Thursday, February 16, 2012

A new perspective on ensembles


Here's a fun activity that gives everyone in your performance ensembles a new perspective.

Whenever I use a university student teacher or observer, I have them conduct my various ensembles while I grab an instrument and "sit in" the last chair of a section. This gives me a "student view" of both the podium and the rest of the group. It also keeps my playing "chops" up on all the instruments as well as sharpens my sight reading skills.

The kids love it (especially if I occasionally make a glaring mistake) as it humanizes me in their eyes. Lastly, it gives the university student a valuable perspective on what it will be like when they have their own ensembles.

One humorous aside is that I find out just how difficult it is to focus on the director and not talk to my favorite students next to me when in rehearsal.

good gigging and successful teaching!

Larry Marra

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What we would change about teaching music....

I asked a few music teaching friends to write down what the biggest challenges to their music teaching are.

Here is a smattering of the results.

feel free to add yours in the "Comments" section below.

Andrea Wilborn

Administrators who want a good and strong music education department, but have no clue how to achieve it.
Grade level teachers who want their class to perform something special for a program, but expect the music teacher to do all the work. (when you only see that class once a week for 45 minutes)
Parents who bring their child to school for an after school program, then leaves.
Parents who pick up their children late all the time. (30 minutes to 1 hour)
Hearing a child say, they can't practice at home because someone is looking at TV and they don't want to hear that noise.
Students who think that choir consist of singing nothing but songs they hear on the radio or their CD's.


Being constantly referred to as an "extra curricular" subject when we know we are of extreme curricular importance to many if not most kids.

Administrators who equate the "size" of a school's band or orchestra or choir with how "good" the program is - as in: "we have a great band program, we have over a 100 kids in the marching band".

Getting music budgets cut, staffing cut, larger classes, less time for general music, etc. because we are "just" the music program, then being expected to provide the "entertainment" for sports, parent events, seasonal celebrations and concerts, etc. as if we were the most valued program at the school - i.e. when they need us to show off their good programs they hold us up but then cut our resources so we can no longer do the job well.

Cutting the "feeder" system for a band or orchestra or choir (e.g. eliminating elementary grade programs) then getting pressured because the high school program eventually suffers, and we music teachers get the blame.

Being relegated to holding general music classes on the stage behind a curtain while gym classes are making loud noises on the other side of the curtain (especially frequent in our older buildings).

Having really talented students be pulled from a solid music program experience because he/she is not talented in a "core" subject and has to take extra courses in order to pass those tests - i.e. take something away that a kid does really well and loves because he/she doesn't do well in another area - like a punishment.

Marina Salsbury

Students who don't practice their music

Students who miss lessons and don't inform teachers until the last minute

When students run out of necessary materials such as reeds, cleaning supplies, drumsticks, etc.

Not having adequate funding for legitimate resources such as working music stands, batons, etc.

Not having an outlet for exemplary students to showcase their talent (local honors bands, other teachers willing to teach private lessons)

Having to photocopy sheet music instead of buying them

Having ambitious students missing class because of class time constraints/sports events/etc.

Students who don't know how to get in tune with others/tune their own instruments

Overbearing parents who have to control their children's musical development

Close-minded students who are only interested in playing one form of music (pop, jazz, etc.)


1. Students asking if it's OK if they don't play in class that day so that they can do homework for another class. Really?!? Do they play their violins in English or algebra? No way!

2. Students not putting instruments and music away proplery and then wondering why they can't find stuff the following day. Makes you wonder what their bedrooms at home look like.

3. The influx of students who aren't passing standardized tests for whatever reason: this is becoming hard to maintain music programs, especially in urban districts where students often have to take remedial or "prep" classes just to pass those tests. Several of my band and orchestra students were removed from my class just so that they can be placed in an OGT prep class for an entire year, even though the test is only in March and those students cannot come back to band or orchestra after the testing week is finished.

Mark Nekoba

1. We live in a world of great technology, yet it is not available to everyone due to budget constraints. It would be nice to be in class and be able to use a lot of the new computer programs.

2. Schools facing more and more pressure to improve their test scores at the expense of electives such as music.

3. Music students are often portrayed in movies as being the nerdy kids.

4. Instructional time is needed for core subjects.

Elaina Blevins

Fund Raising
Missing uniform parts just before a performance.
Papperwork, Paperwork, did I mention paperwork!

Barbara James

Being told that you need to provide music for an event with little or no notice.

You want me to do what? Tomorrow?

Yeah, just throw something together.

Wayne Markworth

1. Parents who have "perfect children"
2. Administrators who know "all about" music
3. 7th graders

Cissy Matthews

Students losing their music.
Parents and students forgetting the dates of the concert.
Principals and teachers thinking that music has no academic worth- it's
fun time!
Funds are not set aside in the school's budget for music.

Tom Billing

1. other teachers (from other areas) and/or principals thinking that music is of third tier importance, always using band time for other things like tutoring or whatever

2. being assigned to teach a totally different band in subsequent years-making continuity a non entity

3. kids not showing up for concerts

4. kids not having materials for classes, like instruments and/or music

5. the public thinking that the arts classes are blow-off courses

6. being the first cut in budget situations

feel free to add your in the "Comments" section below.

good gigging!

Larry Marra