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!


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.

3 Questions for Making Better Career Decisions

Have you ever found yourself trying to be something you are not? I don’t mean you’re Professor Harold Hill, but somehow some way you find yourself involved in projects that you really aren’t good at?

I browsed through my old computer files the other day and found tons of unfinished projects. They’ve been in a folder unfinished, moved from old computers to new computers, and still sitting unfinished…some of them as old as 10 years. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but after looking at those files I realized just how much time I had wasted trying to operate outside of my ‘wheelhouse.’

If you’re not familiar, it’s a baseball term referring to the place in the strike zone where the batter will have the best opportunity to turn on a ball and really hit it well. It’s different for every batter. Some like pitches fast and inside, while others prefer breaking balls out across the plate. Every batter’s ‘wheelhouse’ is different.

The same is true for us as musicians, teachers, and even composers. We each have different strengths and weaknesses, and I’m working hard to make sure that my time is spent working in my strengths.

Every new project I agree to will go through the filter of my strengths. I’m starting by looking at things I’m involved with currently. If I can’t answer “Yes” to these three questions below, then the project in question is not helping my career and I shouldn’t waste my time with it.

1) Is this something I would want to do even if it didn’t pay well? My wife and I were having a discussion about this the other night. There was a business opportunity on the horizon and we had to ask ourselves are we interested in this opportunity, or simply the money that could possibly result from the opportunity?

In the end, we determined that we would not truly enjoy the work required and would only enjoy the money if everything went well. Because of that, we passed. If you won’t enjoy the process, don’t get involved. Simply pass and go to the next opportunity.

2) Does this help me get to my ultimate career/personal goals? I think we all have an idea of where we would like to be professionally and personally in 10 years. If not, you may want to spend some time thinking about that. When an opportunity comes around, ask yourself if this will help you reach your ultimate goals, and how?

You have to be careful here. Sometimes I let myself get blinded to reality and come up with this Rube Goldberg-esque explanation of how taking a project will get me to my ultimate goal when in reality it doesn’t.  Be honest with yourself here. On the flip side, do your research or you might miss out. That project you don’t want to be involved with may wind up being the next big thing. 15 years ago, who would have taken a company seriously with a ridiculous name like Google?

3) When others see the finished product, will they be looking at my best work? There are a lot of things I am capable of doing that I won’t do professionally. I’m a pretty good cook, but you won’t see me opening a high-end restaurant. I’ll leave that to the pro’s. Just because I can cook doesn’t mean I should cook professionally.

Most of us get roped into doing something at some point in our careers that we’re not really that good at. And though the immediate payoff might be tempting, how will sub-par work on our part affect us in the long run? Will you always be known as that teacher who messed up that important project? Will a failed endeavor follow you from job to job? Only accept those opportunities where you can proudly create your best work.

Each of us has strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned that if I can spend the majority of my time working in my stronger areas, and limit my time spent working in my weakest areas, I feel better, get more accomplished, and produce much better work overall.

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.” 


Top Ten Testing Day Time Killers

It’s that dreaded time again where we lock children into a room and force them to pretend they’ve learned something during the school year by taking a test that really has no meaning. If they taught us about this aspect of teaching in college we would have dropped out and perfected the art of flipping burgers. Yes friends, it’s time for standardized testing.

So much time is wasted on testing day that I always leave school feeling like the entire day was pointless, so I’ve come up with some things we can do to pass the time when we have no students. Obviously, you won’t be able to do some of these things if you are administering a test (my sincere condolences if you are), but if you’re stuck on hall duty, bathroom duty, or non-testing holding room duty, you can still be productive. Here’s The Top 10 Testing Day Time Killers you can do while not teaching music this week!

1) Score Study – Getting ready for contest? Perhaps learning new music for a late festival or Spring Concert? Why not sit down with colored pencil in hand and mark up your score? Not having enough time to study the score is one of the biggest complaints of music educators.

2) Put Music in Score Order – A few years ago I took about 10 pieces of music from our music library with me to hall duty and placed them in score order. I also took a pad of Post-it Notes with me, wrote down what parts were missing, and stuck it to the front of the box to order later.

3) Design Your Marching Show for Next Year – Have you thought of some drill design ideas? Maybe logistical notes for moving props, or pit equipment? Maybe you’re still trying to get your music selected. Take a notepad and pencil with you and put some of these ideas on paper. You’re much more likely to follow through with them if you write them down!

4) Make Lesson Plans – We all dread making lesson plans. It’s boring, it takes forever, and usually puts us in a bad mood, but it’s required by most school districts. Why not use this time to make them out, then make some money off of them! LessonPlanPro is a new website that’s still in Beta testing, but is currently operational. They specialize in selling lesson plans created for fine arts instruction. The site is very new, and there’s not a lot of content loaded at present, but that doesn’t stop you from creating some awesome plans and putting them up for sale. Definitely a site to keep your eyes on in the coming months.

5) Look for Lesson Plans – Other than LessonPlanPro, there are several ideas for good lesson plans for just about every class imaginable. There are also tons of free resources for rehearsal outlines for popular band literature. Why not use some of your time to find some? If nothing else you might learn how others are approaching teaching the same pieces you’re working on. And of course, you could always steal my lesson plan!

6) Enter Grades – Pretty self-explanatory. Finish grading papers and enter them into the grade book. If you use a web-based gradebook, go ahead and create entries for upcoming assignments, fill in missing grades that kids have made up, and possibly be the first person to turn in mid-term grades! Your principal will love you for this! Ok…at least they won’t hate you as much.

7) Backup Your Files to Cloud Storage – Since I also work doing IT for our district, I see lots of teachers cry when all of their teaching files disappear when their computer crashes. We constantly tell them to back up their files to cloud storage, but so few of them do. It’s really simple and largely free! Check out this post for more details.

8) Update Your Resume – After years of neglecting my resume, I have become a constant resume updater. The first time I updated it took me forever because it was so out of date. Even if you’re not planning on leaving your current job, update it with your latest accomplishments, and remove some of the old outdated stuff like that summer you car-hopped in college. You could also draft a generic cover letter so when you do find a position you want to apply for, you’ll at least have a start.

9) Fill Out Menial Paperwork – Do you have a football schedule for next year yet? Do you know when your contests are? Why not use this opportunity to fill out check requests, bus requests, and any other paperwork that will frustrate you later this year? Even if you can’t turn them in right now, just file them away for later. Get it all done months in advance, and then you don’t have to worry about them anymore.

10) Listen to New Music – Bring a set of headphones and a laptop to your seat outside the bathroom and listen to something more enjoyable than the sounds echoing out of those tiled hallways. Jump on Penders, J.W.Pepper, or SmartMusic and listen to find some new music you may want to purchase for your group.

What do you do to pass the time during standardized testing?

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.” 

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.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it via email, Facebook, or through Twitter by Clicking here!

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.”

3 Things To Do TODAY To Become A Better Teacher

Every day for the past several weeks, one of my students has asked me the same question: “Mr. Stidham, what’s one thing you’ve learned today?” She’s very insistent that I answer and will ask me repeatedly throughout the day if I don’t (she’s in three of my classes.) She reminds me constantly that everyone learns at least one thing throughout the course of a day, and in order to remember it, they need to share that new information with someone else. I couldn’t agree more! My motto is Learn it, Share it, Remember it! Here are three tips to help you do the same starting today! Click here to tweet this!

Learn – Yes, I know that we are at our schools for the primary goal of teaching others, but if you’re not learning from your students each day, there’s something wrong with your teaching. Click here to tweet this! Seek out new things to learn. Maybe it’s learning more about your students. Maybe it’s learning a new alternate fingering for that woodwind instrument you don’t play well. Maybe it’s learning about new technology you can use in your classroom. Form a new wrinkle in that brain of yours! Be intentional about learning something new every day. The best educators are lifelong learners themselves. Click here to tweet this!

Share – I’ve been doing this one for years. The moment I learn something new, I try to share it with as many people as I can as soon as I can. I read a biography about Bach several years ago where I learned that his students got together and tried to mug him because he was such a demanding teacher.  When confronted by the students, Bach beat them with his cane and, subsequently, none of them laid a hand on him. I share that bit of music history trivia with all of my classes each year and to date none of them has tried to mug me. Seriously though, if you share new information quickly, you are far more likely to remember it, even years into the future. Plus, you’re teaching others when you share that new information, and isn’t that what we’re paid to do?

Remember  My wife says that my memory is unique. She would tell you I easily remember quirky, trivial details about random subjects, settings, and events, after hearing them only once and can recall these details years later.  Pretty weird, huh? I learned to do this in my 6th grade English class, thanks to my teacher, Mr. Bob Cox. He taught our class about a wonderful tool called a Mnemonic Device. Basically he taught us a bunch of tricks for remembering things.  I remember him clearly teaching us that the height of Mt. Fuji in Japan is roughly 12,365′ tall. He taught us to remember this by remembering how many months are in a year (12) and how many days are in a year (365). Just relating that bit of information to things we already knew has stuck with me for nearly 20 years. (I also found someone on the interwebs teaching the very same thing about half way down the page here. Apparently Mr. Cox was’t the only one that picked up on this.)

Make it a point to Learn, Share, and Remember something every day this week. You just may be surprised by what you learn and remember!

Discussion Question: What are some ways you’ve found to help you remember information?

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.”