Monthly Archives: May 2013

Keep Your Students Playing This Summer

BPhillipsBy Bob Phillips
Director of String Publications

Have you ever had a student return in the fall and tell you they have forgotten how to play? One cute little second year student told me that the teacher last year (me) hadn’t taught reading. Of course, they really haven’t forgotten and we really did teach the skills – the students just need to play again and review.

The Hobbit Play-Along books are great for summer, to keep your students playing! Check out these fun books here. Perhaps even send a note home to parents suggesting they check out the link for great summer music activities that will keep the kids playing!

The three charts from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that are featured this month will fit a niche in your concerts. Use each to build interest in your concerts as well as to simply enjoy the music!

For me, best teaching practice means including all styles of music in order to touch the hearts of more students. People all have different tastes and the music they are exposed to through the orchestra can be wide and varied. Whether it is Mozart, fiddling, Broadway, or The Hobbit, teaching opportunities and the chance to build a love of music abound in them all.

Bob Phillips

Piano Teaching Tips from Jane Magrath

Jane Magrath

Ensemble music is popular in many studios around the country and can be motivating for both teachers and students. Students and teachers play duets together frequently during the lesson as a reading activity and often as part of the regular repertoire. Piano competitions often include a duet or ensemble as well as a solo music category. 

A key to keeping students involved in piano study is to add social experiences to their lessons. Duet playing with a friend that includes extra rehearsals/practice are always enjoyable.  Thus the student rehearses outside the lesson with another who is interested in music and the bond that comes with music study and music-making is formed. Last week a teacher told me about a talented high school student who had lost interested in playing solo literature, but loved playing duets with her sister.  The teacher was capitalizing on this interest, keeping the ‘romance’ in the lessons through duet playing.

The new Masterwork Classics Duets series features duets that can be played by students at the same Levels 1-10 as the literature levels in the Masterwork Classics solo books.  The duet books are progressive, and pieces included are carefully sequenced for student enjoyment and success.

Anton Diabelli (1781-1858) was an Austrian publisher and composer who wrote numerous piano duets.  He was the publisher of Schubert’s first printed works.  An experienced musician, piano teacher, and composer, he was able to respond to musical trends of the day.  Consequently, his publishing company was a huge financial success.

“Melodious Pieces, Op. 149” by Diabelli contains delightful duets that set both hands of the primo part in a five-finger position throughout the book. Secondo parts are appropriate for more advanced students or the teacher. The keys employed are limited to those three sharps and flats.  Thus a student can concentrate on developing a strong sense of pulse as well as coordination between the hands and phrasing, since there is minimal movement around the keyboard.  Two of these delightful pieces are included in Masterwork Classics Duets, Level 3.


Click to see the full score with
notes for “Allegro in E Minor”.

In the lively “Allegro in E Minor” you and the audience will be laughing by the end due to the energy and light-hearted personality depicted in the music.  The secondo part is responsible for setting the energetic foundation.  The primo provides imitative interest and the rhythmic propulsion forward through the phrases to the dramatic climaxes.  Some teaching ideas follow:

  1. Some dictionaries define allegro as happy, and others as fast, lively, or bright.  This piece seems to reflect all of these definitions.
  2. Phrasing.  The primo should shape as a small arch the imitative motives moving between the hands in mm. 1, 3, 8, and 9.  This is often called ‘inflection,’ because the note groupings are so short.  This piece is a wonderful one to help develop a student’s ability to ‘inflect.’ Be careful that the hands imitate each other equally in tone quality and rhythmical evenness as they alternate playing the themes.
  3. Driving to the Climaxes! Much of the intense excitement of this piece comes from the strong crescendos, led by the primo.  Note the drive to end of the measure in mm. 2, 4, 5-6, and 13-14.  The music surges forward with a quick crescendo for powerful effects.  The secondo supports this in the same measures. Notice the longer drive to the climaxes in mm. 11-12, and ultimately to the final climax in m. 16
  4. Staccatos.  The secondo pianist should never play too heavily, because the player can cover the melodies in the primo.  Light staccatos with slight accents or stresses on beat 1 in the measures of the secondo can help establish a strong rhythmic basis.  The primo plays staccato also, almost throughout, and the sound should be light and “up through the key” to avoid heaviness.
  5. Dynamic range.  Diabelli sets the listener up for surprises and dramatic climaxes.  Notice the two loudest places in this piece: measures 7- 8 and the very last two measures mm. 15-16, both marked ff.  On the repeats of both sections, Diabelli surprises us with sudden, very soft playing, just the way the piece began!
  6. Secondo support of melody.  The performer of the secondo part can bring out the left-hand line throughout entire piece, played as a kind of duet with the primo motives.  From this contrast one can tell that Diabelli knew duet playing well, since he provided strong musical writing in all parts.  The secondo right-hand part is the least important and should not be projected, to allow the right-hand of the primo and the left-hand of the secondo to stand out.  It is excellent writing on his part!
  7. Harmonic rhythm.  Listen to the piece to hear the harmonic rhythm – the frequency of chord changes within the rhythm.   For example, I hear: mm. 1-2 one chord only; mm 3-4 one chord only; mm. 5 and 6 two different chords in each measure; and mm. 7-8 one chord only.  You may be able to help the student hear this without looking at the music.

Masterwork Classics Duets, Level 3

The Diabelli “Allegretto in C Major, Op. 149 No. 5,” also in Masterwork Classics Duets, Level 3, is a similar piece.  It has a long lyrical melody in the primo with a gentle swaying accompaniment in the secondo right hand.  The secondo bass serves to support and enhance the phrasing of the primo..  The two duets make a nice pair, playing perhaps the more lyrical No. 5 first.

Additional works in this level 3 book are by Anton André, Cornelius Gurlitt, Louis Köhler, Anton Bruckner, Oskar Fried, and Igor Stravinsky.  Enjoy teaching these pieces and having students perform them in festivals, on recitals, or in lessons with a friend or with you!

Best wishes for many smiles with duet playing,
Jane Magrath
Author, Arranger, Composer

Instrumental Music as Physical Education

TomWestMost public school music ensembles spend 95 percent of their classroom time preparing for public concerts. It takes many hours of repetition of the music in order to program the body to perform the music accurately. Band and orchestra directors basically run rehearsals for a living and become very good at  providing the repetitions necessary to program the physical movements required to perform the music accurately.

When I begin writing articles for my website, I focused on sharing music practice tips. The majority of these were strategies designed to help maximize practice routine efficiency, garnering more successful repetitions of the music. What I have only recently realized, however, is that the majority of time and effort spent practicing a musical instrument has more to do with  programming the mind to physically control the instrument accurately and reliably. There is more “physical education” involved in instrumental music making than actual “music education”.

In most traditional high school bands and orchestras, the vast majority of rehearsal time is spent drilling the music in order for ensemble members to develop some level of physical proficiency in performance. Teaching basic musicianship concepts like reading notation, audiating pitch, and so on is left to the elementary music teachers to handle. High school ensembles focus primarily on ensemble techniques such as pulse control, section and group intonation, balance and blend, and so on. Those concepts are touched upon and then drilled, drilled, drilled until the ensemble can perform them accurately.

The Marriage Between Physical And Aural

One of the amazing things about studying music performance is that it elides the physical skill of operating a musical instrument with the mental skill of perceiving and instantly processing and reacting to sound. Singers do this as well, but the need to physically train the body is quite different. Instrumentalists spend a great deal of time simply becoming proficient at manipulating the contraption that makes the musical sounds happen.

Students of music have to not only become proficient at the physical movements, they also have to use their aural skills to assess their own physical performance. The actual musical part of instrumental performace is all mental, and it requires training and skill building just like the physical training of operating the instrument.

Over-Programming The Physical Part Of Performance

Because it takes so much time and repetition to program the body, musicianship and listening skills often take a secondary role in many school performing ensemble classes. This is compounded by the fact that many high school band and orchestra directors choose repertoire that demands a high level of technical proficiency on the part of the performers. Technical wizardry (those fast sixteeth note runs, screaming high notes, rapid tonguing or bowing passages, and so on) are engaging and exciting to listen to, and many directors want their students to have the experience of performing exciting works with a lot of technical fireworks.

The trade-off, however, is that technically demanding repertoire often consumes the majority of available class time simply to get the ensemble performing proficiently. Even then, traditional band and orchestra programs lean on the students with the higher music aptitude and skill development to carry the weight while their peers hang on for dear life or fake their way through the difficult passages. Add to that fact the more important consequence – the students rarely have time to improve their musical skills in favor of improving their physical skills.

Audio Gym Teacher?

If ensemble directors, for whatever reason, continue to program technically demanding works that constantly stretch the boundaries of what the students are capable of, they are providing their students with more of an “audio physical education” than a “music education”. Technical ability is only part of what makes up an effective musical performance. It is far better, in my opinion, to choose repertoire with easier technical demand that can be mastered in a shorter amount of time, leaving room towards the end of the preparation period to work on ensemble playing techniques, expressive phrasing, and communicating the intent of the music to the audience.

Quite simply, if by concert time students are not able to look away from the sheet music for more than a brief glance at the baton in order to be able to perform the piece, the technical demand is probably too high.

There certainly is a need for repertoire that “pushes the envelope” and gets students to reach for a new level of technical ability, but I have seen too many band and orchestra programs that try to stretch the ensemble with every single piece they perform. Slaving away on demanding parts is enjoyable for only a minority of students – most are turned off by such hard work, especially if that level of demand is constantly upon them.

Physical training in the band and orchestra is a major component of instrumental performing music and is constantly being addressed. There needs to be a balance, however, between the physical aspects of instrumental performance and the mental aspects of listening, audiating, and understanding music as an art form.

Thanks goes to Thomas J. West Music for letting us use his blog!

Thomas J. West is an active music educator, composer, adjudicator, clinician, and award-winning blogger.

7 Steps to a Killer Music Program

Caleb ChapmanBy Caleb Chapman

Starting a Music Program from Scratch
Back in the fall of 1998 my wife, Alison, and I went for a lazy Sunday drive that changed my life. I was an undergrad student at Brigham Young University in Utah completing a music degree with plans to pursue an MBA. On that drive, Alison suggested that instead of me pursuing a business degree, we should open a music school. To me it seemed like a crazy idea with little chance of success, but I learned a long time ago to listen to my wiser partner. So, just one month later, without much experience, without money, and without any significant business training, we opened a tiny music school in Utah.

Onward and Upward
Today that tiny music school has grown into a program with 13 ensembles and close to 200 top-notch young musicians, ranging in age from 10-18.

Our flagship group, a jazz ensemble called the Crescent Super Band, has received international attention, thanks to the program’s 22 DownBeat Awards, and appearances at venues from New York to the Netherlands. In fact, the band has been named Utah’s “Best Professional Ensemble” in any genre by Utah Best of State for 8 consecutive years – pretty amazing for a bunch of high school kids.

In a very short period, our graduates have landed significant scholarships in many of the nation’s top music schools – Berklee, North Texas, Miami, USC, the New School, and many others. In fact, each year our 20-30 graduates from the program rack up well over $1,000,000 in scholarship offers.

I just got word that an upcoming show for the Crescent Super Band at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola has already sold out and our headlining debut at Carnegie Hall has almost sold out a month before the concert. I had to pinch myself when I got this news! How did we go from that Sunday drive in 1998 to having a full house at one of the world’s most famous concert venues?

A Recipe for Success
As I took a moment to reflect, I realized that there are several key philosophies that have served us well. They are not genre-specific and I am confident that the success our program has experienced can be duplicated anywhere when these principles are implemented. And, while none of them are “groundbreaking,” when combined, they provide a powerful recipe for a successful music program.

1. Keep music fun
As soon as studying music becomes something our musicians have to do—a chore—we have lost the battle. And this isn’t true just for our students; music needs to remain fun for the educator as well. Think back to what sparked your own passion for music. How can you instill that in your students?

2. Instill pride in the product
Music programs are cool! How can this be communicated properly, and the pride shared with the students and community? It comes from a mix of culture, programming, recruiting, professionalism, and other aspects. It starts with the way you, your students, and the public view the program. What can you do to position your group as a cultural resource to your community?

3. Remove students’ perceived limitations
Young musicians don’t know what the limitations on their ability are until you tell them. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high and keep notching it up. You will be amazed at the results!

4. Practice (and rehearse) for perfection
You already know that when a student practices while allowing mistakes, all he is doing is getting better at making mistakes! Create a culture that strives for as much accuracy as possible in rehearsals as well as performance and select the repertoire that will allow you to do that. What motivates your students to strive for perfection?

5. Empower your musicians with clear guidelines for learning the repertoire
It’s the old “teach a man to fish” analogy. A good educator can teach students how to play any piece of music. A great teacher will educate those students on how to accomplish this on their own. This approach allows them to learn new music during their individual practice time and not just when they are in rehearsal. For example, something that worked great for my jazz students was establishing a set of “rules” for articulation, which they apply to every piece they sight-read or play, whether in class or at home.

6. Surround yourself with a powerhouse team
Start with mentors for yourself; assemble an all-star cast of musicians and educators that have the skills that you want to develop who are willing to coach and guide you. Then, build a dream team for your students—clinicians, a network of private teachers, parent volunteers and boosters, and a staff of specialists. We’re all in it for the same reason: the students. Let’s help each other succeed.

7. Listen. Listen. Listen.
Encourage your musicians to learn the language of music through active listening. Provide information on area concerts in all styles, not just the one they are focused on in the classroom. Assemble listening recommendations and a forum for them to share their current interests and artists they have discovered.

As an educator, I love hearing about how other educators help their students succeed. What are your tips to helping your students achieve their best? Share in the comments below.

Caleb Chapman is an award-winning performer, author, music educator, and producer. His new book, The Articulate Jazz Musician co-written with Grammy-winning saxophonist Jeff Coffin, was released by Alfred Music in 2013. For more information on Caleb’s projects and educational innovations, visit

Choosing the Right Music for Your Orchestra

Bob Phillips

As a string teacher for many years, I always enjoy looking at new music.  It’s a bit like opening a present!  As an editor at Alfred, I see the music about a year before it is released. Right now we have just released the new 2013 music and have much of the music for 2014 selected.

Things have changed from the days when we all spent a lovely summer day in an air-conditioned music store looking for just the right pieces to play that year. Now we depend on the Internet and all the great websites to browse the new music or look for great classics.  A classic can be a piece that just works so well that teachers play it year after year.  It can also mean enduring music.  This month we are featuring several types of classic music – great rock and roll and timeless serious music. 

No matter what you are looking for, be sure it fits the skill level of your group. I would generally choose to play a slightly easier piece and play it with excellence than play a more difficult piece poorly.  Of course, there are times that a challenge is called for!  Keep your curriculum in mind as well and find tunes that provide the opportunity to teach the appropriate skills. Enjoy!