Monthly Archives: June 2013

Motivating Music Teachers for the Coming Year

Andy BeckBy Andy Beck, Director of Choral Designs, Classroom, and Vocal Publications

Attitude is everything! And as music educators, we strive to inspire and influence the attitudes of our students every day—sometimes forgetting to take time to nurture our own. Here are six tips to maintain your motivation in the coming year.

1. Keep a teaching success journal.

Take time to record a special moment from each teaching day or week. Entries can be practical, such as “Altos finally got the E-flat,” or personal, like “Took some time to make Brittany smile today.” Celebrating your successes in this way will remind you of the many rewards teaching can bring.

2. Visit with a mentor.

Who inspired you to become a music educator? Who gave you the special attention that lead you toward your dream? Who challenges you to be your very best every day? An online chat, a special thank you note, or a standing lunch date can go a long way in reminding you that you not only have support, but that you also provide support for your students each day.

3. Rekindle your inner artist.

Remember when you were the performer? When your voice or your instrument took the stage? Stay connected to your love of music by practicing or performing just for fun. This can be done in the privacy of a practice room, with a local performing group, or at a gathering of friends for an informal music recital party.

4. Take in a concert or show.

Your attendance at a music event not only supports our art form, but also provides a chance to simply be entertained, and perhaps collect a few ideas. While in your concert seat, don’t work too hard, just relax and enjoy. Afterwards, you can reflect on favorite moments, analyzing how they made you feel and how you might recreate them at school.

5. Go to a reading session or conference.

Attend a clinic where you can meet and work with top-notch clinicians who will offer teaching strategies, review outstanding literature, and share inspiring anecdotes for education. While you are there, embrace the opportunity to chat with other music teachers—exchanging ideas, trading secrets, and making connections. Click here for a list of upcoming Alfred events.

6. Choose repertoire that inspires.

When preparations begin for school concerts, you will be practicing the same, relatively small collection of songs for many weeks. So select music and lyrics that will provide interest, challenge, success, and inspiration. As you pick repertoire, find pieces that touch the heart, tickle the funny bone, lift the spirit, and move the soul.

Groove Development Through Stylistic Coordination

By Joe McCarthy
Joe McCarthy

Most drummers with some experience will eventually encounter the situation in which they need to create a groove for a new composition. Sometimes it’s an obvious decision what to play, sometimes not. How do we prepare ourselves for these situations? Listening to and studying as many different styles of music as possible is essential in understanding the effect these different grooves have on any particular style. Physical and mental control of the drumset are also essential components to successful groove development. The result of extensive style analysis and mastery of the drumset is that it allows us to approach grooves more organically, meaning we can play what the tune needs, not just recycle a generic beat we have memorized.

I would like to share an exercise with you from my new DVD, Joe McCarthy’s Afro-Cuban Big Band Play-Along Series, Vol. II. This exercise will help you develop a combination of skills required to internalize the concept of groove development. I refer to this as “stylistic coordination,” simply because it can be utilized to develop whatever style you are studying or wish to play.

For our purposes, we will target a clave-based groove. Here’s the concept: to establish an ostinato and cycle through a series of permutations, focusing on limb alignment, sound quality, overall performance consistency and multi rhythm execution. This process will also target concentration, our most valuable resource, which must be developed just as our limbs are. Playing these exercises for long periods of time with a metronome trains us to “stay in the game” which is essential when we are performing something as basic as a tune, a concert, or even a tour or long-running show. Mastery of this concept allows us to focus on all of the moving parts of the ensemble we are performing with, while sustaining a high level of performance.

Let’s take a look at the components of the exercise:

1. For the ostinato in Exercise 1 we will be using is a 2:3 rumba clave pattern. Put this in the hand you normally use to play your ride pattern. You may play this on any instrument you wish, although a jam block would give you the color of the claves.

2. Hi-hat plays on beats 1 and 3.

3. Bass drum plays the “and” of beat 2, also known as “bombo.”

This exercise will be played in cut time, so we will feel it in two. The hi-hat will be the “big beat.”

Summer Hits

4. The permutations (variations or rearranging) will be played with your other hand in conjunction with the other three voices. Begin on the beat playing the snare drum and orchestrate to the toms as you master the rhythms. Please play each rhythm many times before cycling through all of them in succession. Once you begin cycling through them, start with one measure phrases of each and continue to expand to 4 and 8-measure phrases.

Summer Hits

Take your time and focus on remaining relaxed. Relaxation is the key to control!

Please refer to this segment of the DVD to see and hear the exercise. The play-along montuno track is provided for you to practice with.

This exercise is simply an avenue. These are not “beats,” but are rhythmic possibilities that will enable you to tap into an infinite variety of ideas, instead of being limited to repetitive 1-and-2 bar ideas.

Continue to experiment with any combinations you wish. The result will be a more creative, supportive and interactive approach to musical drumset playing.

Have Fun!

Joe McCarthy is the Grammy Award winning drummer with Afro Bop Alliance. Please visit his website,

Piano Teaching Tips from Gayle Kowalchyk – Using Classical Music to Teach Artistic Playing

Gayle KowalchykAs piano teachers, one of our primary goals in teaching piano lessons is to give our students tools that enable them to enjoy music and play throughout their lifetime.  Achieving this goal requires careful planning and sequencing of materials over many years.  Using a piano method such as Alfred’s Premier Piano Course, is one key to a successful sequence of musicianship and piano skills.  Basic concepts are introduced in the lesson books, and a variety of supplementary books that correlate with the lesson book can be used to focus on particular areas such as theory, technique, or specific styles of music.

One of the goals of Alfred’s Premier Piano Course is to prepare students to play standard piano repertoire.  To this end, classical music is introduced as early as Lesson Book 1A and continues through the final level, Level 6.  In addition, E. L. Lancaster and I have recently compiled and edited Masterworks 3, 4, 5, and 6, collections of standard repertoire from the four stylistic periods that reinforce concepts in Lesson Books 3-6.  Don’t think of these books as just supplementary books to the series, however.  Think of them as repertoire that can be used to introduce and teach artistic playing.

Premier Masterworks 4Let’s take a look at two short pieces by Ferdinand Beyer (1803-1863).  Beyer was a German composer and pianist.  During his life, he was known for his light music and piano arrangements of orchestral works.  Today, he is known for his elementary piano method, Vorschule im Klavierspiel, Op. 101, published in 1860.  Since its publication, it has been used by piano students around the world and is especially popular in Korea and China.  Compared with today’s piano methods, Beyer’s looks more like a technique book, however, it contains some wonderful teaching pieces, some of which we included in Masterworks 3 and 4.  Other composers in these two books include Cornelius Gurlitt, Anton Diabelli, Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven, Ludvig Schytte, Louis Köhler, Johann Christian Bach, and Béla Bartók.

The Spinning Wheel

Click to see the full score with
notes to “The Spinning

The first Beyer example, The Spinning Wheel, is from Masterworks 3.  Aptly titled, each hand spins in and out of eighth-note patterns.  Students will notice that both the right hand and the left hand are equally important.  This piece is a wonderful tool for teaching phrase shaping and how to find the important note in each phrase.

Practicing each hand alone will help in shaping the phrases.  Phrases with ascending eighth-note patterns should crescendo as the notes get higher.  Phrases with descending eighth-note patterns should diminuendo as the notes get lower.  In measures 1-4 and 9-12, take note of where I have drawn arrows.  These point out the important notes (called “the heart of the phrase” in Alfred’s Premier Piano Course Technique Books) in the phrases.  In phrases that crescendo, the important note is the final note of the phrase.  In phrases that diminuendo, the important note is the first note of the phrase.  Measures 5-8 and 12-16 have longer phrases in each hand that ascend and descend.  Notice how the arrows are placed in the middle of the phrases, as the important notes are built up to with a crescendo and then backed away from with a diminuendo.  Measure 14 in the right hand may seem a bit of an anomaly as the phrase crescendos even as the notes are getting lower.  However, notice how this shaping matches the left hand, thus making sense musically.

Sunny Afternoon

Click to see the full score with
notes to “Sunny Afternoon”.

The second piece by Beyer, Sunny Afternoon, is from Masterworks 4.  The phrasing in this piece is a bit more sophisticated, although the tips stated above still apply.  In this piece, the left hand clearly has the melody while the right hand is the accompaniment.  Begin by practicing the left hand alone, shaping the phrase by playing a crescendo as the notes get higher.  In this case however, the phrases need to be thought of in a broader context.  Think of measures 1-8 in the left hand as one idea, even though the slurs indicate shorter phrasing.  Begin with a slight crescendo in measures 2-3 with even more crescendo in 4-5, reaching the dynamic level of forte.  Measures 6-7 should remain forte, and then a diminuendo begins in measure 8.  Measures 9-15 are almost the same, except there is no diminuendo written.  However, as the long notes are held in measures 13 and 14, they will naturally taper off.  The C in measure 15 should be the softest note of the phrase.

Measure 16 in the left hand is like the beginning; however, what follows is different.  Keep the intensity building to measure 21, which is the highest point of the piece.  In measure 23, the left hand can taper slightly.  Measures 25-29 should be shaped like measures 1-5.

Premier Masterworks 4The right hand looks deceivingly simple.  However, even though the accompaniment pattern features repeated notes, these notes need to be shaped as well.  The general rule with repeated notes is that they either crescendo or diminuendo, and many times it is just a personal choice.  I find in this case, it is easier to have the repeated notes diminuendo from the first note so that when the left hand comes in, the right hand is not too loud.  Note that the dynamics in measures 19-20 and 29-30 apply to the right hand as well as the left.

Careful listening is the key to putting the two hands together successfully in both of these pieces.  Think of them as duets – primo in the right hand and secondo in the left hand.  The simple skill of shaping a phrase through crescendos and diminuendos applies to masterworks at any level and is the key to bringing out the most important notes of the phrase, creating a performance that is both musical and artistic.

All levels of Premier Masterworks include a compact disc recording with each book.  The CD can serve as a performance model or a practice companion.  Each selection is beautifully performed by Scott Price two times.  The first track number is a performance tempo.  The second track number is a slower practice tempo.

Gayle Kowalchyk
Senior Keyboard Editor
Author, Arranger, Composer

Incubation Period—Training Beginning Music Instrumental Students on Flute, Oboe, and High Brass

Thomas J. WestThroughout my career as an instrumental music teacher in American public schools, I have had the opportunity to start a lot of students on a new instrument. My approach to starting beginners is typical: I begin with mouthpiece and embouchure formation, basic playing position, and so on. Where I diverge from tradition is in my approach to teaching basic playing technique, which I will discuss in a future article.

In training these beginners, I typically find that there are a handful of wind instruments that require a longer period of time for most students to become proficient at basic tone production. Until a student can reliably produce the tone of the instrument, it is difficult to move forward into technique building or music reading. I call these instruments ones with longer “incubation periods”.

Tone Production on the Trumpet and French Horn

While most beginning students are fairly successful early on in buzzing the lips and producing their first sounds, all brass instruments, and particularly the high brass, require the students to work on embouchure building and flexibility with a great deal of consistency over the course of several months to be able to produce an octave’s worth of pitches.

To produce an air stream that is compressed enough to play mid-range pitches, players must build the musculature of the face to a point where the aperture (portion of the lips that actually vibrates) can vibrate freely while the muscles hold back the resulting internal air pressure. As I tell my students, it literally is “weight lifting for your face”.

The French horn has the additional challenge of having their typical tessitura in band literature written for the middle to upper part of the instrument’s playable range, requiring not only strength, but enough control to accurately find partials that are as close together as a whole step. Because of the strength and conditioning required, trumpet and French horn students must put in consistent practice time on a daily basis in order to develop this control.

Tone Production on Oboe

Oboe students typically do not have difficulty producing their initial tones on their instruments. Refining that tone and playing in extended ranges, however, can take consistent work that lasts at least a year, a fact that applies to bassoon as well. The initial sounds made by oboists are jarring and strident at best, and the quality and adjustments made to their reeds can be a major contributing factor.

If oboe or bassoon is not your primary instrument, dealing with double reeds may be a bit perplexing. If you have the luxury of having your double reed students study privately or work with a double reed clinician at your school, many of these issues can be addressed. If not, everyone, director and students alike, will have to exercise patience as the oboe students continue to work on improving the total quality and range of their instrument.

Tone Production on Flute

The instrument with the longest incubation period, perhaps, is the flute. There is little about producing the tone of the flute that is intuitive. It is quite literally a trial and error process, and because of the nature of the Hemoltz resonator effect being produced, students often find themselves in the early stages becoming light-headed from hyperventilation. Once the initial sounds become more consistently produced, they still remain breathy and unfocused.

Once tone can be produced reliably, the next challenge for flutists is developing control of the air stream to become capable of changing octaves reliably. I wrote at length about this topic, including some useful exercises, in this article. Even after gaining control of the low, middle, and lower portion of the high register, it will take more time and experience for the flutist’s tone quality to go from the breathy, intermediate stage to a purer, more rounded flute tone.

Tone Production Is Essential for All

Even for instruments that do not need extensive work to produce a good tone in the middle register, such as clarinet and saxophone, good tone quality must come before nearly every other aspect of performance. The saxophone embouchure is fairly forgiving, but players still need to apply the mouthpiece firmly against the top teeth and use the correct amount of reed tip opening to produce the correct pitch on the reed. Many sax players are producing the wrong pitch on the mouthpiece well into high school, leading to perpetual intonation problems and strident tone quality.

Clarinetists, because of the downward angle of the instrument, must have a firm lower lip, correct angle of pressure from the jaw, and must position the tongue correctly to direct the airflow to produce the correct pitch and tone in all registers. This is especially true at the intermediate level as they venture into the register above high C.

Low brass performers are under the same kind of regiment as their high brass counterparts; there is simply less need for muscular development at the earlier stages of learning. Breaking through the “high F ceiling” is a tough process for many intermediate players.

Little else can fall into place for a wind instrumentalist until they are using the correct embouchure formation with the right amount and quality of air stream. Good tone is a prerequisite for tuning, intonation, articulation, and even simply getting the instrument to respond in time for the downbeat. Many secondary level band directors are guilty of taking tone production for granted, not revisiting tone concepts enough to continue to help each section of the ensemble develop as individual performers. For the highest quality performance of the full ensemble, however, revisiting tone production needs to be a periodic checkpoint that is part of every ensemble’s routine.

Thank you  to Thomas J. West for letting us use his blog!
Check out Thomas J. West’s blog:

The Creation of Missa Festiva

John LeavittBy John Leavitt, Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Music, MidAmerica Nazarene University

Missa Festiva began in 1987 with the commission of a festival piece for the International Choral Symposium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Sanctus (“Festival Sanctus”) of this Mass was the result of that commission. Other individual parts of the Ordinary followed—the Kyrie and Agnus Dei. The Gloria was finished in the fall of 1990. The Credo, the centerpiece of the Mass, which weds the work together, was completed in the spring of 1991. At that time, the five separate movements were orchestrated and assembled into one large work, approximately 15 minutes in length.

Since that time, the piece has been performed around the world, both by sacred and secular choirs. More recently, on the 20th anniversary of “Festival Sanctus,” I began working on an expanded chamber orchestration that enhances the musical texture and color of the work, featuring parts for woodwinds, strings, and percussion. The result of that effort also yielded several new voicings of the various movements, and the full work is now available for SATB, SAB, SSA, TTB, and 2-part choirs.

The outer movements, Kyrie and Agnus Dei, are set in a lyric, neo-romantic style that features modal inflection. The inner movements, Gloria and Sanctus, are set in a rhythmic, ebullient style, featuring mixed meters and syncopation. The middle movement, Credo, uses ancient chants to distinguish the three persons of the Trinity. While this work does not purport to be a liturgical Mass, it uses texts from the Ordinary, both altered and unaltered, to conscribe to musical considerations. These Latin texts, time honored through many centuries, are embraced for their richness and provide a vehicle for excellent choral singing.

Editor’s Note: Equally affective in concert and worship, Missa Festiva is a wonderful addition to any school or church library. Click here for more information.