Earning and receiving a great reference letter for jobs, college and scholarships

referencesBy John Gardner

As a teacher, I am periodically asked to be a reference on a job application or to write a recommendation letter for students applying for scholarships, jobs and/or colleges. Not too long ago, I got a nice thank you from a former exchange student who had just re-used the letter I wrote for her as she was applying for graduate studies toward her doctorate at a university in Germany. Because I find myself answering the same questions or asking for the same information whenever students need this help — so I’m going to organize them here and then refer students to this post when they want my letter-writing help.

How do you EARN a good letter and when do you START?

When sophomores and juniors interested in auditioning for Drum Major ask, “When are auditions?” My response is normally, “Your audition started freshman year.”

Similarly, a good reference doesn’t happen just because you ask or need one…. it happens because you have earned it during your years of association with, in this case, a teacher.

Few teachers or coaches get to know a student as well as a band director because it is often a 4-yr participation class — and especially marching band involves much more interaction than in a typical academic class. Students should realize and appreciate the value of such a letter — and work all four years to develop a stellar reputation the teacher will be happy to brag on.

Hire MeWhat makes a good letter?

I usually structure my letter to focus on multiple areas:

  1. Band experience. Which ensembles, what years, any additional responsibilities – i.e. section leader, drum major, etc.
  2. Qualification. Especially for scholarship letters, I like to emphasize genuine need and why I think meeting that need is a good investment for the scholarship provider.
  3. School experience. Grades, other extracurricular activities, honor rolls, awards, achievements.
  4. Community experience, especially volunteerism. Camps, counseling experiences, etc. Jobs.
  5. College/Career goal. What will you major in or what do you plan to do after graduation?
  6. Reputation. I like to reference the quality of friend choices, the wisdom of decision-making, and generally the types of comments peers and teachers might make.

What YOU should provide the letter-writer.

  • Resume. Resumes typically contain much of the information needed for a good letter. If you don’t have a resume, use the above list and organize information.
  • Stamped, Addressed Envelope with sufficient postage. Although I often do provide a copy to the student, the customary approach is to provide everything to the letter writer who then can put the letter in the envelope, seal it and drop it in the mail.
  • Additional Paperwork completely filled out. Often there is an accompanying application or information sheet to go with the letter and it is both inconvenient and inconsiderate of you to expect ME to take that additional time. Fill in your addresses, names and numbers. If I see that it will take extra time, I tend to procrastinate on the project.
  • TIME! The worst was a student approaching me after school about writing a letter requiring a same day postmark! C’mon…. If you want a comprehensive letter, give me time to do it. I will typically write a letter within a couple of days — but give me a week, please.

I love writing letters to help achievers because when I was where they are — there were people who went to bat for me and this is my way of returning that favor by passing it on….. Teachers don’t expect a lot in return, but a smile and a thank you can go a long way.

SUGGESTIONS for getting ADDITIONAL letters and help!  If a teacher has taken the time to organize and write a professional letter on YOUR behalf, consider a short, hand-written THANK YOU to the teacher. Guess who gets the better letters cranked out faster the next time?

Thanks for reading.

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Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Job Search, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Does Remote Instrumental Instruction Work?

From an email exchange following a solo contest….



Skype ButtonThis is a SKYPE student from a cross-state school in a location where there are not private instrument instructors available.

Remote instruction is not perfect, but the only thing I have found that I canNOT do is play a duet with the remote student. I normally have him/her set the camera so I can see either the embouchure or fingers.  In this case, the lessons take place in that band director’s office during band rehearsal.

More about why private instruction…

Safety, Transparency and Reputation When Coaching Students…

Three Questions About Private Music Studios

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Posted in Consulting, High Schools, How May I Serve YOU?, Personal experience, Solo Prep, Teaching, Teaching Music, Technology in the Classroom, Virtual/Local Services Tagged with: , , , ,

Broken Trust and the Damage Bad Teachers Cause

By John Gardner

Cracking and crumbling of the word TrustAnother news story of a teacher caught up in a sexual situation with students. Sad and disturbing on multiple levels because at least two lives are damaged — forever changed. Students become hesitant to open up to and trust teachers. Parents become understandably hyper-sensitive and maybe over-protective.

Most teachers work so hard to build proper, trust-based relationships with students. 

My intent has never been to make students obey commands because I’m the authority in the classroom. I want them to listen and want to follow my guidance because they TRUST that what I am saying is best for the ensemble collectively and for him/her individually. I don’t want to be their ‘best bud’. I want to be a life-mentor, someone they will look back at 20 years from with favorable memories of someone who helped them get through some of their high school hurdles.

Of course, there are several reasons for a student to hesitate to trust: 1) parents have broken trust between themselves and with their children — so the teen, wanting protection from future pain, erects a shield to keep people out, 2) friends break trust — so hurt teens conclude trust is risky and 3) teachers like the one in the news.

So who am I to expect students to trust ME? I get it. It makes me sad sometimes — when I sense that a student really needs to talk through something but is afraid to lower that shield. Or when I see one heading in a potentially negative life-impacting (but not physically dangerous) direction and regrettably conclude that, because it is none of my ‘business’, i.e. outside my teaching subject, that I need to stay in my space and not try to cross over into his/hers.  I do understand.

As I started writing, I realized I’ve said variations of all this before. I used the search function on my blog, entered “trust” and found the following:  Read more ›

Posted in Communication, High Schools, Respect, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , ,

The Cost of NOT Volunteering….one story


In a band blog article/announcement about Volunteering, I was encouraging and recruiting student volunteers for a fundraising dinner, a pep band that we were taking to play at a small Christian college’s basketball game, and another pep band invited to the local YMCA to play for a tournament involving their young basketball league.

To make a point, I shared a personal family story:

In 2001, David graduated high school Valedictorian in a class of 470. He chose to go to Duke University, where the 4-yr sticker price was close to $170,000. He had earned a good package of both merit based and financial need components — but was going to be about $32,000 short over his four years there. To go to Duke for $8,000/yr is pretty amazing, but he could have gone for FREE if he had known this one thing.

Read more ›

Posted in College Prep, Personal experience Tagged with: , ,

Who Actually Quits Musical Instrument Instruction?

Who actually quits musical instrument instruction, children or their parents? http://www.nafme.org/who-actually-quits-musical-instrument-instruction-children-or-their-parents/

Posted by Virtual Music Office on Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Posted in Teaching Music

2 Things I Learned in Google Docs PD Training

I used a Google Doc to create this article. Because I wasn’t able to copy and paste it here with the formatting, below is a picture of the article and a LINK TO VIEW this shared document. Hopefully one of them will work for you. Let me know, and if so, I’ll do more.


Google Doc with formatting

Posted in Teaching Music

Digitizing Media as a Profit Center

By John Gardner

The Department Chair who, as part of his mission to clean up the over stuffed music library, asked the band directors about the LP record collection.

“You guys have hundreds, if not thousands, of LP records taking up space in here….”

He had a point, but it also encourages some questions:

  1. How many of you know Music Departments with massive collections of LP Records and VHS video tapes? IS IT YOU?
  2. How many of YOU have significant personal collections of old media?
  3. How many of you KNOW PEOPLE who have collections of old media?
  4. How many people NO LONGER PLAY their LP vinyl records, either because they don’t have a turntable or they are afraid that each play reduces the life of the record?

I asked a group of band parents how many had LP and VHS media at home. Someone asked me back if I was including 45’s and Beta. Oh my! Yes. Most of the adults in the room raised their hands. When I asked how many had a way to play them, about 3/4 of those hands went down. When I asked if they knew how, or knew how to get that media digitized (put on CD/DVD, etc), almost every hand went down.

There are options…..but…

You can easily find service providers via Internet who will digitize your old media. Because my initial emphasis is on records and tapes, I’m going to focus on those vs the Betamax tapes, 8mm and 15mm filmstrips and other media that some of you (and me) have….

Level of Service

The easiest, cheapest and least good option would be for an “Exact Transfer”, which basically means copying your media “as is” without making any changes to it. So if there is a pop or fuzziness on your old record, you will hear that on the CD/DVD. Prices I saw for making an exact transfer of an LP record ranged from a low of $15 to a high of $25 per LP with variations of discounts based on volume.

A higher level of service would involve using some “editing” software to create tracks and to correct some of the extra noise. Obviously if your record has a huge scratch, you might have an issue — but there is no question that digitized media has a more pure sound. A non-exhaustive search discovered rates as high as $39.95/LP to transfer and improve the recording.

Some negatives to the Internet providers…

One homeowner’s moderate collection of a couple hundred LP vinyl records with no way to play them.

The BIGGEST negative is that you have to send off your media. Some of us have old records that cannot be replaced. I have a couple dozen LP’s of my high school, summer camps, specialty clinics and college bands from “back in the day” where that was a popular form of recording. What if I ship them off and don’t get them back? What if they are damaged in transit — in either direction?

Some of the service providers SELL specialty boxes in which you can place a small quantity of LP records — and those boxes, which are almost a necessity, are a major profit item for the vendor. They also offer (some include, but others charge) to “wash/clean” the LP prior to playing/recording. So, by the time I order several of those boxes, get them shipped to me, then pay both the shipping to and from the digitizer vendor and have my records cleaned for best result — my bottom line price is significantly higher than even the prices they advertise.

Hence, people tend NOT to mess with it.

But what if…..

…there was a LOCAL OPTION?

What if you offered a FREE PICKUP/DROP OFF service (or even charge extra to do that)? I would be much more willing to provide a stack of my media to someone at my front door — or to take them somewhere local than I would be to do the shipping thing.

…YOU were the service provider in your area?


Need a way to supplement your fundraising business or to utilize during the off season?


What if your schools or bands ran a “DIGITIZING OLD MEDIA” fundraiser through you where YOU picked up the media, serviced it and returned it to them? It wouldn’t even have to, and probably shouldn’t  be an everybody does it at one time type sale for a couple main reasons: 1) You could be overwhelmed with an amount of work in a really short period of time, and 2) I believe people would be more apt to “test” a service with the idea of doing more later, and 3) if you operated like the magazine companies….you would service the first set and then communicate with the customers directly about additional digitizing ….. (or variations).

Your pricing for this ongoing service could be adjusted for those groups who also run their traditional fundraiser(s) through you.

Profitability Potential

What does a CD cost? A DVD? Both are under $.50ea, especially in quantity. Most of your overhead in this type of project would be TIME. Equipment needed is minimal and a lot of that is low cost or even free. If someone pays you $25 to spend about 45 minutes copying an LP, you’re doing ok. And if you can copy multiple LPs in that 45 minutes, or copying some while editing others, you’re doing even better.

I AM looking for BOTH Customers and Collaborators. If you could be either…..

  1. SUBSCRIBE to this blog so you get email notifications of updates.
  2. EMAIL John@VirtualMusicOffice.com and let me know your interest.

Thanks for reading.


The mission of the Virtual Music Office is to help Music Teachers, Students, Parents and Professionals Virtually anywhere.
Posted in Business strategies, High Schools, How May I Serve YOU?, Income Opportunity, Monetizing, Music Department, Repost, Sales and Marketing, Small Business, Teaching, Teaching Music, Virtual Assistant, Work from Home Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

My Philosophy of Education and why I interact with students the way I do

Click the pic to get to the article.

Click the pic to get to the article.

Posted in Classroom Teacher, High Schools, Personal experience, Storytelling, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Everything I Need To Know I Learned In Band, Part 1

Everything I Needed To Know in MB

by John Gardner

Searching at home for a book, I discovered a 1989 edition of Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.

What an easy read of short, humorous, 2-3 page stories of events most can remember or associate with. I suspect 25th edition, available on Amazon addresses more from the cellular, computer and social media worlds.

Reading, I started thinking – two things, actually. First, that I agree with Fulghum’s Sunday school sandbox list, because much of what is eternally important, anyway, I learned in Sunday school. For the purpose of this article, however, I ask,

“Wouldn’t it be fun to have our very own list of life lessons learned in marching band?”

There are some marching band lists published, but most are specific, or include specific school or director names. After you read what I found on the back of the book cover and consider some guidelines, then GO with it – and have fun!

Here’s what is on the back cover, unedited:

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday school. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life-learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

True, right?

What are some things you learned in band? Include marching, concert, pep or jazz bands, orchestras – from anywhere and any time. I am looking for honest encouragement, sarcastic humor and anything that is clean, fun and does not attack an individual or group. No names. It can be a specific instance as long as it would be understandable and appropriate for a general audience. Consider or elaborate on things like:

  • What happens on the bus… (confessions – anyone?)
  • Band parents are… (like parents, only better?)
  • When band directors say, “One more time”, what they really mean is…
  • Color Guard people need a bigger bubble on the field (like that time when the flag caught the trombone slide and flung it across the field in competition performance)
  • You really can’t go 10 yards in 3 steps (or can you?)
  • Warm water tastes great during a 95 degree rehearsal
  • Sun screen…
  • Things go better when everyone is on the same team
  • Wearing uniforms every week reinforces the need for showers and deodorant…

Parents, what have YOU learned in marching band?


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Posted in High Schools, Marching Band, Music Department, Public Schools, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , ,

How to Write a Student Reference Letter

A former student who is now a 2nd year teacher contacted me about needing to write a student recommendation letter and asked if I had a template or something I could share.


referencesUse school letterhead when possible.

Address “To whom it may concern:”, scholarship committee or a name. 

P1. Either Re [Name]: or a sentence with student’s formal name, how you know and for how long. I usually then add a few sentences of personal experiences/observations related to my class.

P2. Grades, grade point, other school activities, school honors.

P3. Involvement outside of school, volunteerism, youth group, clubs, leagues.

P4. Summary: respected by teachers and peers, friend choices, makes good decisions, I trust, etc. Level of recommendation

  • Highest
  • Without reservation

Close w offer to answer questions or offer clarification.
Sign with title and contact information.

Posted in High Schools, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,


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