Remote Instrumental Music Coach

By John Gardner

ClarinetI’ve worked with this particular band director before. He teaches in a small school in a rural part of Indiana not blessed with an abundance of instrumental specialists to help his students with private lessons.

A few years ago, I travelled to his school for a workshop and master classes. Effective, but cost me a day and him travel expenses, etc.

I’ve worked with individuals preparing for solo and ensemble contest via Skype.

Here’s our current plan for several students preparing for solo festival in a few weeks.

Step 1

Students scan their solo part and make a video of themselves playing it. Those are sent to me via the band director. Students self-conscious about a self-video can send an audio only file. The reason I ask for video, however, is because part of the judge sheet includes variations of stage presence. It also helps me see embouchure, finger position and proper fingerings (chromatic, trill, alternate, etc).

Step 2

I watch, listen and make critique via audio, video or by note — and send back to the student via the band director.

Step 3

After they have had a chance to review and react to my comments, a Skype session is scheduled individually with each student.  Students use the teacher’s skype account and set up in the band office at their school. I would only consider a skype session from the student’s account or from his/her home with parental permission and supervision, i.e. in the area — not necessarily in the video.

Depending on the time of day and my personal schedule, I will set up in my high school music office or library — or from home.

I basically charge as if for private lessons.

I specialize in clarinet and saxophone, but can help critique any instrument for directors who have too many participants or not enough time.

Here are my posted instructions  and Policies for ongoing, systematic instruction.

Need help?

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Domain decisions

Time for change arrow

Domain decisions.

When it is time to renew your domain name, you might want to research options to get a better price.

I’ve experience enough that I can see a pattern.

One of my clients, huntingtonbaptist.org, had a domain renewal coming due at and the price was going to be over $37. I contacted my current hosting provider and their price for every year, was under $17. So, I contacted the domain registrar and started the process to transfer the domain, which required gaining access to the client’s account. And THAT required updating some information and THAT required sending in utility bills, a photo id and more…. Okay, access gained. I started the process to unlock the domain and request an authorization code.

THEN….I get an offer to renew the domain for 1 year for $10. DONE!

Having learned that, when I got notice from that one of MY domains (virtualmusicoffice.com), that cost me $38.xx last year was up for renewal, I started the process to transfer. Suddenly my price drops to under $16.

“Burn me once…..”

So I continued the process to unlock, get auth code and start transfer process to my $17/yr host. DONE!

While I was in the transfer mood, I went to the registrar for qdpcorp.com and went ahead and transferred it to my current host.

Conclusion / Recommendations:

  1. Service providers involved included: Tucows, Network Solutions, Hostcentric, Register, and iPage.
  2. The initial price is only for those who auto renew. The LOWER price is for those who might leave.
  3. If you have a domain up for renewal, instead of automatically renewing, call to START the process to transfer it to get the super-duper 1-year-only discount price. [Then be sure to do that again next year].If you don’t know how to do that, proceed to step #2.
  4. HIRE ME!

ps If you don’t know the underlined/italicized terms above;

domain registrar
transfer the domain
unlock the domain
authorization code

then….

Down arrow decision change

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Goal of 80% Does Not Work in Music Education

By John Gardner

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 3.49.14 PMThe opinion editor of the school newspaper writes about the new S.L.O (Student Learning Objectives) teacher evaluation process.

S.L.O. is part of the State Department of Education’s RISE Evaluation Model for schools and teachers. If you want to get a feel for the complexity of this model and evaluation process, visit the IDOE site on RISE and watch the video on Student Learning Objectives.

In that model, teachers are to strive for an 80% ‘mastery’ on the final. Would you accept 80% accuracy (mastery) from:

  • the other drivers obeying 80% of the traffic rules and signals?
  • your surgeon, doctor, or orthodontist?
  • the police, fire or ambulance finding your house when you call 911?
  • the architect and construction crew who designed your house, school or office building….?
  • the engineers who coordinate the traffic signals?
  • the railroad crossing lights and gates?
  • the fire alarm at school — or the smoke detector in your home?
  • your pilot?
  • your alarm clock?
  • your instrumental or vocal ensemble?

We can’t accept 80% accuracy in music education.

Read more ›

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3 Types of Thriving Teens

By John Gardner

On three

1. Good Teens thrive BECAUSE of their parents

For one group, I give much credit to good parenting. These are the parents who are active and involved in their teen’s life. They’re on the PTO, in the band/choir/athletic booster groups, they come to watch practices, performances or games, they volunteer to help and they put up the money that most worth while ventures require. Some, are more behind the scenes supporting, enabling  and encouraging. Outside of school activities, the family is together a lot. Maybe there isn’t a lot of money for fancy vacations, but they find ways to do things together anyway. Single parents and those who have remarried can also do fantastic jobs. My heart goes out to those super parents who are experiencing what author James Dobson calls “the strong-willed child”.

Keep the faith and keep doing what you’re doing. The teen will figure it out eventually.

2. Good Teens thrive IN SPITE of their parents

A second group, and one that I especially admire, are those teens who turn out great “in spite of”  their parents. These are the teens who have every reason (mostly by example) to crash and burn, and yet, they determine NOT to follow the paths of their parents and instead, commit themselves to a better life.

I’m not faulting single, lower-income, laid off or otherwise challenged parents doing the best they can. My parents divorced when I (oldest of 5) was in 7th grade. My mother was a polio-survivor without a car. We didn’t have it easy but we had love and support — and we all survived.

I DO fault those who could, but don’t share or support the child’s enthusiasm for a worthy activity.

Your child knows, is hurt, embarrassed and deflated by your lack of support.

A high school clarinet student once tell me,

“My dad has never heard me play.”

You will only have that child in your care for a short time.

I was outside our band entrance door greeting students arriving for rehearsal. The car stopped and both student and parent got out. The girl ran to me, in tears, frantically exclaiming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” before running into the building. Behind her came the papa with the band schedule in hand. There was no warm, fuzzy response to my “Hi, how ya doin’?” Instead, he almost slapped me in the face with the schedule as he grunted, “How much of this schedule is mandatory?” After my response, “All of it.”, he mumbled something I wouldn’t print even if I heard it clearly. The daughter was waiting for me in the office, still crying, and apologizing for what she was sure I had endured. My respect and admiration for her attitude and work ethic skyrocketed after that.

A sophomore asked me for some personal clarinet coaching. Things were going great until she came in one day tearfully explaining she had to quit. She had gotten a job to pay for her lessons, because her parents would not, and when they learned how she was spending her earnings, they started charging her rent.

I continued her lessons anyway.

Another student came in from the parking lot to ask for some help with a flat tire. He called his mother while the other director and I taught him how to change a tire. To get to the spare, he had to unhook the huge woofer in the trunk. The mother and boyfriend arrived and, instead of thanking us for staying or trying to help, boyfriend starts screaming at the teen, “How dare you let somebody else touch my car. This isn’t over, kid.”

These are the students we find walking home after the concert, football game, or competition — because they know their parents will not come pick them up. Some get their own jobs to raise their own money to pay the participation fees, even earning money to go on the Disney trip.

3. Good Teens thrive because of who they are

Some teens naturally have what it takes for greatness. Natural greatness combined with good parenting is definitely a winning combination.

Thanks for reading.

John

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When you hear that students today are behind

By John Gardner

I’m not going to defend some of today’s diluted, politically correct, expanded curricula when compared to what students learned decades (or centuries) ago. The Huffington Post published this 8th grade exam from 100 years ago and ask if you could pass it today.

I don’t ever recall, as a student, having to spend school time on bullying or suicide prevention, tolerance, drugs, sex, active-shooter and lock-down drills. I’ve participated in mandatory teacher training on bullying. We provide “digital citizenship” training worth several class periods for using those free iPads we gave them. Schools test to test that teachers’ tests are testing appropriate levels, that teachers are teaching and students are learning.
 
WHAT students must learn today is so much more complex than what students needed to know back in a previous century. Below is a good visual. It would have been much easier to learn to identify and differentiate the crayon colors available in the 1903 vs today, wouldn’t you agree?

Just sayin’.

Crayon Colors

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Safety, Transparency and Reputation when Coaching Students

trustBy John Gardner

For a short while during my earliest teen years, without concern about walking to and into his home, I studied piano with a single guy who lived a few blocks away. During high school freshman year, I took clarinet lessons with a college girl who came to our school and went with me into a sound-proofed practice room. Later in high school I would travel weekly to an area band director’s home for clarinet instruction. Concerns about safety, transparency and reputation never came up.

But times are different now. Priests, coaches and teachers are convicted of having inappropriate relationships with children and students, creating a sensitive and suspicious society that dissuades good teachers and students from participating in the time-tested tradition of individualized instruction.

The concept of innocent until proven guilty does not apply. No one can afford even an accusation. A School of Performing Arts that provides private lessons for area children put windows in the all the classroom doors, instituted a parental sign in/out procedure and has a staff member walk in on every lesson every time. Band directors schedule lessons in busy offices or in large ensemble rooms full of distractions. College students video lessons with middle/high school students they are teaching, not only for critique, but also for security.

One band director told me that

…you don’t have to be guilty….an accusation can destroy a reputation and/or cost your job. And unfortunately, even after proven innocent, the doubts, questions and hesitations can continue to damage a reputation that took decades to build. Teachers have to be soooo careful.

The very nature of individualized music instruction almost mandates that student and teacher be alone in a room with a closed door. How do we take the legitimate safety concerns that student, parent and teacher share along with the teacher’s concern for reputation (and employment) and and still provide specialized, accelerated training?

SAFETY is everyone’s concern even if from different perspectives. Be aware and be careful.

TEACHERS

  • invite parents to sit in or be nearby during lessons.
    • My experience: When I taught lessons in my home (not any more), parents could relax in my living room while I worked with the student in the dining room. A 6th grader’s mother would bring a book and sit in the room at the high school or college.
  • leave a door open or at least ensure it is unlocked and/or has a window. Enable anyone to walk in on you. That delay while you get up to open the door from the inside can cause undue suspicion or concern (and increase interruption time).
  • schedule lessons when others are around. Avoid evenings or non-school days when teaching at school or make sure someone else is home if the student is coming to your home studio. Do everything reasonable to remove any question andensure both student and parent are comfortable. Keep in mind that teens are increasingly cautioned to beware of one-on-one situations with adults. Respect that.
    • My experience: When a mother requested I work with her student over holiday break, I scheduled it at school along with an appointment for another teacher to drop something off to me during the lesson time. I left the band room door opened and set up the chairs in clear view from the hallway so passing janitors could see and hear.
  • video or audio record the session. CAUTION: If using video, place the camera so both teacher and student are visible, but NOT in a way that makes student uncomfortableor  or could set you up for a different kind of complaint.
    • My experience: When I teach lessons via Skype, I ask that the camera be pointed so that I can see either fingers, embouchure or both, so I am usually looking at a profile view of the student’s top front. When girls start adjusting their clothes because you are pointing a camera at them, there is some discomfort. Be aware, and be careful.
  • if you have a regular coaching schedule, post the schedule. If you have a website with a calendar, parents (and students) are better reminded and informed.

PARENTS

  • check references. In addition to safety, you want to make sure you’re getting a good product (teacher). If the teacher is an outsider coming to the school, the school should have conducted a background check. Ask.
  • sit in or be in the area, at least periodically. Sitting in an adjacent room can provide reasonable privacy while often enabling you to hear your child play. They won’t do that for you at home, right? Bring a book.
  • for virtual lessons (via Skype, for example), be in the area. You don’t have to stand over the child’s shoulder, but listen in and even walk in a couple times….say hi to the teacher.

STUDENTS

  • meet a new teacher for the first time with a parent and in public.
  • go with your gut.
  • if anything makes you uncomfortable, speak up or get out. Nearly 100% of the time, you are either mis-interpreting or the teacher is completely unaware and will respond and adjust. Don’t destroy an opportunity based on your misunderstanding a teacher’s oversight.
  • if a parent is dropping you off, have a cell phone to call if the teacher is not there, you finish early (or going over), or you otherwise need parental pick up.
    • My experience: It was during a storm and I was mid-lesson after school when the power went out. Emergency lighting came on, but not enough to continue.
  • if you are going to a lesson, tell your parents (or someone) when, where and for how long.
    • My experience: I’ve had an unnecessarily disgruntled parent when I scheduled some after school coaching with a student who never got around to communicating and mom didn’t know what was going on ’til the student didn’t get off the bus. My mistake was assuming the parent knew.

TRANSPARENCY helps everyone.

Sometimes there is a drop off in parental involvement and in student/parent communication during high school. Teens want more responsibility and independence and both parent and teacher should strive to help them in those areas. Assumptions often cause problems, however, and most issues I’ve ever experienced in the triangular relationship with parent and student elevate because somebody “assumed”. Several years ago, I gave each of my business office employees a personalized, engraved magnet that said, simply:

Assume Nothing!

TEACHERS…provide a list of expectations and policies. Read mine here…

  • Payment. How much, how often and what happens when they don’t. Are materials (music) included?
  • Cancellations when you cancel, when student cancels, how much notice and what if there isn’t any?
  • Minimum requirements; lessons per month, practice time, materials such as tuners or metronome, functioning instrument with adequate supplies (reeds, etc)…
  • Privacy. Don’t share student/parent contact info or details about what happens during lessons. That is why they are called “private” lessons.
  • Communication. Be easy to contact. Determine whether your communication is to be with student or parent. Any written communication with student should be copied to a parent, when possible, including texts, emails or other types of media messages.

REPUTATIONS are slow to build and quick to crumble.

Students and parents need to realize how important that is to the teacher, especially when their very livelihood depends on it. Younger or single teachers need to be hyper-aware, but no one is too old, fat, bald or ugly for legitimate concern and caution.

Without an element of TRUST, this simply cannot work. Hopefully the teacher has ‘earned’ some trust from both the student and the parentl. It is unfortunate that we hear via national news when trust has been abused. That is horrible. But it is also a very, VERY small percentage of people. My advice to all…. in a nutshell:

Be Aware & Take Care!

Thanks for reading.

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Using Band as Punishment

Band PunishmentBy John Gardner

Teens can be quite the challenge sometimes, but I thoroughly enjoy engaging their youthful enthusiasm as they shape their futures by making decisions and learning from the decisions they make.

Sometimes they make poor decisions and need instruction, correction or discipline, but using band as punishment is excessive and harmful. Using band as punishment is like using water boarding for failing to cut the grass. Help teens thrive, don’t treat them like terrorists.

Thriving Teens – 3 types

1. Good Teens BECAUSE of their parents

For one group, I give much credit to good parenting. Good parenting doesn’t guarantee good teens, but it certainly increases the odds. These are the parents who are active and involved in their teen’s life. They’re on the PTO, in the band/choir/athletic booster groups, they come to watch practices, performances or games, they volunteer to help and they put up the money that most worth while ventures require. Some, are more behind the scenes supporting, enabling  and encouraging. Outside of school activities, the family is together a lot. Maybe there isn’t a lot of money for fancy vacations, but they find ways to do things together anyway. Single parents and those who have remarried can also do fantastic jobs. My heart goes out to those super parents who are experiencing what author James Dobson calls “the strong-willed child”. Keep the faith and keep doing what you’re doing. The teen will figure it out eventually.

2. Good Teens IN SPITE of their parents

A second group, and one that I especially admire, are those teens who turn out great “in spite of”  their parents. These are the teens who have every reason (mostly by example) to crash and burn, and yet, they determine NOT to follow the paths of their parents and instead, commit themselves to a better life.

I’m not faulting single, lower-income, laid off or otherwise challenged parents doing the best they can, but rather those who don’t share or support the child’s enthusiasm for a worthy activity.

Your child knows, is hurt, embarrassed and deflated by your lack of support.

A high school clarinet student once tell me,

“my dad has never heard me play.”

You will only have that child in your care for a short time.

I was outside our band entrance door greeting students arriving for rehearsal. The car stopped and both student and parent got out. The girl ran to me, in tears, frantically exclaiming, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” before running into the building. Behind her came the papa with the band schedule in hand. There was no warm, fuzzy response to my “Hi, how ya doin’?” Instead, he almost slapped me in the face with the schedule as he grunted, “How much of this schedule is mandatory?” After my response, “All of it.”, he mumbled something I wouldn’t print even if I heard it clearly. The daughter was waiting for me in the office, still crying, and apologizing for what she was sure I had endured. My respect and admiration for her attitude and work ethic skyrocketed after that.

A sophomore asked me for some personal clarinet coaching. Things were going great until she came in one day tearfully explaining she had to quit. She had gotten a job to pay for her lessons, because her parents would not, and when they learned how she was spending her earnings, they started charging her rent.

Another student came in from the parking lot to ask for some help with a flat tire. He called his mother while the other director and I taught him how to change a tire. To get to the spare, he had to unhook the huge woofer in the trunk. The mother and boyfriend arrived and, instead of thanking us for staying or trying to help, boyfriend starts screaming at the teen, “How dare you let somebody else touch my car. This isn’t over, kid.”

3. Good Teens Naturally

Some teens naturally have what it takes for greatness. Natural greatness combined with good parenting is definitely a winning combination.

Struggling teens and families

I understand some of the hardships. The 5 children in MY family were successfully raised by a determined, suddenly single, polio-surviving mother who was a stay-at-home mom 12 years before landing the single-parenting role. Some of her start-up challenges, in addition to parenting alone, included finding a job, day care and a car. I’m not sure where my life would have gone if mom had used band as punishment for some of the teen mischief and turmoil I instigated.

Single parents are extra busy working, exhausted from working one or more jobs. When I encouraged a student to encourage her mother to chaperone so she wouldn’t have to buy gas to the competitions, the girl replied,

“My mother can’t come. She is working three jobs.”

Living arrangements, transportation, schedules, finances and family politics aren’t easy. Juggling bedrooms in two houses, or spending summers with the non-custodial parent adds to teen stress.  There is only one car and the parent has it at work. Older children must babysit younger siblings, making after school activities difficult. Some become pawns for their competing and vindictive parents. They mature quickly coping with blended families, step-siblings, step-parents (and entire new families) and parents’ new loves. Many handle it better than I did.

In “functional” families, when one parent avoids the student’s activities, even when a genuine work conflict, teens perceive that their activity doesn’t rate with the absent parent.

I had a student several years ago who’s father NEVER came to anything. Even at her high school graduation, the father walked into the gym at about the time his daughter’s name was to be called, shot a 2-minute video, and left the arena. I don’t meet some parents until I visit the graduating senior’s open house party.

Using Band as Punishment

Good parenting sometimes requires a consequence for bad behavior, but using band as punishment is not a good choice.

A common tactic in disciplining teens is withholding something valued; driving privilege, cell phone, Internet, freedom (grounding). I can’t tell you how many times I hear variations of

“I get my phone back in 5 days”….

In that spirit of taking away something valuable, however, some parents include band. A few examples from recent years:

  • ….student must come home after school, even though there is a scheduled rehearsal. Part of the punishment is the grade cut and the confrontation with the director.
  • Parent: “We want to pull him out of band. We’ve just been having lots of problems with him lately.”
    Dir: “Are any of those problems related to band?”
    Parent: “No, but we’ve already grounded him and taken away his cell phone. He likes band, so we want to pull him out so he’ll get the point.”
  • Parent: “Here is a copy of our contract with our child. We’ll let him stay in band if he adheres to this agreement.”
    Dir: “According to this, you want to pull him out of band if he misses a single homework assignment or gets a C on any quiz or test? If that is your absolute standard, then you might as well change the schedule now, because very few teens can guarantee you that they will NEVER have a bad day on a quiz or test and I don’t want to have to fill that hole later.”
  • Parent: “This just isn’t working. She needs to come straight home after school every day.”
    Dir: “On days were we have after school rehearsal, can she not come straight home immediately following rehearsal? What did she do?”
    Parent: “Her room is a mess.”

Problems of Using Band as Punishment

  1. It affects the grade. Some short-sighted parents see an advantage in this. As a teacher, I don’t. Grades matter when it comes time to apply for college admission, scholarships and jobs.
  2. It hurts the band. Band is a team activity. Grounding someone from a rehearsal, performance, or pulling them out of the program mid-season hurts everybody.

For some people, band is the best thing that could happen for them. They gain acceptance as a valued member of a group made up of a wide variety of people. They make friends, some lasting a lifetime. They learn things that will help them in the corporate (or whatever) world; chain of command, respect, discipline, work ethic, commitment, and more. Some, who will never be the highest academically or the strongest athletically can find and use their leadership skills in band. Or they discover the value of being an active, valued participant in a large team effort. One student, when receiving his show shirt almost teared up as he said to me,

“I’ve never been a part of a group before.” 

A graduating senior told me how grateful she was for band “because of what it kept me away from”.

Everyone knows that only a small percentage of those in band will actually make a vocation from music. But having been in band can be something treasured for a lifetime. When visiting some of my former students in a band reunion in southern Indiana, a former flute student, who is now a doctor, credited band for helping her get thru the 10 or so years of schooling it took for her to become a physician. A bi-vocational pastor said band got him away from his drinking/drug buddies and helped him turn his life around.

Why then, other than the fact that they can have some satisfaction that they truly “hurt” that mis-behaving teenager, would a parent want to take a child out of an activity that has so much to offer?

Take using band as punishment off the table. Stick with grounding or withholding privileges if you must, but don’t use band or athletics as a bargaining chip. No on wins in that scenario, including the parent.

Thanks for reading my vent. Am I wrong? Need help?

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Teens I Admire #1

By John Gardner

Large group of smiling friends staying together and looking at camera isolated on blue backgroundAdults who are afraid of teenagers or who feel like teens of today are nothing like those from their day (adults have been saying that forever, right?) ….. or who think the quality of teens is crumbling….. should come hang out with the teens I get to spend time with.

As a teacher, I can’t use the “love” word, must avoid the “creepy” label (they DO use that word too much), have to be careful how I compliment the way someone looks, and often settle for handshakes and high fives when a good pat on the back or a hug seems so much more appropriate for the circumstance …. but I thoroughly enjoy my time on the school clock. I LOVE the youthful enthusiasm. I ADMIRE their dreams, goals and aspirations. And I RESPECT those who make the best of their circumstances as they strive for excellence. I am all about encouraging achievers and I think it is because they recognize that, that they allow me into their lives. I “love” this job AND these teens.

My response to the parent who asked recently, “How do you put up with a room FULL of teenagers?” is “I feel sorry for those who DON’T get to experience a room FULL of teenagers.”

Some of the “types” of teens I admire…. (first in a series)

I admire teens who thrive because of their parents… Band students have complicated schedules that can challenge parental patience. There is the expense of instruments and extras (reeds, valve oil, drum sticks) — not to mention private lessons, summer camps, etc. Vacations get adjusted and, especially until the teen can drive, there are countless trips to drop off and pick up.

Some parents sacrifice soooo much in time, energy and money so that their teen can focus on being a better student, athlete, musician, academic or whatever. But all of that is for naught if the teen doesn’t take advantage of it. I admire teens who appreciate what they have and commit themselves to “getting their parents’ money’s worth”.

I admire teens who thrive in spite of their parents.

I was outside Door 34 prior to a rehearsal when she jumped out of the car and ran up to me, crying and wiping tears from her eyes, “G… I’m sorry…..I’m so sorry.” As she ran off into the building I got the impact of her emotion when I saw the approaching papa angrily waving a copy of our schedule.

Additional random examples….

“We’re going to pull our son out of band…..his room is a mess.”

“I can’t come to band today. I’m grounded and part of my punishment is whatever consequence I get from you for not being here.”

” He really loves band…..which is why this has to be part of his punishment.”

“She can’t major in color guard in college….so there is no point in the expense for her to be in this activity.”

“My parents took my band card money and my paycheck money. What do I do?”

“Here’s my paycheck to pay you back for letting me go to Disney. I will be able to pay you back from my job over the next three months.” (And did.)

“I have to stop taking private lessons because my dad says if I have money to waste on music lessons that I can pay rent.”

“G, I just got kicked out of my house.”

“Why are you telling my kid (s)he needs extra money for music lessons? Aren’t you the teacher? Why don’t you do what you’re getting paid for?”

“Why should I buy another [instrument]? I bought the one they told me to buy when (s)he started.”

Some of the most determined to succeed band students have parents I never meet. I understand busy and I understand the struggles of single parenthood (there were five kids in my single parent home) and it can be hard….yes, it can be hard. But it is sad sometimes to watch students try not to show disappointment when the parent is not there…. just sayin’.

I admire students who, despite the potential negatives of their circumstances…..are determined to succeed…..

….to be continued

Sight-reading Tips

By John Gardner

Solo and Ensemble no frameMusicians auditioning for acceptance or for music scholarships are working on prepared pieces — likely the same piece he/she is using for solo contest. An aspect of many auditions that are a challenge is the demonstration of sight-reading proficiency. Colleges want to know how quickly you can learn their music.

In most sight-reading circumstances, there will be a period of time for you to preview what you are about to play. In a concert band festival, the sight-reading session involves 10 minutes to look over a piece (counting/clapping rhythms, checking out different aspects, before time is up and the judge is ready. In the Smartmusic.com practice software, sight-reading exercises begin with a user (or teacher) determined amount of time prior to the click off and the assessment. Whatever amount you get, gage the time to get through the following:

Key signature. What key are you in? Think through the scale. Look throughout and see if or how many times it changes during the piece.

Notes. Check range. If possible, sing what you see…. Can you hear and sing what you see? That is another skill we will address in other posts.

Time signature. Does it stay the same or change?

Tempo. If marked, this should give you a general guideline, but keep in mind that is a performance tempo. For sight-reading, look for the most difficult passage that you will play, get a quick idea of how fast you think you can play it accurately, and use that as your overall tempo. Once you start, you don’t want to change the pulse depending on difficulty.

Rhythms. Scan for anything that looks tricky and take a moment to count, clap, sing or whatever — to get that/those rhythm(s) in your head.

Dynamics. Scan for them and then be aware as you play.

Stylistic markings. Staccato, legato, articulation, accents, etc. The tendency in sight-reading is to concentrate on notes, which are primary, but watch for the other signs as you go. Like driving the car, staying on the road (notes) is important, but watching the road signs (slow down, stop, cross-walk, etc) are equally important to getting to your destination safely.

Once you start – DON’T STOP! If you miss a note, that one is history, you can’t go back and fix it … part of practicing for sight-reading (or for any performance) is to force yourself to continue.

Finding music to sight-read. Get books from other similar-range instruments. Pick random hymns in a church hymnal. Check the band director’s office. Go to the music library and pull out random pieces. For sight-reading practice, however, don’t keep playing the same piece(s), unless it is to prepare them for performance or to see how quickly you can perfect them.

Another important aspect to sight-reading is evaluation. If possible, have someone else listen to you and critique what you played. You may be playing a rhythm wrong that you will continue to play wrong.

Hope this helps. Add your comments or send questions.

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