Monthly Archives: February 2014

Creative Concert Concepts

Bob PhillipsBy Bob Phillips

Many of us use all sorts of music over the course of a school year to build creative, interesting concerts. I highly recommend a varied program over time. This can be done with great classical pieces, eclectic styles, pop tunes,  guest artists, side-by-side concerts, and so on. It can also be done with quirky, unusual, or novelty pieces that just make players and audience smile. A few pieces that might fit that category are featured in this e-mail. These are definitely worth checking out!

The new 2014 catalog has a few that fit this category as well. Be looking for that promo in your email box in April!

Recruitment and Retention

Chris BernotasBy Chris M. Bernotas

Spring is coming and that is certainly welcome here in the Northeast!  Along with fresh air, spring also brings many exciting events in the world of education.  We are all enthusiastically preparing our ensembles for spring concerts, spring trips, spring community events, and many other performances.  The other school event that occurs around now is student course scheduling for next year’s classes! Kids are excitedly running to their counselors, looking ahead to the new and unique opportunities that await them (I can dream, can’t I?)  Of course the first thing on their list to register for is band!  That, at least, is the scenario we all hope and strive for.

Recruitment and retention are always on the minds of music educators.  Some goals in music education are to help students learn to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, as well as cultural contributors.  Without students studying music, it would be hard to achieve that.  We also want to share our love of music and our passion for working together in creating emotional performances and lifelong memories with as many students as possible.  Actively recruiting is essential in our quest of filling the sea of chairs in our room with fresh young minds that are eager to learn.

One way to encourage students to continue their study of music in band is to host a District Band Festival.  Many of us facilitate a district concert. Usually, we have all the different level bands perform a selection or two for each other and perhaps end the concert with a massive group performance. This is a wonderful concept and, while it can present a few challenges to arrange, the end result is often well worth it. How would a district festival work differently? First of all, the District Band Festival isn’t necessarily focused on holding a concert performance—it is about student-to-student interaction.  Let me explain.  The concept is to host a side-by-side day.  Seat the younger students next to the older students within the ensemble and run a workshop. Teach them a new piece of music!  What I love about running a festival day is that it allows the younger students (even at the 4th and 5th grade levels) to experience making music together with the older students and not just observe them.  The older kids are their heroes, their rock stars, and now they get to sit with them and even play music with them! That exciting opportunity alone creates a lasting impression on them.

The side-by-side experience is also wonderful for the older students. I encourage them to look at those little legs that don’t quite reach the floor, and think about when they were that age and what that music meant to them.  They love the reflection and gain an appreciation of how far they have come, and I bet that some of them feel wonderful about how they are making an impact on an impressionable young mind.  Not to mention that those younger kids get to see you, the director, in action doing what you love!

Adults can tell younger students that band is wonderful and how music is a lifelong passion and while we do need to impart that wisdom, words from student-to-student are incredibly powerful. Between their experience performing alongside their heroes, seeing a teacher that loves what they do, and hearing from older kids about how they love band, continuing to study music is a no-brainer.  To complete the day you may want to include a performance of the new piece for parents, teachers, administrators, and community members.  It is even a great idea to alternate between having a District Band Concert and a District Band Festival each year.

Music is an easy sell.  If we create memorable experiences that kids enjoy and connect with, when that day comes in the Spring and that student gets set to select his or her course schedule, they may just smile and remember that special day.

What’s a Jazz Play-Along?

What’s a Jazz Play-Along?
A question and answer approach.

Peter BarenBreggeAn example of a modern jazz play-along is Freddie Hubbard & More (book and DVD-ROM). This jazz play-along features jazz standards composed by jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard plus jazz standards by other jazz composers. Each tune features a written-out melody, written-out sample jazz solo, and written chord changes for soloing. The innovative, easy-to-use TNT2 Custom Mix software on the accompanying DVD-ROM allows you to customize a demo or play-along track, loop a section for specific practice, slow down or speed up the tempo, and more. The pro rhythm section and horn player demo tracks provide examples of jazz interpretation, articulation, and improvisation. By removing your instrument part from the track mix, you can play along to practice with the rhythm section. Tips and suggestions for improvisation are included for each jazz standard.

Q: What is a jazz play-along?
A: A jazz play-along is a practice tool to help you improve your jazz improvisation skills. The music is typically based on jazz standards, i.e., jazz tunes that are frequently played by jazz musicians.

Q: How does a jazz play-along help me learn to improvise?
A: Essential concepts to learning/improving jazz improvisation are: 1. listening and, 2. “hear it—sing it—play it.” For example: if you play a C, B-flat, E-flat, or bass clef instrument, here is a simple plan for each jazz standard in the play-along using the Freddie Hubbard & More Jazz Play-Along. Sample pages are provided here.

  1. Listen to the demonstration performance (by trumpet or saxophone) of the melody and sample solo on the play-along DVD disk. Repeat as needed.
  2. Sing along with the melody and sample solo using simple “dah” or “doo” jazz syllables. Repeat as needed.
  3. Play along with the demo track of the melody and sample solo and imitate the style and concept played by the pro jazz player.
  4. Play the melody and sample solo with the rhythm section only—mix out the demonstration trumpet or sax. Repeat as needed.

What have you accomplished?

  • You will have listened to the melody and sample solo played in a jazz style.
  • You will have sung along with the melody and sample solo. This has opened your ears to some musical nuances and allowed you to delve deeper into imitating the demo performance.
  • You have played-along with the rhythm section to imitate what you have heard and sung.

Q: What about improvising on the chord progression? I’m used to playing only written notes, I don’t know what to play when I see chord symbols.
A: Essential concepts to begin to improvise. 1. learn the form, and 2. learn the chords and melody, and 3. learn to play using your ear—not the written page.

  1. You have learned the form from listening/singing/playing.
  2. You have heard and recognize when the chords change and learned the melody by listening/singing/playing.
  3. With the melody and sample solo mixed out, play the root of each chord in the chord progression with whole/half/quarter notes depending on the duration of the chord. Then play the third of the chord, then the fifth, and so on. Repeat as needed.
  4. In the solo section with chord changes, play the sample solo numerous times with the rhythm section. This written-out sample jazz solo provides you with motifs, ideas, snippets, and devices that you can use in your solos to get you started.
  5. As you begin to improvise, start slowly and simply by playing the root, third, fifth and seventh tone of the chords. Embellish the melody rhythmically and melodically, use snippets and ideas from the sample solo and the melody. Slow the tempo down as needed.
  6. As you become more familiar with the melody and harmony, close the book and play by using your ear. Trust your ears!

Final comments:

  • Jazz improvisation is not an overnight learned skill, it is a lifetime quest!
  • To become a jazz improviser, you will need to spend time listening, learning, transcribing solos, and imitating. Immerse yourself.
  • Books and jazz instructional media are valuable tools, but in conjunction with listening and imitating.
  • Play songs by ear.
  • Depending on your experience level, using this play along and following these steps will get you going with jazz improvisation.
  • The written-out, sample jazz solos are not necessarily a definitive solo but merely examples of how to improvise on the given chord progressions.
  • For a rhythm section player (piano/bass/drums), there is a corresponding book/DVD for rhythm section instruments.
  • Check out the Freddie Hubbard & More Jazz Play-Along published by Alfred Music.

Have fun playing jazz!

Pete BarenBregge

Students Can Understand Technique (and Apply Technical Principles to Artistic Performance)

Technique—the word strikes terror in the hearts and minds of some students (and teachers)! Students often think that technique is boring and hard to understand. Teachers sometime think that assigning scales, arpeggios, and a few Hanon exercises are all that is required to teach technique. Many books with titles that contain the word “Technique” are simply little more than sight reading books with short exercises in them. But, technique does not have to remain a mystery to students. Short, simple technical principles (Technique Tools) can be introduced to students from the beginning without taking a huge amount of lesson time. These principles can then be applied to artistic performance at all levels.

Piano technique relates to three things:

  1. The way pianists use their body, arm, wrists, hands, and fingers at the keyboard.
  2. How pianists move freely around the keyboard.
  3. The sounds that pianists create at the keyboard.

The terms “relaxation” and “weight” are often tossed around during discussions of technique. The following exercises from Premier Piano Course, Technique 1A can be introduced quickly and done with students in the first lesson to make sure that they are on the right path with these concepts immediately. “Arm Weight” allows students to play with a more beautiful sound while “Relaxed Shoulders” aids with playing effortlessly. It is also important to play with “Strong Fingertips” to control the sound and play beautifully.

“Technique Tool 1” from page 3 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 1A

“Technique Tool 2” from page 3 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 1A

“Technique Tool 4” from page 6 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 1A

 The Technique books for Premier Piano Course are now complete through level 6. In the series of eight books (levels 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3, 4, 5, 6,) technical goals are achieved through appealing and descriptive exercises.

The seven Technique Tools that follow can be quickly introduced in lessons and practiced away from the keyboard:

“Technique Tool 6” from page 10 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 1A

“Technique Tool 9” from page 29 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 1A

“Technique Tool 3” from page 18 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 1B

“Technique Tool 2” from page 10 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 2A

“Technique Tool 3” from page 12 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 2A

“Technique Tool 1” from page 7 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 2B

“Technique Tool 3” from page 26 of Premier Piano Course, Technique 3

Other Technique Tools that use the keyboard are introduced throughout the series. They should always be introduced to the student during the lesson. Patterned exercises that follow each Technique Tool provide students with the necessary repetitions to make the technique feel natural.

Technique Tools are only important if they can be applied artistically in a musical setting. Several “Artistic Etudes” in each Technique book help students showcase their technique and focus on such artistic concepts as singing melody, expressive staccato and legato, tempo and expression, creating moods in music, playing with a dramatic sound, choosing the heart of the phrase, and form and expression.

“The Return”, Op. 100, No. 23
from Technique 6

“Masterwork Etudes” are also included beginning with Technique 2B. Written by important composers and teachers from the past, they provide training to play standard masterworks while reinforcing “Technique Tools”. “The Return,” Op. 100, No. 23 by Johann Burgmüller is an example from Technique 6. It uses several Technique Tools from previous books including staying close to the keys for repeated notes, voicing the melody with weight, opening the hand for arpeggios, and sustaining longer notes while playing shorter notes. View the score with my notes in red by clicking the image on the left. The Technique books in Premier Piano Course teach students the important Technique Tools and then help them apply the technical principles to artistic performance of music in all styles.

E. L. Lancaster
Premier Piano Course Co-Author
Senior Vice President, Keyboard Editor-in-Chief

Lead with Passion

Mark Cabanissby Mark Cabaniss
Managing Director, Alfred Sacred

God has placed in each of us certain gifts that, when used, awake in a passion within.  Are you leading with passion or does your fire need fanning?

I’ll never forget a moment I shared with some music students at a university recently.  As I droned on and on about the music business and what might have seemed like useless details to them, it wasn’t until I spoke of one particular subject which had nothing to do directly with the music business that you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.  The subject:  Passion in one’s chosen profession.  In that moment, we discussed how God has placed in each of us certain gifts that when used awake in a passion within.

As I challenged them to discover those gifts, the interested and uninterested alike were suddenly transfixed.  All 100+ students were silent and still.  It was one of those moments when you know you’ve struck a nerve.

So we know that true passion exists.  We’ve all experienced those occasions when we were completely absorbed in something we lost all track of time.  But once we’ve found that passion, how do we nurture and keep it thriving?  From what I keep hearing these days, burnout among ministers of music is almost as rampant as downsizing.  We must not only discover but foster that God-given passion. Then, I believe leading others, achieving goals, and affecting lives positively from a Christian perspective at deeper levels is possible.  How do we know if we’re honestly leading with passion or if our fire needs fanning? Here are a few ideas to consider:

1.  Feel and express genuine enthusiasm.
Are we joyful about our lives?  Not only in our work but in all areas?  Sharing enthusiasm with those around us is important.  It will help others catch the vision and pursue common goals.

2. Generate creative new ideas.
If we’re leading with passion, our creative thinking is at a high level as if running on creative adrenaline.  We’re able to think laterally, considering all sorts of new options we’ve never considered before.

3. Show optimism toward the future.
If we are committed to achieving the goals we feel God has called us to accomplish for the future why shouldn’t we be optimistic?  If those goals don’t motivate us to be excited about tomorrow we should re-examine ourselves and or our motivation.

4. Take care physically.
Our emotional and physical lives are interminably linked.  If we’re passionate about our lives and leadership, we’ll be motivated to take care of our bodies in a balanced, healthy way.

5. Take care spiritually.
Of course, this is a vital, daily process.  Our spiritual lives fuel all that flows out of who we are, what we do, and how we do it.  If our relationship with God is healthy, all the other facets of life will flow together and the fire of passion will follow.

Let’s lead with direction!  Let’s lead with purpose!  Let’s lead with passion!

Favorite Resources for Middle School Chorus

Anna WentlentBy Anna Wentlent, Managing Editor of School Choral and Classroom Publications

Middle school. Those two words convey so much: energy, attitude, emotion, potential, change, diversity, development, acceptance, sensitivity, drama, peer approval, curiosity, creativity . . . the list could go on and on. Today, let’s focus on just one of those words: potential. While this age group can be difficult to work with, middle school is where future choral musicians are born. Here are a few resources to help you along the way.

Warm-Ups and Sight-Singing
As you know, this is the most important part of your choral rehearsal. There comes a moment in every school year when the calendar suddenly shrinks: there’s only a month left until the concert, and two rehearsals are going to be taken away by assemblies, not to mention the possibility of snow days! In those moments of panic, it’s easy to breeze by sight-singing and dive directly into note-learning. But the note-learning will happen much more easily if your students are properly prepared to read music, and to sing that music with healthy technique.

A choral rehearsal is no different than any other practice. Think about a basketball team: a good coach doesn’t spend two hours of practice playing full-court five-on-five games. Instead, they use that time to develop the skills, strength, and agility necessary to play the game well. So it should be with a choral rehearsal. (And if your music is causing that much stress, it’s probably too difficult. Don’t forget about unison and 2-part literature—setting up a successful and musical performance is far more valuable than slogging through music that is too advanced for your singers).

So take time at the beginning of rehearsal to completely warm-up. The Choral Warm-Up Collection and The Complete Choral Warm-Up Book  are indispensable resources. Focus your students as they walk in the door with a few familiar exercises, and then move on to specific warm-ups that address issues from their performance music. End with a few rounds or vocalises. Round We Go and Rounds for Everyone from Everywhere are both teacher favorites. And Andy Beck’s new collection, Vocalize!, offers 45 accompanied vocal warm-ups that actually teach technique. A few clever titles: “Drop Your Jaw,” “Take Time to Breathe,” and “Listen and Blend.” This instructional book is just right for middle school singers.

Then devote as much time as possible to sight-singing and rhythm exercises. In addition to the standard method Sing at First Sight, consider supplemental exercises from Ready, Set, Rhythm!, a collection of 80 sequential lessons that teach the elements of rhythmic notation through movement-based class activities—perfect for breaking up the middle of a long rehearsal! Each 10-minute lesson is presented in lesson plan format with National Standards.

Changing Voices
Middle school boys arrive at the choir room door dealing with two important issues: changing voices and motivation (which really boils down to confidence). Middle school students desperately want to be good at something. Help them to sing their best by assigning them to the correct voice part—soprano, alto, or baritone. If you don’t make a big deal of it, your students won’t either.

If you have time, single out some time to work with the boys by themselves, whether it’s during scheduled lessons, monthly afterschool rehearsals, or sectionals during regular class. This will allow you to focus on their particular needs, monitor voice changes during the school year, and work without the distraction of the opposite gender. Jill Gallina’s For the Boys is a fantastic collection of songs for boys and young men. It includes classics such as “Buffalo Gals,” “The Drunken Sailor” and “John Henry” in singable arrangements for developing male voices.

Attention spans are low in middle school, and that means that you have to come to rehearsal prepared with a detailed plan. Leave very little down time with your middle schools singers: start class on time and quickly transition from one activity to the next. University of Florida professor Dr. Russell Robinson models rehearsal techniques on his DVD Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs. It includes examples from a convention appearance and regular classroom.

No matter what, end every rehearsal with a positive musical experience. On the first day of the year, that may be as simple as singing a four-measure unison phrase in tune. Later on, it may be the performance of a passage of harmony with shaping and dynamics. You know your students; set achievable goals and work towards them, bit by bit, taking pride in each success along the way. As your students walk back out into the hallway after class, they should take with them a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth. And that feeling is what creates lifelong musicians.

Teaching Guitar: Metal-Malaguena Mash-Up

By Aaron Stang

Where do we go from book 1?

For the second level of Sound Innovations for Guitar we continued on the course set in level 1: Combine well-established systematic pedagogy with non-systemic creative and “experiential” learning. In other words, explore and play satisfying music; learn by doing, then explain and understand as the opportunities arise and as a students’ “need-to-know” develops; or even better, their “desire-to-know.”

Mash it up!

Most guitarists love many varieties of guitar music and enjoy everything from bluegrass to blues, jazz to country, metal to Mozart. So we try to present many styles and have fun with them as we do. “Spanish Metal” from page 22 of book 2 is a Flamenco/Metal mash-up that combines everything the students have learned to date—simple fingerpicking, strumming, interesting Flamenco chords, and rock power chords—all combined into one trio arrangement.

How do you do that?

Guitar 1 plays a simple fingerpicking pattern that constantly alternates thumb-index-thumb-index. The index finger is “glued” to the open first  string, while the thumb plays the classic “Malaguena” melody on the inside strings.

Example 1

Guitar 2 plays a basic strum pattern using the Flamenco-style chord voicings that the students began playing way back in book 1.

Example 2

Guitar 3 gets to have a lot of fun. This is the metal-style part. Guitar 3 should be played on electric guitar, on the bridge pickup (aka “lead” pickup) with plenty of overdrive for a driving rhythm sound. Guitar 3 enters on the repeat. The first time through is all acoustic. The part starts very simple and then gets more rhythmic each time through (see the full TAB).

Example 3

The song ends with a rubato acoustic Coda. On the video the coda is also used as an intro. Have your students watch the video carefully and listen to the song a lot before they attempt to play it. This goes back to my opening concept that guitar is easier to play than read. I encourage students to play all they can, their understanding will follow.

Get the full version of “Spanish Metal” here.

Video Clip

If anything here resounds with you please check out the book. Click here to request a free desk copy, and please feel free to comment in the box below.