Monthly Archives: March 2013

Structuring Opportunities for Creative Development


Nate Brown
Drum Author, Performer, and Educator

Some of the most successful toys throughout history have been those that leave the creating to the kids: Tinker Toys, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Play-Doh, Sims, Minecraft, and the list goes on. Kids have a natural drive to create and explore – even as adults we are motivated by the opportunity.

Honing that drive is not as simple as telling a student to go home and create something this week. It’s our responsibility as teachers to structure creative opportunities in a way that develops, motivates, and is within the reach of the students’ abilities. Think how motivated a beginning student might be with a structured assignment like this: Create a 16 measure snare solo using quarter notes and eighth notes, and give your solo a title. In this way, the student is taking strides towards developing his/her own style and connecting with his/her instrument.

This is the concept behind my book, Alfred’s Beginning Workbook for Snare Drum – to motivate students to create, explore, and ultimately develop a superior skill on their instrument by providing structured opportunities to be creative.

I had the amazing experience of working with Dave Black while writing this book. His best-selling method books have been in my teaching arsenal for years. When I presented him with the ideas I have used to motivate creativity, he was excited about the idea of a workbook that could accompany any beginning snare drum method.

In this workbook, students work through concepts sequentially as they are encouraged to be creative through structured activities such as composing, matching, beaming, completing duets, improvising, solos, check-ups, final test, and more. The late Louie Bellson had this to say: “Alfred’s Beginning Workbook for Snare Drum is a comprehensive, well-written, and a useful manual which achieves its overall goal of encouraging creativity in the learner. It has my highest recommendation.”

With the right tools, teachers can make strides towards encouraging students to become more connected with their music through creativity—and the best part—students will appreciate the exciting challenge. There’s a reason Legos and Play-Doh have stood the test of time: the desire to create is in us all.

Finding Meaning in Your Teaching Career

George Megaw
By George Megaw
Belwin/Pop Concert Band Editor

I’m reminded of two former students that brought meaning to my teaching career. Beth was an outstanding clarinet player and contributed to the high school band program above and beyond. She pursued music as her passion and career; she eventually earned her doctorate and is now teaching at the university level. It’s always gratifying to see a former student of this caliber share our passion and succeed, or even surpass their teacher.

Conversely, Ron was a good trumpet player who had lost his father at a young age and was brought up as the only child of a single mother. One weekend, I chose to take him flying with me to give his mom a break from being both parents. The afternoon had nothing to do with music or band. Fast forward about 20 years to when I was reading the newspaper while waiting for an early commercial business flight, when I became aware of a uniformed flight crew member looking at me from across the waiting area. As he approached me, I was sure I was going to end up on a no-fly list or something… but it was Ron…the Captain on my flight. That Saturday flight in a little airplane so long ago inspired his career choice as a commercial airline pilot.

I can’t tell you which former student I’m most proud of, and there are many more. (The first-class upgrade was certainly a nice treat though!) Every teaching day we have a critical impact on our students’ lives. Sometimes it just takes years to learn about them.

In our role at Alfred, we’re here to help you make those gratifying teaching opportunities more frequent and easily available. Thanks for considering the Belwin concert band catalog for your teaching and programming needs.

We Do It All for the Students…

Richard Meyer
By Richard Meyer
Highland/Etling String Editor

When asked in an interview recently to give advice to new teachers, I remarked: “Remember that you are teaching people, not music.” As teachers, we are so lucky. Every day we are given the opportunity to influence our students’ lives for the better and we have at our disposal the greatest vehicle for change known to humankind: music. Of all the subjects in the entire school curriculum, I am convinced that it is music that best teaches our students the most important life skills.

As every school year begins, we meet new students who are anxious to learn to play an instrument. They sign up for our classes because they know that they want music to be a part of their lives. What these eager beginners don’t know, however, is that once they start playing music, their lives will never be the same. They don’t know of the real life lessons that lie ahead or how music will change who they are. They don’t know.

But we know. Oh, how we know! We see them change daily and, with music, we help them develop skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives—self-discipline, cooperation, teamwork, determination, goal setting, and leadership. The list goes on and so does our passion for teaching, renewed each year by a fresh batch of students who look to us for guidance. As year unfolds, we celebrate the musical progress our students make. Primitive, unrefined sounds slowly become recognizable tunes. Recognizable tunes eventually become basic ensemble pieces and, if we are all very diligent, ensemble pieces gradually turn into music.

As you celebrate the musical growth of your students, please don’t forget to celebrate those other ways in which they are progressing: the person they are becoming and the progress that each of them is making as a human being, as a leader, and as a caring citizen in a world that desperately needs caring citizens. Celebrate what you, with music, are doing to enrich all aspects of your students’ lives.

Recently, one of my beginning cellists was packing up after only her second lesson. She paused for a moment and said, in all seriousness, “I think I’m going to play the cello my whole life.” I hope she does. But even if she doesn’t, I am proud to know that music will have made her a better person.

Students That Keep Us Teachers Going

Robert Sheldon
By Robert Sheldon
Alfred Concert Band Editor

Jeremy was a very shy high school junior when I met him. Although he had no musical experience, he was aware of the band activities of some of his friends and really wanted to join the band. He chose tenor sax and signed up for marching band. The marching part came easily enough but he did not know how to read music. Once he learned a handful of notes, I wrote him his own part of half notes and whole notes which he played with great enthusiasm! By the following year he had improved enough that he was able to play the “real” music. It was always a joy to see how much he loved playing his sax and being part of the band family.

“Doctor” Jeremy is now a veterinarian and president of his twin daughter’s band booster organization. Music has no greater supporter. It’s students like Jeremy that keep us teachers going, and that’s why we know you do everything you can for your students – and that is why we are here to help!

Thanks for considering Alfred for the next concert band performance!

The Nature of Jazz Singing

Michele Weirby Michele Weir, author The Jazz Singer’s Handbook

Jazz is a creative, interactive art form that requires finely-tuned listening skills and a spirit of spontaneity. The ultimate goal: to communicate (specifically, to communicate emotion through the text). Great jazz performances are those where the artist has imprinted their own personal “stamp” on a song, making their rendition unique. The only singer that made their career from sounding like Ella Fitzgerald was Ella Fitzgerald. Ultimately, after listening to and studying the great jazz vocal masters, you should sound like you.

The focus of a jazz singer’s performance is more on the singer than on the song itself. While the integrity of the song is certainly an important factor, it’s the artist’s interpretation of the song that is the true essence of jazz.

Great jazz singers communicate with a sense of soulful honesty when they sing. Rather than acting like they feel the story of the song, they seem to really feel the story of the song; you believe them. Even if the setting or storyline of a given song is not true for them personally, they are still able to give an honest portrayal of the emotion behind the scenario.

Thus, the primary mode of communication for a jazz singer is the meaningful delivery of the text. This is number one on the list of artistic priorities! The lyrics to a song are like a story. We want the audience to listen to our story and really hear its message.

(Excerpted from The Jazz Singer’s Handbook by Michele Weir, 00-22020 Book & CD, $19.95)

Encouraging the Next Generation of Church Musicians

Larry ShackleyBy Larry Shackley, Alfred Composer

Whether we like it or not, church musicians live in the spotlight. If you play, sing, or conduct every week, everyone in the congregation knows who you are, and you help set the standard for their opinion of church music and musicians. Young people who have any interest in using their talents for the Lord will look up to us as role models for their life and career.

Some of this modeling happens passively. For instance, if you set a high musical standard, they will learn to respect church musicians, because they will notice that you are just as serious about the Lord’s music as other types of musicians are about their music. On the negative side, you never know whose ears might hear you making comments like, “Close enough for church work,” or criticizing a soloist or member of the choir.

Are you aware of young people in your church who have musical gifts? Do you look for talented young singers or instrumentalists to take part in special musical events? If we get young people plugged in to musical ministry, they will come to think of church music as a viable option in the many musical choices they have before them. The important thing is for you, as a musical “authority figure” in the church, to show young musicians that you value them, and then model Christ-like service in your leadership and performance.

Listening Sideways (or the Art of Playing Together)

Jonathan Glawe
By Vince Gassi

Listening sideways is the second of three essential steps toward developing a more musical ensemble. As music educators, we attempt to teach our students how to practice properly so that 1) they are constantly improving their technique. The more control they begin to have over the instrument, the more they can 2) direct awareness outward and listen to what is happening around them. This leads to 3) the stage where your ensemble is ready to work on expressiveness.

Here is a simple but essential exercise to help develop the ability of your young musicians to “listen sideways.”

1. Have your ensemble play a concert Bb scale (or insert key of your choice). They can play four quarter notes (all tenuto) on each pitch of the scale (ex. 4 Bbs, 4 Cs, etc.). Play the final note of the scale as a whole note.

2. Encourage all players to listen to each other. Actually use the phrase “listen sideways.” It will be your unique code for them to understand what you are expecting of them. This may be challenging but stick with it.

3. Now have only the first chair players from each section play. Direct them
to play the same scale together in quarter notes as before. Players must
listen to each other and match volume, tuning, note length, style, etc.

4. When the section leaders can do this, have the rest of the ensemble join in. The section players must “listen sideways” in an attempt to match their section leader exactly. If they cannot hear their leader, then they, or others, are playing too loudly and must adjust. This may take several attempts, so be patient.

5. Now have only section leaders play the same scale (or a different one if you choose) but this time, instruct them to play it in a staccato style; remember, 4 quarter notes on each pitch of the scale. Do this until the leaders can match each other. When playing staccato, students may often become impatient and start to rush ahead. Start over if you have to but keep them to the indicated tempo.

6. Now have the rest of the band join in with the instruction that they must once again listen to their leader and match them exactly. The goal is to have each section sound like one player.

7. And now for the real challenge. Have the whole band play the scale again, starting legato (4 Bbs, 4 Cs, etc.). Ask each section leader to switch at a time of his or her own choosing, from tenuto to staccato. Yes, you’ll have different sections playing different note lengths at the same time but, since this often occurs in your repertoire, it will be excellent practice. The section members may not switch at exactly the same point as their leader, but keep at it until they can. This is what the ensemble is working towards.

Keep at it each rehearsal until it happens, until the section players switch together with the leader. Even when they achieve this goal, keep doing this exercise at each rehearsal. It is a great way to reinforce this essential listening skill. This is the way athletes train. Baseball players work on the basics before each game of the season, taking ground balls, batting practice, etc., just to stay sharp. I’ve heard it said when the first player player makes a mistake, a well-trained section will make it with her.

8. Try having just one section do this. The other sections will learn much from hearing just the flutes or just the trumpets try this exercise a few times. They may be eager to prove that their section can do better. So let them!! A little healthy competition can be a good thing now and then.

Don’t give up after one or two attempts at this exercise. Keep at it until the ensemble really starts to hear what is going on. It will be at this point that you (and they) will start to notice how much cleaner the ensemble sounds.

You can also do this exercise using chorales. Through regular practice, your students will become conditioned to listen (and really hear) what’s going on around them. This is one definition of a good musician: someone who is aware of what is occurring musically and responds accordingly. Remember, your students don’t come to rehearsal to learn their part, they come to learn everyone else’s part. This is why developing awareness through directed listening is so important. If practiced regularly, you will notice your ensemble maturing as the weeks go by and expressive playing is the inevitable result.

Don’t forget – all this time, you, the conductor – need to be indicating style and tempo. Your students’ awareness should include responding to you as well. So try the same exercise but instruct them to change style when they see you indicate such. You are the ultimate section leader!

Listening sideways is an essential skill which, if practiced on a regular basis, will empower your musicians to mature. Eventually, your ensemble will begin to transform. Your students will become players who are aware of their musical surroundings and will respond appropriately. It is so much more fun for them when they play together. Similarly, it is so much more fun to conduct an ensemble that responds expressively in real time to each other, the hall, and, most importantly, you the conductor. Expressive performance is what all of our hard work is ultimately about. From this point on, the sky is the limit.

Teaching Appreciation and Encouraging Curiosity of Classical Music in Your Orchestra

Jonathan Glawe
By Jonathan Glawe

The experiences we bring to our students define their understanding of our class, and in turn their understanding of the breadth and potential of our art form. With the repertoire we choose as music educators, we expose our students to different styles, cultures, and techniques. A memorable performance may introduce our students to new ways of interacting with music, allowing them to find a more personal connection to the art form. The future of the Symphonic Orchestra is entirely dependent on engaged audiences. The end result of a diversified focus on music appreciation in orchestral music education is the development of future music enthusiasts who are capable of enjoying and sharing the positive messages and powerful emotions that are created through an orchestral performance.

As a high school orchestra director, I teach students who come from a wide variety of musical experiences and technical backgrounds. In my teaching situation at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I am fortunate to have a core representation of students who have been heavily exposed to classical music since early childhood. For these students, selling the idea of playing a classical musical selection is not a challenge, but the problem of course lies in the larger picture of the orchestra program. For every one student in the program that shows a strong appreciation for classical music there are two or three others who need a positive experience to get them excited about classical music for what it truly is: a beautiful and proven art-form that is to be celebrated for withstanding the test of time.

As a teacher, to promote appreciation you must first demonstrate how to do so with consistency. One of the first strategies I employed when I arrived at Pioneer was to implement an environment of appreciation for all students in the ensemble. The appropriate use of the sentiment “thank you” became a daily routine for anyone in the ensemble who ever did you a positive service. Also, students who tended to blend in with the crowd were acknowledged for noticeable improvements in elements of musicianship and organizational skills, both by their peers and myself. These simple changes led to the beginning of a trusting relationship, something that helped the students to become more positive contributing citizens to the culture of the ensemble.

As trust began to build, my next order of business was to take the curriculum currently in place and begin promoting it to the students differently. Pioneer was no longer going to perform independent concerts, but we were going to build an “orchestra season,” similar to what the Detroit Symphony Orchestra does. This meant we would put on a variety of concerts for our audience to attend. Our season would begin with a strings only chamber music performance in the fall. In December, full orchestra works by traditional classical composers would be featured. In February, the city-wide showcase concert would occur with a guest conductor. In March, the concerto concert would feature soloists from the senior class. Finally, in May, the program would put on a POPS concert, which would showcase the eclectic string skills developed over the course of the year.

The first few years of this implementation were not met without hesitation from students or musicians within the community. I found some of my top skill level players who enjoyed classical music were not keen on the idea of the POPS concert, and many of the rest of the orchestra students were not invested in the classical concerts. It is when these discussions come up that the director must continue to send a consistent message that through any style of music, you can learn appreciation and deeper understanding. You won’t win the understanding of all of your students, but if you are consistent, eventually your message of educating all of your students about the diversity of music will begin to pay off.

After 3 years of implementing the “orchestra season” approach, a few important things really began to happen. The number of students continuing to play from middle school started to increase. In addition, the diversity of the students within the ensemble started to grow. Students in the high school who had stopped playing years ago started knocking on my door wondering if they could return. Students started to make enjoyable transitions from one style of music to another, and before I knew it, we were talking about the difference of rhythm and groove found in a Beethoven Symphony and pop music. I remember having a nearly 20-minute conversation with one of my classes about how the bow strokes in a Brandenburg Concerto were different than that of what great jazz violinists do. You may be thinking that I led the conversation, but rather, some of the most reserved students were the ones leading the discussion!

One last element to discuss in regards to this topic is that of quality of instruction. It is impossible to educate yourself to be a master of each musical style that you present. However, students do appreciate watching their teachers grow, modeling how to learn. If you hit a roadblock in teaching classical music, or any style for that matter, it is okay to tell your orchestra that you need to research the issue further. Students like to see you humble about what you do and do not know. By investing time in maintaining the quality of classical music yourself, you are constantly confirming the students that you are teaching to the authentic nature of the musical selection and not from your opinion. This takes the responsibility off of you and reminds students that together, you have an obligation to a composer to perform any piece of music in front of you to the best of your ability.

Students learn best through modeling, and the best way to sell them on classical music is to treat classical music with the respect it deserves. It is important to remind your students that it is all around them, and that in the music they listen to today, famous classical melodies are often quoted. Play those quotes. Bring in artists who specialize in classical music. Show YouTube videos of young people performing outstanding works by classical composers. Contact your local colleges or universities and promote their concerts. Take advantage of communicative technology, and set up a Skype lecture or coaching with a classical composer.  Have your students compose a 4-bar melody and help them harmonize it in a variety of ways. Perform those written melodies at a concert or a recital. Show old cartoons and talk about how classical music relates to the story or the character movement. Have classical music playing when they are unpacking or packing up in your classroom. Talk about the life of composers and their motivation for composing. Most importantly, listen to and perform classical music, and deepen YOUR appreciation for it. What you are curious about, show excitement for, and grow to appreciate, your students will tend to do as well. Be patient and consistent. It will eventually pay off!

© 2012 Jonathan Glawe

Jonathan Glawe (from Waterloo, Iowa) is currently the Director of Orchestras at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Kansas and a Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of Oregon.

Currently in his 5th year at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mr. Glawe has played an important role in the their return to the GRAMMY Signature School list as presented by the GRAMMY Foundation, in which the Pioneer Music Department was honored as one of the top 3 music programs in the nation in 2010, and has earned the honor of being the National GRAMMY Signature School in 2011.

Tips from a Festival Conductor

Sally K. AlbrechtBy Sally K. Albrecht
Alfred Editor, Composer & Clinician

As I head out today to my third county choral festival in as many weeks, I thought about all of the different wonderful and magical experiences I have enjoyed as a conductor over the years. I usually guest direct from 6 to 10 such events each season. Here are some tips that have helped me along the way.

1. Select music early.

• I enjoy working with my host on music selection. It’s helpful if the host sends me programs from the previous 2-3 years, so I see what type of material has been selected in the past. I always enjoy chatting on the phone at this point, to see what was successful. I like to know the approximate number of singers (if a mixed group, how many on each voice part) and how many schools are represented. (If there’s a descant part, I’ll often say, “One singer per school may sing the descant.”)

• Will other groups be sharing our program? If so, then I always recommend a joint finale and/or opening selection.

• Are any instrumentalists available? That may alter my music choices.

• I generally send one or two possible programs for my host to select from, or say, “Here are two folk song arrangements. Pick one.” I make sure my music choices are current, in print, educational, inspirational, entertaining, challenging, yet accomplishable. I make sure we have an opener, a closer, then a variety in between, including: folk songs, spirituals, multicultural, classical, novelty, music song . . . . well, just something for everyone.

• My general rule is to select one song per hour of rehearsal. If I have a 6-hour rehearsal day, then 6 chorals should do it.

• Make sure each singer has a copy of music in his/her hands (no photocopies allowed), with a pencil handy for special markings. Even if the music is to be memorized, it’s often necessary to take another look!

2. Communicate.

• Keep communication lines open at all times. Be quick to respond to emails and/or phone calls. Let me know if there are definite times I need to anticipate breaks or lunch, or if that’s open to the flow of the day.

• Send hotel and rehearsal locations and information in plenty of time for me to mapquest the area.

• Make sure to put in writing all of the financial agreements—who pays for what, what receipts are needed, who is providing meals, etc.

• I make it a habit to send “Notes from the Director” with any special instructions for the music: things to look out for, are we singing cue-size notes, who sings the descant, will there be any solos to audition, etc.

• Let the conductor know what the mode of dress is for the concert. I’ll dress differently if singers are wearing robes than I will if singers are in jeans with a festival T-shirt!

3. Plan for the day.

• I always arrive with a plan for the day—what I want to get done in every 15-minute chunk of time. I often will let one voice section take a morning break while I rehearse with another section. Make sure there are adequate clean rest rooms nearby.

• Have enough risers set up, ready to go on stage, for the number of singers selected to participate. Anticipate 12 students per riser-secton (3-step risers plus floor). Younger students, perhaps, can fit up to 16 singers per riser section.

• Make sure that each student has a name tag. I like to see their first name, really big (so I can read it easily from afar). Teachers need name tags, too—full names. If it’s a 2-day festival, then collect the tags or have a second set available.

• I start with warm-ups, then perhaps a quick rehearsal of the opening or closing number. Then I enlist the teachers to help me get the students lined up by height and part, tallest 1st. No singer should be next to someone they already know. The goal is to form a new choir and make new friends!

• During rehearsals, make sure a few teachers are around, on hand, at all times.

• If instrumentalists are involved, decide on a specific time for them to rehearse so they don’t have to sit there all day with you. I generally request that they come mid-afternoon, then stay to play our final run-through with us.

4. The simple things that don’t go un-noticed.

• Have a great accompanist ready to go, who has prepared the music and understands how to accompany (that means, reads the mind of the guest conductor)! Make sure the piano has been tuned (and dusted off) recently.

• Have lots of water on hand, a podium (if needed), and a music stand that doesn’t wobble. Does the conductor need a microphone? And, if we’re all onstage, does that microphone have monitors on stage so the singers can hear my comments?

• Check the air temperature in the rehearsal area. Is it a place where we can work all day? Or is a second room needed for relief/change of venue?

• Have a tech person check that the lights in the auditorium are all in working order. Know how to turn the stage lights on and off, dim as needed. Same with the sound system.

• Let me know the plan for the actual concert. Who speaks when? Who introduces who? If there’s a list of “thank yous” that needs to be spoken, please do that before the concert begins or before the final number. I like to leave the audience with the sound of our music ringing in their ears!

Enjoy the special musical day you, your teachers, and your students will have. There’s just nothing like it!

Piano Teaching Tips from Mike Springer

Mike Springer

Ah, the big band era—formal ballrooms with a large dance floor, and a band complete with a tight rhythm section, trumpets, trombones, and saxophones all playing the greatest standards of the time—standards that continue to live today.  I love that era, and my piece “Ballroom Big Band” recreates many textures and harmonies you might find in big band classics!

Even though the series Not Just Another Jazz Book, vol. 1-3 was created with the idea that a student could have an experience playing with a jazz combo (piano, bass, and drums), I also included pieces in styles such as rock, ragtime, and Latin.  The performer of “Ballroom Big Band” should imagine a 1940’s big band while playing this piece.  I like to play old recordings of the Glen Miller Orchestra to show my students examples of what I have tried to recreate, and to help them understand the style better.

The piece starts with loud brassy textures in the first full measure.  The thick chords throughout this piece mimic the rich sounds of mid-20th century big bands.  Play these chords with great force, especially the notes that are syncopated.  Use the pedal as indicated in the first measure (and similar measures) to sustain the syncopated rhythm, followed by accented staccato notes.  One of the keys to performing this piece well is following the articulations exactly as indicated to help create energy and forward momentum! Continue to follow the pedal indicators carefully, giving special attention to the pedal lifts since there are so many instances where the phrase ends with a staccato and/or accented chord.  At the conclusion of the “A” section, begin measure 21 softly, with a big crescendo during the measure.  This will lead nicely to measures 22-24, where the energy continues to build to the beginning of the “B” section in measure 25.  This measure includes a “stride” style LH, that emulates drum hits on beats 2 & 4.  The end of the “B” section (measures 31-32) should be energetic, but not accented.  This will help boost the energy level of the return of the “A” section in measure 33.  Although the dynamics are strong in many places throughout the piece, conserve just enough energy to really “take it home!” in measure 42.

My students have a great deal of fun with this piece, especially after they know it well enough to play along with the accompanying CD.  The CD has three tracks for each piece:

  1. For listening, the Performance Model Track features the piano solo with orchestrated background in a complete performance.
  2. For practicing, the Practice Tempo Track features the orchestrated background (without the piano solo) at a slower tempo.
  3. For performing, the Performance Tempo Track features the orchestrated background (without the piano solo) at the performance tempo.

I instruct my students to learn the piece without listening to the CD first, to ensure that they gain the benefit of learning to read and count the rhythms properly (and not by ear).

I hope you enjoy “Ballroom Big Band” as well as the other pieces from the series Not Just Another Jazz Book.  Also, please check out the other books from the series:  Not Just Another Christmas Book, vol. 1-3 and Not Just Another Scale Book, vol. 1-3.

Mike Springer
Author, Arranger, Composer


Ballroom Big Band