By Chris Bernotas

Have you ever thought about how much of a role ‘advocacy’ has in the life of a music teacher? It doesn’t matter if you are a band, choir, orchestra or general music teacher; we need to advocate not only on behalf of our students but also on behalf of the study of music in general. Very often we are faced with the question of, “Why does my child need this class?” There are so many amazing and accurate answers to that particular question but one that often comes to my mind, and to many of the colleagues I talk with, is “because we are teaching skills that go far beyond the band (or choir/orchestra) room.”  When answering that question I will usually follow up with a flurry of skills students learn through the study of music that are very applicable to business or family life. Otherwise known as: “the real world.” Of course we know that studying, performing, learning music is a real-life skill on its own, however, relating it to other careers is helpful too.

I would love to continue the discussion of the many ‘real world’ skills music education helps students learn, however, right now I am going to focus on only one. This particular skill is one I find to be the root cause of so much frustration for students, in music and otherwise.  This skill is the epitome of aggravation for students and one that teachers (yes, us music teachers) must force students to face. It is the life skill of hard work.

That is right. Working hard is a skill. Not being able to accomplish something with 100% accuracy and perfection the very first time is something many students need to be taught. They have to learn to live with imperfection. It doesn’t feel good to be wrong. However, the beauty of this is ‘figuring it out’ and learning to buckle down and try again, and again, and again. It means being OK when it’s necessary to put in more than five minutes on a task to achieve more.

Take a peek at this excerpt from one of Rossano Galante’s gems from Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Advanced Concert Band:


I don’t know about your students, but mine need practice on passages like this.

Offering your students a challenge of spending time to work out those more difficult fingering patterns and getting them up to speed is something they will feel frustrated with at first.

A Plan of Action:

Give them some strategies, like practicing an arpeggio exercise at several different speeds. (source: Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Advanced Concert Band)


. . . and also scale patterns. (source: Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Advanced Concert Band)


Then, comes the most important part—let them go and practice on their own. Allow your student to sit with that seemingly insurmountable challenge ahead of him/her. Once they climb that mountain of aggravation and defeat they will begin to see some light. They will begin to get more of the right notes. Their fingers will finally start to untangle and learn the muscle memory and pattern. They will learn that hard work does, in fact, pay off. They will improve and that comes only through focused time and focused effort, otherwise known as hard work.

How do we teach the skill of “hard work?” First, point out to them that you are teaching this. Be clear in telling students the particular life skill you are addressing.  You do not have to come up with a really clever analogy or vague description to get students to know the objective (although I do love clever analogies!) Simply telling students, “When you are part of the workforce there are going to be some tasks that you just will not know how to do at first. You are going to have to put in hours of time, focusing on coming up with solutions, testing theories, and celebrating both successes and failures. Spending the necessary time to improve in your performance of (insert musical goal here) is an excellent way to practice for those days.”

My students know that I view school as practice for life, I remind them of that often. School is a place for students to learn what makes them tick. I do not believe they should get 100% on every test. They should learn how to deal with some discomfort (auditions anyone?), but they should also know that the school, your classroom, is a safe haven for those practice sessions of life. Today’s audition is tomorrow’s marketing presentation for the board of directors. By practicing in school you will be more prepared for that presentation or any other given uncomfortable real-life task.

Your students should know that hard work is . . . hard. They should learn that going over the break in 16th notes at 144 bpm is both exciting for the effect of the music, but an even more important tool in learning to set a long term goal and to put in the work to achieve it.  That is the big lesson. That is one of the answers to ‘why’ should students study music. As I said, there are so many good and valid answers to that question, but for sure learning to commit to working hard on long-term goals is a big one.

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 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.