Excellence and Self Esteem

excellentBy John Gardner

I have been conflicted for years on the proper educationally correct balance between helping students feel good about themselves….and encouraging achievement by encouraging and expecting excellence.

In a scholarly paper entitled, “Self-Esteem and Excellence: The Choice and the Paradox“, Barbara Lemer compares the strategies of creating intellectual stimulation with a climate of high self-esteem vs the argument that a child’s self-esteem can withstand criticism of shortcomings in the quest of excellence against a set of standards.

On his “School for Champions” site, Ron Kurtus writes to students about The Importance of Striving for Excellence.

At the Cornwel West Academy of Excellence, they use a curriculum that teaches “Self-Esteem Through Culture Leads to Academic Excellence (SETCLAE)”.

I came through a lot of “Old School” education, including techniques that could get a teacher in trouble today. But, for me….it worked. And so…the conflict.

My high school band director…

…recently retired after decades as the Director of Bands at a major university, did not care about our self-esteem. He never told us we were good and only commented that we were years after we were all gone from that place (see video and comment below). One of the few comments in a marching band rehearsal ever directed specifically at me was,

“Gardner, you march like a cow.”

So much for my personal self-esteem. I didn’t need to feel good about myself, I needed to improve my performance.

Toward the end of a competition once, as we were watching the bands that followed us, he pointed to one individual (fortunately not me) and said,

“If we lose this contest, it is YOUR fault.”

That one was harsh. I can’t imagine how that student would have felt. Fortunately we won.

He never told us we were an inner-city school, never said that we were under-privileged or under-funded. He never compromised when he demanded that every clarinet student acquire a top-line, pro-level Selmer Series 10 clarinet. No excuses. No exceptions. I sold lemonade on the local golf course and made a 50-50 deal with my dad to acquire mine.

At any moment, he would ask us to play a section of music in front of the band and, if less than perfect, he was brutal. Did we increase personal practice out of a search for excellence — or out of fear? Bottom line: we practiced and got better. Tell me the goal again.

Did it work? In terms of Achievement, yes. During my Freshman and Sophomore years, we never, ever lost a competition. We never got less than a “superior” rating in concert band festivals. When it came to All-State Band, our inner-city bandsters held the 1st chair positions for Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax, Trumpet, French Horn, Baritone, Tuba and Percussion. Our concert band played at both a KMEA (KY) and MENC (National) music educator conventions.

We felt good about ourselves because we were good. Our self-esteem was the result of excellence, not encouragement. Is that wrong?

The most devastating comment soon to be Dr. Director ever made to me, a few years later when I met him at a collegiate conference, was….

“I was wrong.”

During the process of getting his doctorate (and during my college years of music education training), the prevailing theory became that creating good self-esteem was paramount, Self concept trumped both excellence and achievement. Was that the beginning of educational deterioration?

Here’s a YouTube video of the 1969 Holmes HS Band at the “Contest of Champions” in Murfreesboro, TN. Years later, this major mentor said,

“That was as close to perfection of any of my high school performances.”

Here’s a picture of his college band:

My high school clarinet teacher…

…was a high school band director at one of the communities outside the city. He taught private clarinet lessons and my band director wanted me to study with him….but there was no way we could afford his rate. My band director convinced him to give me an “audition” to be in his studio. My mother drove me to his house, I played the simple piece I had taken to 8th grade solo contest, and he responded with:

“You’ve got potential. I can make you a better, but we both have a problem. You can’t afford me while I, however, have a bad heart and cannot cut my grass, shovel my snow or rearrange my furniture.  If you ware willing to do those things for me, I will teach you until the day you show up here unprepared. Do we have a deal?”

He could have “given” me lessons by enabling me to “earn” them, he enhanced my self-esteem while enhancing my chances for achieving excellence. Would a “deal” like that be considered abusive today?  Actually, I’ve tried. No takers. Sad.

Roden was teaching the 1st chair clarinetists from three area schools. When it came time for senior year Solo Contest, he gave all three of us the same piece of music. His focus was not on helping each of us feel good…but rather, to play that piece of music better than the other two. You can read more about that story, along with the outcome, in “Four Influential Men“.

My college clarinet professor

As decision-time for college approached, I had two full ride offers from schools where I had participated in clinics and summer camps; Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University. My clarinet teacher recommended a different school/teacher and I took his advice.

Dr. Miller drove 70 miles to my high school to audition me. I performed that flashy contest piece from solo contest that resulted in a standing ovation from the judge and a I++ rating. When I finished, I pompously waited for the praise. Instead, I witnessed a man in pain, pulling on his short beard, trying to think of words that would inspire me to choose his school, right? After a pause that seemed like an eternity, he finally offered this dated comment…

“Not bad. Flashy, but NASA can teach monkeys how to wiggle their fingers. What else can you do.?”

Those hour-long 1-1 lessons each week were about survival. I recall sitting outside his office waiting for the person before me to finish. When the door opened, an excellent clarinetist came out of the room crying, took the reed off her horn and smashed it up against the wall as I heard him call out from inside the room, “NEXT”!

He did teach me how to play better. I accomplished a lot during college. But during my final semester, when he finally realized that I really was going to do the “education” thing and spend time student teaching, one of his parting comments to me;

“I wasted four years of my life on you.”

But now that I am a teacher…

…I find that I am not willing to talk to students that way. Actually, I probably would be fired for doing so.

Today it would be educationally incorrect (and probably unacceptable) to require a student to stand with arms outstretched parallel to the ground for ten minutes, or to do laps around the field (1 per each minute tardy) or push ups for making a mistake. Today we must make exceptions and allowances for the nearly 30% of the student population with IEP’s. To ask a student to play a part in front of everyone in the ensemble….oh my. It is okay that your instrument is a piece of junk, or that your parents won’t “give” you the money for individualized coaching. After all, I can’t say anything to forceful or you’ll drop the class or quit the lessons. What if you’re on medication? What if I missed a condition in the book of IEP’s? What if your parents call the school?

Not too long ago, I read an article (sorry, having trouble finding it again) that seemed to support my pre-IEP, pre-Self-Esteem-is-everything approach to education.

“…students should experience Self-Esteem as a result of Excellence Achievement.”

I would modify that slightly. ACHIEVING excellence may not represent reality for everyone, but everyone can STRIVE for excellence.

What do YOU think?

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Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Parenting, Teaching, Teaching Music

Offensive? Merry Christmas, X-mas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings

By John Gardner

As a small business owner, I receive several seasonal cards from my vendors. Since this time of year includes Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Winter Solstice, Happy Yule, etc., how do you “greet” (or receive a greeting from) someone this time of year without causing or taking offense?

happy Hanukkah and merry christmas

Several years ago, a Jewish salesman friend of mine explained how he did it:

I sent you a Christmas card because you are Christian. If I have a customer and I don’t know, or can’t tell, I will send a “Happy Holidays” card or greet them that way because I don’t want to offend. If they correct me, then I will know for next time. I’m jewish. If you don’t know, however, I don’t let it bother me because there are more in this part of the country who celebrate Christmas than Hanukah. If someone says Merry Christmas to me, I thank them for the greeting and then politely inform them of my faith.

That is a pretty good practice, and Joel says he has been using that approach 30 years and hasn’t offended more than a handful of people.

Here’s my suggestion to vendors who want to appreciate their customers…..

You should know your customer and send an appropriate card. If you do NOT, don’t assume and don’t be generic. Your generic approach is offensive to people of faith. In that case, send a THANK YOU card….. thanks for the business, or for being your friend, or whatever.

Here’s a general facebook greeting from one of my fb friends…..

I want to wish all of my fb friends a Blessed Yule, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, or as Wal-Mart greeters say, Happy Holidays. … Here’s hoping that you and your’s are held safe from harm in the arms of the deity of your choice. ;-)

I celebrate a “Savior”, not a “Season”. I celebrate CHRISTmas, not X-mas* (see note below). If my wishing you a Merry Christmas is offensive, I’ll apologize and avoid a holiday greeting to you in the future. If you wish me “Happy Holidays”, “Seasons Greetings” or some other generic recognition, I’ll thank you — and probably respond with “Merry Christmas”. I’m glad that the ‘fads’ of “Winter Solstice” “Kwanzaa” and other recognitions have seemingly diminished.

*X-max doesn’t necessarily have to be offensive. Originally, the “X” symbol was used BY Christians. Read more….  Unfortunately, the more recent introduction has been from secularists trying to “X”- the Christ out of Christmas. I don’t see this often any more because I think the collective has determined it to be offensive.

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10 Ways for Adults to Make A Difference in Teen Lives

By John Gardner

Large group of smiling friends staying together and looking at camera isolated on blue backgroundTeen years can be trying times.  Parents may be fighting, separating, dating and remarrying, which means the teen now has to not only deal with a break up of a foundation in his/her life, but often now has to live in multiple households. Some have to adjust to step-siblings, job losses, financial struggles and more. Then, there are the complexities of school with seemingly unending pressures to perform, trying to get through the dating games, often without an anchor or example to follow. Influenced by increasingly negative social standards, or lack of standards….. teens can get caught in the rise and falling tides. Most learn how to negotiate life’s trying currents, but can turn the wrong way, make a miscalculation or poor decision — and find themselves high and dry on the beach…..and they need help. Not every student needs, wants or will accept a teacher’s help. Sometimes the teacher’s effort is both unappreciated and unsuccessful.

But try we must…because we CAN make a difference “to THAT one“.

Teens will listen if they respect and trust. Trust is one of the most valuable mentoring requirements.

Teens will listen if they respect and trust. Trust is one of the most valuable mentoring requirements.

Ten ways to make a difference:

Read more ›

Posted in Communication, High Schools, Parenting, Public Schools, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

Individualized Music Coaching: Why, When, Where, With Whom, How Often and How Much?

Treble CleffBy John Gardner

Dear music student,

There is only so much that can be done within the large ensemble setting. The director must focus on the total sound and can find it difficult to use rehearsal time for significant individual technique teaching. And besides, your director is a specialist on at least one instrument, but probably not on every instrument.

When your director was in college, he/she had a crash course (called methods classes) on every instrument group. For example, a “Woodwind Methods” class will roate people every 2-3 weeks so that they can experience most instruments within that 12 week semester. Similarly with brass, percussion and strings methods classes, the idea is to give the student an overview (not an expertise) of every instrument so he/she can offer general instruction in ensemble class.

Why individualized coaching?

  • Your director is NOT a specialist on your instrument
  • You are BEHIND the ensemble and need some help catching up
  • You are AHEAD of the ensemble and need a challenge
  • You are considering music as a major in college

Studying with a specialist on your instrument is the fastest way to improve.  With individual instruction, you get all the attention for faster progress that others will notice.

What can I do with individualized instruction?

  • Develop solid fundamentals in embouchure, finger position, stick/mallet control and quality sound
  • Learn how to maintain your instrument, and select and care for reeds, mutes, etc.
  • Conquer major, minor, chromatic (and other scales and technical exercises), plus lip slurs, double-tonguing and other instrument specific skills
  • Advance technique with etudes and specialized studies
  • Become more familiar with music terms plus music history and theory
  • Use solos and duets to learn how to perform – and then perform
  • …and have a good time becoming a better musician

What can the coach do with and for me, now and in the future?

A music coach can help with…

  • Current band and audition music
  • Preparation or critique for a playing test — catching the things you might miss
  • Selecting and preparing solos and ensembles for competition
  • Recommendations and selection of step-up instruments
  • A coach who gets to know you well can be an influential mentor in more ways than just music. He/she can provide positive reinforcement, encouragement, direction and support as you progress and achieve
  • Advocating on your behalf when the time comes to apply for jobs, college admissions and scholarships. A common scholarship application question for your coach is: “How long have you known the applicant, in what capacity, and how well do you know him/her. You have most teachers for one year. A music teacher or private study coach can work with you for years…..and that is a good thing.

When, Where, How Often, How Much, and How?

When should I start?

It is never too soon, and never too late, but a late start can be problematic for music majors going to top rated schools. Beginners can get a good foundational jump start. Everyone can move faster and get better. Once a student has a serious desire to pursue music in college, it is really important to get some specialized training. Top rated schools will likely expect more than you can do on your own, even for admission. And then, depending on the size of the program, if inadequately prepared you can find yourself starting farther down the proficiency chain than you’d rather. You’ll be auditioning for scholarships, for participation in the top ensembles, for chair placement and even for the right to study with the top professor.

How often can be financially driven. Ideal is weekly, but even twice monthly can accomplish a lot. Any specialized help is better than none.

Where can I find a coach?

  • Ask your teacher. If you just need a little help with your music, the director should be able to do that….or maybe he/she can have another student help. For higher level or more sustained study, if not qualified or comfortable doing it, he can help in your search. 
  • The local college music department may have a music major who would be thrilled to utilize some of that music ed training. And they should not be very expensive. Studying with the college professor can be significantly more expensive, but you are getting a higher level of expertise as well.
  • Music stores often maintain a list of private teachers in the area. They know if you are studying privately that they have a better chance of selling you a step up instrument.
  • Professional orchestra musicians. Similarly to college teachers, this offers you a high level of expertise. Once consideration, however….. these are often musicians who are amazing players but not always as good at telling you how to do what they are doing. I know of one instance where a college, utilizing a professional as an adjunct, had to sever the relationship because of unacceptable teaching methods and communication.
  • Summer music camps usually offer some lessons with the professor at the college where the camp is being held.
  • Remote (visual, virtual, vs personal on site) instruction. If you live in a rural area, the above options may not be available. There are people (like me) who can utilize Skype or some other method to offer professional help. Once you get past the potential creepiness of someone watching via camera your face or fingers, it can be a very effective tool. Other than the slight delay that makes playing duets unrealistic, you should consider it. Be sure to check references, have the parent or teacher involved in at least the initial contact, and utilize this powerfully effective internet tool.

=====> Virtual Music Lessons or Critique <=====

How much will it cost? I am writing from Northeast Indiana. Locally the going rate is about $15 for a 30-45 minute lesson. To study with a member of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra (nearest professional group), the rate can be about $40 for an hour.

What if I can’t afford it? Ask for help. There are sometimes community organizations that will help. In the past handful of years, I have had underwriters sponsor a student for a period of time, helped students win local scholarships for lessons, and negotiated special arrangements with teachers. In multiple cases, once parents have realized the improvement and excitement, they find a way to justify or to pay for continued training. In an article called Excellence and Self Esteem, I include a description of my high school clarinet teacher, including how I couldn’t afford to study with him and the solution he offered. I had help when I was in high school and am always looking for ways to help others as well. And most teachers will want to work with a student who wants to work hard. Never give up!


Hope this helps. Let me know if I can help.

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Posted in College Prep, High Schools, How May I Serve YOU?, Music Department, Music Performance, Parenting, Solo Prep, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Baseball advice for high school seniors

By John Gardner

If you have ever played, watched or coached summer youth baseball, there are variations of the same mistake that young players make. I’ve observed high school seniors making mistakes and life-impacting decisions that remind me of a piece of advice everyone involved in youth baseball has heard.

The batter pops up the ball. The infielder needs to catch it and then throw it quickly for the double play. Too often, in what should have been an easy catch – the player drops the ball, because he is already in the process of throwing it before he has it securely in the glove. So, instead of getting 1-2 outs, both the batter and the runner advance. Then, the coach calls out…


“You have to catch the ball before you can throw it.”

Seniors, most of you have had a really strong high school run. You need to catch the ball [finish strong and graduatebefore you can successfully engage your next level (college, military, career, etc).

Is it “senioritis”? You are almost (or just) 18, almost out of the house, almost out of high school, almost independent, almost in college. Don’t drop the ball by slacking on your senior year finish.

Relationships and jobs present you with new challenges. You’re finding that the time involved in maintaining your relationship and your car, plus the hours on the job, are making it difficult to keep up with homework. Your grades wobble. Don’t bypass senior year opportunities because of time. Learn quickly from your little league mistakes and adjust so you don’t mess up your game.

I once heard a wise teacher talking with a student about the challenges of job and band opportunities:

You’ve got the next 40 years to work. Take advantage of everything high school has to offer, because you’ll never again be able to experience many of those things. Do that first and then you’ll have plenty of time to work. Finish strong and prevent regrets.

Maybe you’ve been the superstar (sports, academics, music) on sheer talent but are recovering from some setbacks as you discover that sometimes talent alone without the accompanying work ethic and relentless commitment to excellence – is not enough at the higher levels of upper-class status, advanced placement classes, and real life. You’re not willing to make that diving catch, the runners advance and you fall behind.

There are lots of new factors in your life. You have a lot on your plate – but keep your eye on the ball and your head in the game.

Finish strong and prevent regrets.


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Posted in Classroom Teacher, High Schools, Marching Band, Public Schools, Teaching, Teaching Music

Is a Wind Ensemble different from a Concert Band?


By John Gardner

The ensemble most high school band students play in during the spring semester of school can go by many names:

Concert Band, which is a very generic term itself (a band that plays concerts?). Generally it refers to an ensemble made up of woodwind, brass and percussion instruments and excludes the string instruments of the orchestra, with the possible exception of a string bass.

Symphonic Band sounds more formal. Many professional orchestras use ‘symphony’ or ‘symphonic’ in the name; i.e. Chicago Symphony Orchestra. If you want to read of the origins of the ‘symphony’ name, read this… The name implies a large collection of sound. Also symphonic winds, symphonic wind ensemble. Some groups will use a variation of “symphonic” if they are including a harp or a string bass (per the picture at the top of this post).

Wind Band distinguishes the ensemble from an orchestra that includes string instruments, but also seems to exclude percussion, as do several of the “wind” variations.

Wind Orchestra. Seems to be a conflicting, confusing name, but is listed as one of the variations on a concert band (here).

Wind Ensemble. An ensemble is just a group. So there is nothing unique about the name, but the term has more recently come to mean a specific ‘type/size’ of a concert band.

From the Colorado Wind Ensemble’s web site:

“The concept of the modern wind ensemble was born when Frederick Fennell created the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1952. Fennell’s new instrumentation used the instruments generally found in symphonic or concert bands, but reduced the size of certain sections to feature one player on each part. This allowed players who often got buried in large sections in the concert band to rise to the challenges of playing as soloists in an ensemble context. Fennell also encouraged contemporary composers to write for this new instrumentation, which was similar to an expanded orchestral winds/percussion section but included characteristic color instruments from the concert band, such as saxophones and euphonium.”

A Wind Ensemble generally has fewer of each instrument, often 1-2 players per part.

A Wind Ensemble generally has fewer of each instrument, often 1-2 players per part.

In many schools the “Wind Ensemble” is the top, usually by-audition group, and tends to play a higher difficulty level of music. By having a smaller audition group, with another larger ensemble that accepts all participants, teachers can avoid having to choose between boring the higher-proficient or losing those less proficient on their instruments. Schools that have both will sometimes feature more “academic” and traditional music with the Wind Ensemble and more crowd-pleasing music, such as movie or musical themes, with the larger group.

The secondary challenge then, is to challenge the proficient without crippling the rest. Also, to avoid the potential negative stigma of the “lower” group. I once heard a student in the second band to refer to their ensemble as the “bad band”. That is not the goal, of course.

Our school is attempting to start a Wind Ensemble, added to the current spring semester Concert/Symphonic Band offering. It will meet at a different time. Some students may be able to be in both. Hopefully with the challenge of scheduling and the musical tastes of some musicians, both ensembles will be adequately staffed for two quality ensembles.

I would like to hear from teachers in schools with enough musicians to have multiple ensembles, and particularly the combination of a Concert Band / Wind Ensemble type setup.

Hope this helps. May I help?

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

Remote instrumental solo help

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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Posted in College Prep, Consulting, High Schools, Solo Prep, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

I’d like to be your Virtual Assistant

By John Gardner

Posted in College Prep, Consulting, High Schools, How May I Serve YOU?, Internet web design and ecommerce, Managed hosting, Teaching, Teaching Music, Virtual Assistant, Virtual/Local Services Tagged with: , , ,

Neither opposite work expectation is recommended

By John Gardner

I’ve been a part of two conversations recently describing opposite expectations from college grads related to employment and availability. The first was with a music store owner,

Lazy“I’ve tried to hire two people who have both turned down full-time work. The job involved working in two of our stores, and there was some driving to get to one of them. One said he didn’t want to drive — and wanted to be available to play in a band two days a week. I hired him, but he’s working part-time in one store two days per week….and happy with that. It seems like people these days want their free time more than they want a full-time job.”

The other was a conversation between a supervising teacher and a student teacher during the final evaluation.

“Don’t be too picky in where you work. I have two friends who are college grads who do not have jobs because they are holding out for the ‘big name’ school instead of demonstrating a willingness to start in a smaller school or less-developed program and build both a program and a reputation.”

And then, there are those recent grads sitting at home or working fast food because they were unwilling to accept a part-time or substitute teaching position.

What happened to the ‘old’ work ethic that went like this…..

“I need a job and I want to work.
I am willing to start anywhere if
it gives me an opportunity to work
in my area (or in any area if nothing
else is available), even if I have to
commute, to start part-time or for
a lower than fantastic pay, 
confident that I can “build” a
reputation and earn a better job.”


Posted in Job Search, Personal experience Tagged with: , , , ,

How to give out a phone number without giving out your phone number

By John Gardner

Phone Word CollageVirtualMusicOffice is a home based business, but I did not want to use my home phone number….mainly because I didn’t want calls 24hrs a day. Same with my cell number, which does NOT have unlimited minutes (yet).

There are Virtual phone services where you can get local (sometimes) or toll free numbers. Most of those cost @$12-$15/month plus a per minutes charge on all or after limit reached with toll free calls. Vanity numbers (spell things) cost about $40 plus a monthly charge.

Here’s my new number: 260-786-6554 or 2607-VMO-JJG (for VirtualMusicOffice and John/Joan Gardner). Here’s some of what I get for FREE:

  • I control WHERE the call goes; home, cell, both, some other number.
  • I control WHEN the phone rings (no midnight calls).
  • Unknown callers are asked to identify themselves and then I have the option of answering, screening … or knowing that call will go to voice mail if I am not available).
  • I can RECORD the call, in case I am unable to take notes.
  • I am alerted by text and/or email that I have a message.
  • Voice mail messages can be transcribed to text and texted to me (good if in a meeting or a loud setting).
  • If I put people on the Contact List, I can then record personalized greetings for them. Personal vs business, prospect vs customer.

Other reasons you might want a VIRTUAL number:

  • You just don’t want everyone to have your “real” number.
  • You want a number from an area code far far away.
  • You want a number from a local area code.
  • You want a number local for long distance relatives to be able to use (they call a local number).

If you’ve already got one or have time to find out how, Yay for YOU!

If you’re short on research time, I’ll TELL YOU HOW I did it for $2.99


Or, hire me for an hour….. for $25 and I’ll contact you to get the information I need to set it all up FOR you.

Hope to hear from you soon,

p: 2607-VMO-JJG (260-786-6554)

Posted in Business strategies, Consulting, How May I Serve YOU?, Small Business, Virtual Assistant Tagged with: , , ,

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