Monthly Archives: March 2017

Balancing the Physical and Musical Aspects of Instrumental Music

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By Thomas J. West

Most 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 began 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, understanding 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 performance 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 sixteenth 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.

TomWest

Thomas J. West is an active music teacher, composer, adjudicator, and clinician in the greater Philadelphia area. He has eighteen years of experience as a concert band director, marching band director, jazz improvisation instructor, choral director, orchestra director, private instructor, and marching drill writer. Learn more about Thomas at www.thomasjwestmusic.com. 


 

Our Favorite Music Moments

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Our mission here at Alfred Music is to help the world experience the joy of making music. We’ve certainly experienced this joy ourselves, and it has helped guide and shape our lives in one major way or another. In honor of Music In Our Schools Month, we reflected upon some of our own music classroom moments that brought to us the very joy we hope to share.

Brooke-Greenberg-Headshot

“My middle school band director was extremely understanding when I told her I had trouble breathing and couldn’t play the clarinet anymore. She saw potential in me, and handed me some drumsticks. Switching to the percussion section was a blessing in disguise. I was the only female percussionist among 4 rowdy boys, so I quickly learned how to speak up. It also helped me make a lot of new friends. I continued playing drums in my high school jazz band, and in the pit orchestra for our senior year school musical. Drumming gave me confidence, introduced me to new types of music, and became an important piece of my identity. I can’t believe what a crazy turn my life took, and it’s all because my middle school band director gave me a chance.”
—Brooke Greenberg, Graphic Designer

Toni
“Some of my best memories span across all of high school. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we had show choir rehearsal. This was where the magic happened. Everyone left their troubles at the door to make amazing music. The energy was electric. It was as if we all came together with one goal in mind, to sing and dance without fear. Best memory was when our choreographer roped our director into warming up with us! He happily joined in, even though he had no dance experience. Made the rehearsal so much more fun!”
—Toni Hosman, Product Marketing Manager, Instrumental Solo & School Performance 

Vicki

 

“Throughout school, I bounced back and forth between band and choir, but mostly focused on band in high school. But every time I was in band rehearsal and heard the choir, I wished I was in choir. The sound of the voices, the emotion and meaning that could be communicated through words and vocal inflection. And every time I was in choir and heard the band, I wished I was in band. To be surrounded by beautiful brass and woodwind instruments, a different kind of choir. My band director was great, but I was more inspired by my choir director. He was unique in that he also coached football, wrestling, and track. In fact, he knew me by ‘Rees’ (my last name at the time) because he knew my brothers from track and football. His recruiting campaign to get more guys in choir was hanging ‘Real Men Sing’ posters everywhere, and it was brilliant! Choir went from three guys to an entire section within one semester of campaigning. Honestly, I don’t think it was just the posters that did the trick. It was his true joy while teaching choir—it was contagious. He created an atmosphere where we could ask questions, struggle with parts, and try out for solos without fear of ridicule or judgement from him or other students. It was ultimately that teacher that made me choose voice for my instrument in college.”
—Victoria Meador, Product Marketing Manager, School Methods & Suzuki

Heidi Smith

 

“As a pianist, the majority of my music education was solitary until college. A whole new world opened up to me when I started college! A classroom full of other musicians, long choir rehearsals and weeks on tour buses, accompanying soloists, spending hours ‘together’ in the practice rooms, struggling through theory and music history homework . . . these experiences helped me bond with my classmates quickly and foster friendships that will last a lifetime. A community of musicians is special, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of my favorite memories is from my 8 a.m. theory class, discussing the form of pieces. Our professor told us to sit on the floor in a circle and passed out plastic cups to each of us. She demonstrated a couple different rhythm patterns to tap on the cups, passing our cup to our neighbor every so often. We listened to ‘Yellow Submarine’ by The Beatles—clapping out rhythms, changing the pattern when a new section of the song started (verse, chorus, bridge). We felt a little silly at first, but I think we all secretly had a blast and loved it! The story was told throughout the music department and in subsequent years, everyone knew what it meant when a theory student said it was ‘Yellow Submarine Day.'”
—Heidi Smith, Product Marketing Manager, Piano

Billy Lawler

 

“My favorite moments from studying music in school happened in between classes. Singing in my school’s vocal jazz ensemble, playing piano in combos, or serving as an accompanist provided so many opportunities to practice alongside others and grow with others as musicians. We shared the common goals of improving both together and as individuals, and that was a major factor in establishing lifelong friendships with my classmates. Our teachers felt more like mentors, coaches, and comrades compared to instructors I’d had in other subjects, and growth as a musician translated into growth as a person. The process of studying music taught me so much more than just how to play an instrument.”
—Billy Lawler, Social & Digital Marketing Specialist


Five Qualities of an Outstanding Piano Teacher

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By Heidi Smith

The majority of musicians have multiple teachers throughout their careers and can probably easily recall the ones who really stand out as most effective. What is it that sets them apart? What characteristics do those teachers share? I recently watched an interview on The Piano Mag Blog with pianist Emanuel Ax, and greatly appreciated his insightful comments about the important role and characteristics of great teachers. His thoughts on what it means to excel in that area encouraged me to further expand upon these ideas, and how I can apply these qualities in my own teaching.

1. Patient

An outstanding teacher demonstrates incredible patience. It’s a pretty self-explanatory statement! Students all learn at different paces, respond better to one style of teaching over another, or—let’s be honest—just don’t want to learn at all. An effective teacher demonstrates patience through these good and bad days, and is ready to adapt for each student and present information in the way that each student learns best.

2. Skilled

Excellent teachers possess advanced technical ability. You’ve heard the old saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” That is absolutely not true. If you cannot do it yourself, you won’t be able to describe or demonstrate the concept to a student. If you don’t have a thorough understanding of a concept, how will you be able to help a student understand it? If you don’t possess the technical ability to demonstrate a particular fingering or scale, etc., you will not be able to guide a student to mastery of that technique.

3. Fun

An inspiring teacher makes learning fun! It’s rare for a student to be intrinsically motivated and ready to learn for just the sake of learning itself. Teachers have to provide students with educational fun. Learning doesn’t have to be boring! Use colored pencils, games . . . engage with your students and make music lessons an experience they look forward to every week. Students love a good joke about the title of a piece or the lyrics or an unexpected articulation.

4. Serious

However fun music may be (and it is!), there are times when you have to just buckle down and focus. Great teachers also provide a serious element to the music lesson. Music is a language and learning any new language is plain hard work.  It’s our job as teachers to help nurture that focus in students and provide an atmosphere where they can learn.

5. Joyful

A truly motivating teacher exudes genuine joy for a student. There’s nothing more exciting, as a student, than when your teacher is as excited as you are! Whether it’s enthusiasm over a new piece, an eagerness to hear about their week, or being proud of their progress, our joy in lessons is powerful and contagious. It shows students that we care about them and that we are as invested in their lessons as they are.

The work of music teachers is vitally important. We have the opportunity to touch so many lives and have a lasting influence. In reference to teaching, Emanuel Ax said, “That’s the hardest thing that requires the most talent and the most dedication.” To all you teachers out there who are patient, skilled, fun, serious, and joyful—keep doing what you’re doing! You are outstanding and having an immeasurable impact on the lives of all of your students.

Smith

Heidi Smith earned her Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy from The Master’s University in Southern California. She has been teaching privately for over 6 years, and is the Product Marketing Manager for Piano at Alfred Music. Heidi loves coffee and has a collection of exciting mugs!


Beyond the Lessons—Teaching People, Not Just Music

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By Richard Meyer

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 the 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.

Richard_Meyer Richard Meyer is a full time teacher and has taught string students at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels for over 30 years. He is a much sought-after clinician throughout the United States, and is a nationally recognized, best-selling composer with over 130 compositions and arrangements in print. He is the co-author of several string method books, including the popular String Explorer series, and, most recently Sight-Read It for Strings.


How to Teach Improvisation on the Piano

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By Loren Gold

I’ve been playing keyboards on the road with The Who since 2012. It is the greatest job I’ve ever had, but it was a long road to gather all the techniques needed to get this dream gig. My journey started with classical piano lessons when I was seven. My first piano teacher may not know it, but they nurtured my love of piano, and got me on the path to “stardom” by giving me a solid foundation in technique. Having a solid background in classical music has allowed me the freedom to become creative with my composing and while playing other styles like ragtime, blues, rock, gospel, and R&B. Here’s how you can start incorporating improvisation in your piano lessons with your students:

  1. Establish a strong foundation in technique, ear-training, and theory: During lessons, you’re likely already focusing on fingering, hand position, scales, and other techniques that help create a strong and healthy musical foundation for students. Having a strong ear and theoretical understanding of compositions will allow students to be more creative improvisers.
  2. Choose repertoire that makes sense: The goal is to provide your students with all the tools needed to learn to improvise in lots of different styles, but to make the best impact on your lessons, introduce improvisation along with pieces that compliment what you are working on, or songs the student is already familiar with.
  3. Seek Inspiration: Before diving into soloing themselves, students should study and listen to example solos by other artists to help inspire ideas. Students can transcribe these solos and learn to play them lick-by-lick, including dynamics and articulations.
  4. Connect the dots: Like any other piece of music you’d teach in your lessons, point out how the chord progression is utilized in the construction of the example solos. Connect the dots between how scales, modes, and popular licks relate to chords, and how they can be used in crafting original solos.
  5. Leave the page: Once your student has mastered an example solo, encourage them to slowly branch out and incorporate their own ideas. It is essential that they are encouraged to eventually stop thinking about what they’ve learned verbatim, and begin to “go off the page” and play from the heart. You can try comping the chords, so the student can focus solely on their soloing, or use a backing track if one is available. Remember, there are no wrong notes when experimenting with improvisation! It’s time to explore and find a voice. Encourage mistakes while also helping them remember what works.

whiskeylights-1A great example of a familiar tune that can be used as a starting point in introducing improvisation is “Whiskey Lights” from Sitting In: Rock Piano. “Whiskey Lights” is in the style of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and includes a repeated eight-bar section for improvising (mm. 26-33). The first thing you’ll notice in the piece is that there is a solid repeated bass line throughout the entire song. Once this bass line is mastered, the right hand is free to explore mixing and matching various rhythms, ideas, and patterns to create something unique through improvisation.

If your student isn’t familiar with “Light My Fire,” encourage them to listen to a recording of it, and particularly pay attention to what keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger play during their solos.

A great way to correlate “Whiskey Lights” to their standard repertoire is to show how those pieces present similar challenges. For example, look at the first four bars of Mozart’s “Sonata K. 545.”

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If the simple Alberti bass pattern is played evenly, the top melody can sing above it just as an improvised solo should be free to soar above the accompaniment in “Whiskey Lights.” It is a simple correlation, but critical to being a good soloist. You can also talk about the makeup of The Doors: they didn’t have a bass player so Ray played all the bass lines on the organ. Rock trivia and history can be a huge inspiration to some students!

Next, play through the entire written music of “Whiskey Lights” including the notated comping in the solo section. Point out how the chord symbols above the right hand show the chord progression, and how the same progression is used in the solo section. Show the theory behind the chord construction and related scales including the E Dorian mode which will be useful in soloing.

Page_9-10There are also four sample licks on pages 9-10 that provide notated ideas and suggestions. Note that “Lick 1″ adds a flat-5 to give the solo a more bluesy sound.

Now it’s time to start improvising! While it’s great if you and your student play a duet on the piano—you comp on the chords while your student solos—the tracks that accompany the book include live bass, drums, and guitar players (and sax on some tracks) who are playing in the appropriate style. Encourage students to use the “Rhythm Section Only” tracks at home when practicing on their own. Click here to access the rhythm track for “Whiskey Lights.”

During lessons, continue to focus on fingering, hand position, and other techniques while your student is learning improvisation. The idea of soloing in a lesson shouldn’t be a foreign concept. Mix it in with standard pieces so you can focus on the similarities of techniques needed to play well, no matter what style the student is playing. Having correct technique lets you be a more creative improviser, and maybe you’ll even have a dream gig with The Who someday!

LorenGoldLoren Gold is an in-demand keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter who has played extensively with international pop and rock acts such as Roger Daltrey, The Who, Kenny Loggins, and more. He has served as musical director for artists such as Taylor Hicks, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato. In addition to touring and session work, Loren composes original music for films and TV. Learn more at www.lorengold.com.  


 

 

Finding the Meaning in Your Teaching Career

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By George Megaw

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.

George_Megaw

Active in all aspects of music education, since 1999 George Megaw has served as editor for Belwin concert band publications. Prior to that Mr. Megaw was a college band director in both Virginia and Tennessee for 12 years. He has taught music education at all levels, elementary through college, and remains active as an adjudicator, clinician, and guest conductor throughout the United States and Canada.


 

The Importance of Including Women in Music History

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By Anna Wentlent

Most music educators can wax poetic on the lineage of male composers from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Even elementary school students have enough knowledge of classical music to offer up interesting facts about the famous men in music history, such as Beethoven’s deafness or Mozart’s mysterious death. Yet, how many of us can even name more than one or two female figures from the history of classical music? Hildegard von Bingen, Clara Schumann . . . the list often stops there. And with good reason: the history of classical music is the history of Europe and North America, and within those societies women have traditionally stayed at home, out of the spotlight.

That history makes the accomplishments of female professional musicians all the more remarkable. These were women who defied tradition and familial pressure in order to lead rich lives as teachers, composers, conductors, and performers. Despite being denied the educational and performance opportunities given to their male counterparts, they persevered. Until the eighteenth century, women were not allowed to sing the female roles in operas. And it is only during the last 100 years that women have been admitted to symphony orchestras. Even as that imbalance has gradually improved, little progress has been made on the conductor’s podium. There are very few female orchestra conductors. In 2007, Marin Alsop became the first woman to lead a major American orchestra when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hired her.

Simply achieving some level of professional success would be admirable enough, but many female musicians have made real and vital contributions to their respective fields. Consider the innovations of Hildegard von Bingen, a Medieval nun who wrote the earliest-known musical drama, or Maud Powell, a professional violinist who made the first recording of a solo instrument. Weigh the impact of Nadia Boulanger, a teacher who molded many of the great composers of the twentieth century, or Patsy Cline, a modern-day country singer who set the tone for an entire genre of music.

In the course of researching The Women of Western Music , I made the wonderful discovery that many female musicians have made a point of supporting each other’s careers. Marian Anderson performed the songs of Florence Beatrice Price at her concerts. Amy Beach wrote a piece specifically for Maud Powell to perform at a conference for female musicians. Germaine Tailleferre studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were known to be friendly competitors.

In recent years, contemporary music historians have rediscovered the contributions of these women and begun to give them their proper due. But historical articles and biographies are not enough. For these and other female musicians to truly receive their proper due, they must be introduced to the masses by inclusion in K–12 general music curriculums. We owe it to these women for the sake of historical accuracy, and we owe it to our students for the sake of the future women of western music. My hope is that my young female students will see themselves in the lives of the musicians they study.

ws_authorphotos_wentlentAnna Wentlent is an educator, music editor, music education author, and piano accompanist. She attended the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, York St. John College, and Boston University. Over the course of her career, Ms. Wentlent has worked as a choral and classroom music editor for Alfred Music and taught choral and general music in both New York and Massachusetts.


 

Middle School Singers: Turning Their Energy into Wonderful Choirs

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By Dr. Russell L. Robinson

I love working with middle school singers. (Some people might ask, “How could you love working with middle school singers?”) Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Their energy! As students this age make the transition from child to adult, they have boundless energy. Unbridled, unfocused, and unguided, this energy can be an “interesting challenge,” but as veteran middle school teachers will tell you, if you get the students going in the right direction and they know you are sincere, they will “go to the wall” for you!
  1. Their voices! Although the girls’ voices are also going through many physical developmental stages, their vocal changes are not nearly as dramatic as those the boys go through between sixth and eighth grade as their vocal cords lengthen and thicken. Some boys’ voices literally change overnight—or over Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation! You cannot force a boy’s voice (or any voice for that matter) into a range or part that they do not have. Middle school choral teachers must realize that they will likely have boy sopranos, altos, and changed-voice baritones all in the same class.
  1. Their potential! The expectations for middle school choirs can be too low. Often, parents and audiences (and sometimes teachers) simply do not expect middle school choirs to sing and perform at a high level of choral art. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have heard well-trained middle school choirs sing and perform choral music at the highest level.

So, given the above, what can you and I do to “turn their energy into wonderful choirs?” Let me offer the following suggestions:

Keep lessons well-paced. There is very little (to no) down time with middle school singers. Start class on time. Lead a sequential warm-up of no more than seven minutes, before transitioning into the first choral piece you are going to rehearse. Make sure that transition times between warm-ups, pieces, and activities are minimal and well-planned.

My particular sequence in a warm-up is as follows:
1. Warm-up physically.
2. Warm “down” on the “oo” vowel (five-note descending scale).
3. Warm “up” on the other vowels. For example, “noo, nee, noh, neh, naw” in arpeggios.
4. Diction exercise.
5. Chordal warm-up in the key of the first piece.

Select quality music that is appropriate for the ensemble you are teaching. Some middle school teachers are determined to have their choirs sing 3 and 4-part literature regardless of the age and experience of the choir. This can lead to a frustrating experience for both the choir and the director. Many beginning level middle school choirs (particularly those with sixth graders) would be better served by singing unison and 2-part pieces, rather than beginning with 3-part or SAB literature, as is common. I suggest that when performing 2-part literature, have the girls sing parts I and II and the boys sing Part I (in the normal octave if they are unchanged or down the octave if they are changed). My experience is that girls have an easier time singing harmony at this age, and having the boys sing with the Part I girls allows them to solidify singing on pitch. Also utilize rounds and canons with your beginning middle school singers. You must lead them into loving to sing!

Each lesson or rehearsal should accomplish clear and well-defined objectives. Remember, the purpose of each rehearsal is to get a little better, closer to your ultimate goal. Middle school singers (and all singers) want accurate reinforcement and feedback. If they are doing something right or at least better, specifically tell or ask them about what has improved. And, if they are doing something incorrectly, tell them what it is and demonstrate how to correct it. Then, get back to singing! Remember, students in choir want to sing, not listen to us talk too long about singing. We learn by “doing” and so do middle school students, especially when they see and hear the results of quality teaching and music.

Make middle school choir fun! Rehearsals can be fast-paced, exciting, and fun, or they can be drudgery. Remember, your best recruitment tool is what the students say to their peers in the hall after class. Use this unique age group and their natural social skills to your advantage. Make choir their best period of the day, and you will turn their energy into wonderful choirs!

RobinsonDr. Russell L. Robinson has been on the faculty of The University of Florida since 1984 and is Professor of Music and Coordinator of Music Education. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in choral music and music education, and has made over 300 appearances as a conductor, speaker, and presenter at festivals, workshops, honor choirs, all-state choirs, and conventions all over the world.


 

Why Reading Music Is as Important as Reading Literature

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By Chris Bernotas

Don’t you love all of the parallels that are drawn between music and other subject areas? You know what I mean, right? Music and math can easily connect through the basic idea of subdivision or how many beats there are in a measure. Music and team sports draw comparison through the concept and practice of working together for a common goal with people of all different skills and backgrounds. Well, how about reading and literature? You already know the importance of sight-reading and focusing on concepts that involve reading notes and reading rhythms. Both are incredibly important and necessary concepts, but really think about music and reading.

When you read a good book, you get absorbed in the characters, follow the storyline, and comprehend the words as they transform into images in your brain. Your emotions can go on a rollercoaster ride as you read the words describing an exciting chase or the evil villain or the feeling as the characters fall in love. Reading music is about comprehension in very much the same way. Learning the note names are the basic words. Learning the scales are putting those words in order and understanding some sentence structure. Performing a piece of music is the same as reading all of the words as they weave into a completed sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a series of chapters and so on. You’re piecing together musical words and phrases to tell a story, complete with good guys, bad guys, thrilling storylines, romance, and sometimes pure fun. You can tell serious stories, happy stories, sad stories, and sometimes historical stories. There really is no limit.

Just as it is important for students to recognize why they read literature, to experience and connect with themselves and each other (sound familiar?), they should recognize how the musical language and literature can fulfill the very same human needs. In honor of National Reading Month and Read Across America Day, make sure to read with your students today and share in the story together!

bernotasChris Bernotas is co-author of the revolutionary Sound Innovations series. An active composer and arranger of concert band music, his music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and has appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists. Chris has been an instrumental music teacher in the Mountain Lakes School District in New Jersey for more than 20 years.