band dads who took it back to his home, cut some scrap wood, and turned it into the most awesome percussion storage cabinet you could imagine. Everything was completely adjustable, could hold exactly what we needed, and didn’t cost us a dime!  Have those old music stands that won’t stay up? Have your shop class weld them flat to create a trap table for your percussionists. The sky is the limit here! Look around at your graveyard of junk and think about what you need, and what could fill that need with a little tweaking!

Have any ideas on how to save money? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Facebook!

Creating An Easy Transition

You may have noticed a silence on my blog recently. This has been due to a number of things, but mostly due to the craziness of finishing a school year. I just checked my calendar for the rest of the school year and realized that we have 20 days of school left. Of those 20 days of school, I will be traveling on school related business 9 of those days! It’s definitely a crazy time of year.

The other thing that has been occupying my time lately is a new job! I will be teaching at a new school next year in the DFW area (I’m not saying which one in order to give the current teacher time to make the announcement to their students.) The new position will allow me to teach courses that I absolutely love and will allow me to spend much more time at home with my wife and 17 month-old daughter. While I’ll miss my current coworkers, students, and administrators, I am definitely looking forward to a new school, new challenges, new people, and new opportunities with my family.

Being neck deep in a transitioning job has made me largely aware of the types of things that I can do to help whoever follows me in my current position. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with that you can use to ease the transition when you move on to your next job!

  • Leave a detailed calendar of your previous school year – I remember the first year at my current school felt like a game of Let’s Make A Deal where we were always wondering what was behind the next door. Never knowing what was expected of the band, or what unknown event was coming up next was a nightmare. This little move should help a new director plan out the year with pretty good accuracy.
  • Create an “important contacts” list – Names, phone numbers, emails, and a short job description of important people in the district, and those that service the district such as road reps and vendors, will aide the new director
  • Leave a list of those “expected” responsibilities – We all know that we often get saddled with duties that are not described in our interview or official job description. Giving the new teacher a heads up on what was expected but not detailed might save them a lot of hassle.
  • Prepare your students – Leaving without preparing your students will do nothing but poison their relationship with a new director. I had a negative experience with this once, and the way the director left their school totally devastated the program. The program has been a revolving door ever since. Be honest with your students, give them and yourself opportunity to say goodbye, and encourage them to give the incoming teacher a chance.
  • Take a thorough inventory – My wife and I worked until 3:00am trying to do an inventory because the school didn’t have any idea what it owned. We were getting ready to start summer band and had no idea if anything worked, or if there were instruments to issue to students. Nobody knew anything. Please don’t let this happen by providing a recent inventory for the new director.

Bottom line: Go above and beyond to make the experience of a new teacher following you as easy and enjoyable as possible. It’s common courtesy to be professional, but going a little beyond that will allow you to leave your program in the best situation possible.

Question: What else can be done to ease a transition?

The One Thing Your Students Really Want

There’s an old adage in the band world: “Play music you can play perfectly at contest, play music you can play well for concerts, and play whatever you like in the band hall.”

Conant 2013 Homecoming Game

I think most of us abide by that adage in our teaching…except for the last statement. “…play whatever you like…” When was the last time you played/sang something just because you wanted to? Or your students wanted to?

Stop for just a moment and think back to why you wanted to study music. I’ll share my story. I grew up in a musical family and studied music from an early age. It was sort of a given that I would be musically inclined, but I clearly remember the moment I decided I wanted to be in the band in school.

I’m pretty sure my reason for joining is the same as the students in your program. All I really wanted out of band was one thing. And if we as music educators can keep this reason in mind, I think it will transform all of our programs, as well as our teaching. So, want to know what your students really want?

I was probably in the first or second grade when my grandparents took me to a high school football game to see my older cousin perform in the marching band. Like other kids, I played around during the football game with my friends, but my grandparents made me sit still and watch the halftime show where the band performed Ghost Riders In The Sky.

I have no idea why I remember this one moment from over 20 years ago, but I clearly remember thinking how much fun the band looked like they were having as they played that piece. At that moment I thought to myself “I want to do that when I grow up. I want to have fun playing music!”

That’s it. That’s the entire reason I started studying music as a child, then in middle school and high school band, then through college, and now as a career. I learned from seeing a group of high school musicians that music is fun! Yes it’s beautiful, yes it’s moving and meaningful to life in a deep and spiritual way…I understand that now. But the reason I got started in music was because I wanted to have fun.

Let’s come back to today. When first and second graders look at your program, do they see student musicians having fun? Does your program project that music is truly a joy! How about your students. If someone were to ask them if your music program is fun, how would they answer?

We are all aware of the “fun only” approach to music ed, and it’s horrible. Students learn very little and goof off the entire time. But every year I encounter music programs full of students who look like zombies when they perform. They have no joy in studying music. And it’s a shame. If we want the power of music to truly transform our students, they have to experience joy in music making! Tweet This!

Please don’t turn your ensemble into zombies who perform well but hate music. Make sure your students are learning, but make sure they’re having fun doing it! Tweet This! The students in your classroom will grow up to have kids of their own. They’ll become school board members, teachers, administrators, politicians…who knows. Will they have a smile on their face when they think about their experience in your program?

We have to reach kids where they are. And middle school and high school students want to be wherever they can have fun. So, have some fun this week in your class! Perform some music in your class just for fun. Let the kids choose a new piece of music “fun music” to play through! It will work their sight reading skills if nothing else. 

Music is fun…if we allow it to be. Let’s bring a smile to our students faces this week and surprise them by doing something fun in music class.

The Best Teaching Prep Ever!

Have you ever made a lesson plan for a group you know nothing about? A week ago I was invited to teach a group of students that I don’t know from another school district. This is the first time I’ve been asked to work a group of musicians that I really have no prior knowledge of. I’ve worked groups of students I’m familiar with many times, but this one is new and exciting for me.

As I’ve been preparing for this upcoming experience (will happen this Friday) it’s made me really rethink my approach to teaching! This process will definitely change the way I prepare to work with my own group. Here are five things I’ve realized about the process of preparing to clinic an unfamiliar group.

1) Mark everything in the score – The piece of music the students are working on is only vaguely familiar to me. I’ve heard the work played twice, and looked at the score only once before this week. Not knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the group has made me extra aware of every little detail.

I searched out the most difficult syncopated rhythms and made sure I wrote the counting in just so I don’t bobble the counting in front of the group. I marked tricky fingerings and hard to notice accidentals. Basically I tried to mark every mistake that the students were likely to make.

If they can nail notes and rhythms the first time (and I hope they can) I need to be prepared to dive deeper into the score. What about phrasing? Style? Blend and balance? I asked myself, “If I’ve been working with group for six weeks on this piece, what would I want to hear?” Of course I’ve always advocated for marking up your music, but I went crazy on this one. Hopefully I’ve thought of every possible contingency and will be able to add value to the group in my time with them.

2) Play every part yourself  Yes you read that correctly. I sat here at my kitchen table this evening and played through every note in the piece myself. I can look at every student in that room and honestly tell them that I’ve played their part and can understand what challenges their part offers.

I should note that while I was doing this, I was making notes on each part as to the tricky segments. If nothing else, I can at least offer them an educated opinion as to fingering options, phrasing, and overall musical approach to those difficult sections. I can do this with some authority because I actually have played their part.

3) Be sensitive – This group may do things totally different from the way I do things, and that’s ok. But I need to realize that not only do I not know them, they don’t know me. There are things that I will joke about with my students, corny inside jokes we’ve had for several years, like calling a student a “unicorn killer” (long story) might not go over so well with another group. I have to be sure that if I do joke around, it’s 100% clear that I’m joking, and it’s in no way at the expense of the students.

4) Be considerate – Also musical choices that the group has made without me might not be apparent. I need to be careful to not tell them that I don’t like the way they’re playing a passage because they may have made an intentional decision to play it that way. I should instead suggest another way of playing the passage…not right or wrong, just another option they can choose from.

Everyone approaches interpreting music a little differently, and that’s a good thing. Can you imagine how horrible it would be to hear every ensemble play the same piece the exact same way every time?

5) Remember my role – My job on Friday will be to add musical value to the ensemble through making helpful suggestions. It may be fixing problems while I’m there, or suggestions on how to fix problems we can’t fix in the time frame I have. It could be confirming good choices they’ve already made, or possibly an adjustment in the mechanics of playing, or tuning, or ensemble awareness.

Or it may be none of these things. But I need to be sure that I remember at the this is not my ensemble, and the students and director are free to take my suggestions and use them or forget everything I ever said. But at the end of the day my goal is to add musical value to the group.

It’s difficult enough to clinic a group, but when you add the unknown factory, realizing I don’t know what I’m going to hear when the group plays… Well to me it adds an extra need to prepare so I can contribute something worthwhile.

Action Plan: If you have an hour to spare, go pull a score from your library that you’re not familiar with. Pretend you’re teaching a group you don’t know that piece of music and you only have 30 minutes to do it. What would you do? What will you say? I promise this will change the way you approach music with your bands!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  

What Will Music Education Be Like In 100 Years?

What Will Music Education Be Like In 100 Years? That’s an intriguing question, isn’t it? If I could answer that question with certainty I could make a fortune lecturing at universities all over the country about how to prepare their music teachers to face the classroom in the coming century. And while I may not get rich off this idea, I do think I know the answer.

Lowell Mason

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.” – Plato

Let’s start by looking back at the beginning of music education in the public schools in this country. In 1833 in Boston, a banker and part-time church music director and composer named Lowell Mason created the Boston Academy of Music in hopes of improving church music in the area, but also for the purpose of introducing music education into the public schools. The school was an enormous success and enrolled over 3000 students in its first year.  Four years later, the success of the school could not be denied. Lowell Mason became the American public school system’s first music educator in 1837. It is important to note that this was an unpaid, volunteer position with no funding whatsoever. All supplies and expenses were paid for by Mason from his own pocket, but he did have complete control over the musical education of the entire Boston public school system until 1841 when he retired.

100 years ago most music education was found in community schools, not public schools. The majority of children still weren’t studying music alongside mathematics and history. They enrolled in separate schools of music to learn how to sing or play an instrument. Yet somehow in this time period, despite The Great War and a serious lack of musical education, our country experienced an explosion of new music called Jazz, and Swing, then Rock & Roll. Kids were picking up instruments anywhere they could in order to learn how to make music. Marching bands, community orchestras, and glee clubs sprang up everywhere. A lack of adequate funding, a second World War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War, and Watergate didn’t seem to hinder the popularity of music and music education amongst young people. Some of the greatest strides and advancements in music education came from this very same time period.

“The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Today, despite all the tools at our disposal, university training programs, pedagogical resources, technological advancements, arts-education lobbyists, legislation, and enough music education advocacy materials and scientific studies to fill the Grand Canyon, we see our programs slowly dwindling away. Funding is cut, support is gutted, and some districts, even in the wonderful arts-friendly state of Texas, are completely eliminating arts-based education all together.

All of our public education music programs can be traced back to the impetus of a completely unfunded volunteer music teacher who worked a second job. Somehow our struggles in the profession don’t seem quite as bad. Could you and your music program survive under those circumstances? I suppose that would be up to you. Music has always been around, music teachers have always been around, and there have always been eager young minds ready to learn from it. And no matter the circumstances, music, its students, and its influence on our lives, has survived.

So, what will music education be like in 100 years? What are we going to do in the coming days, weeks, months, decades, and century to ensure that music education is vibrant, meaningful, exciting, and empowering to the next generations of students? I suppose that would be up to us. And it starts with the current generation of students. Go make a difference in this world. Start today. Start in your very own classroom. Change the world through music! It truly is up to us.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Please Steal My Lesson Plan!

I am sick and tired of students telling me they did absolutely nothing in their other classes. Click To Tweet This! So I was motivated by my students lack of higher level thinking to alter my rehearsal plans on Friday. I decided to start class with something fun, interesting, full of educational value, and above all something to make them think! Surprising as it may sound, they really enjoyed it! We discussed music history, used advanced listening skills, higher level reasoning, and much more all in the first 10 minutes of class. This was such a hit with my music classes, I want you to steal my lesson plan! Here’s what I did. Click To Tweet This!

My favorite composer has always been Mozart, and my favorite piece is the Adagio from Serenade No. 10 in Bb Major (K 361) Gran Partita. I primed their pumps by talking a bit about Mozart and how early he started performing and composing.  I then played for them this short clip from Amadeus of Salieri describing the first time he heard Mozart’s music.

Yes, that video is a bit cheesy, but it does a good job of telling them what to listen for. Next, I played them this recording from the movie soundtrack of the same piece by Sir Neville Marriner and The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

I only played about the first minute and a half of the recording. At this point we discussed what the students heard and appreciated about the recording. We talked about the tone (“Does this group have a dark, rich sound or a bright, radiant sound?”) and the overall mood of the piece (“Was this a happy, or sad piece? Why?”) After a very brief discussion, I played this recording of the very same piece, but this time it was performed on period instruments. I told them that these are the instruments Mozart’s musicians would have used, and this is what Mozart would have heard when the piece was originally performed.

After this recording played, I asked them to describe what they heard that was different from the previous recording (you may need to replay the first few seconds of each depending on how attuned your group is to listening.) 

And now here are some discussion questions for your and your class.

Discussion Question 1: Which recording did you prefer, the one of modern instruments or period instruments? Why?

Discussion Question 2: We tend to like the way our instruments sound to the way the instruments of Mozart’s time sounded on the recording (at least all of my classes did.) Why?

Discussion Question 3: If Mozart were here with us today, which recording do you think he would prefer? Why?

Discussion Question 4: Should this effect the way we approach playing older music? Why?

I hope you find this useful. Try to work it into your lesson plans some time this week and see if your students have as much fun with it as mine did.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”