Solo and Ensemble Contest Prep: Scoresheet Categories

By John Gardner

Solo and Ensemble no frameMusic students from my school participate in ISSMA (Indiana State School Music Association) sanctioned solo and ensemble district and state level competitions. ISSMA copyrights their judging forms.

Many categories for solo contests are fairly universal, and as a template for the categories I will use here, I have selected categories posted on a high school site outside Indiana. For each category; the title and considerations are copied, the comments are mine.


Accuracy to printed pitches.

In Solo performance, are you in tune with the piano (or the recorded accompaniment)? You should tune carefully before you begin, both to check intonation and to ensure the instrument is ready to go, especially if you have been waiting for a while. No instrument is completely “in tune”, i.e. tuning one note is not enough. You need to know what notes or octaves have what tendencies on your instrument and adjust accordingly. Flutes can roll in/out to help, trumpets have a 3rd valve slide and all brass instruments have alternate fingerings to compensate for typically out of tune notes (especially 1 & 3 valve combinations). Trombones are almost without excuse, right? Otherwise, you can bend your pitch up or down by adjusting your embouchure — or by using alternate key combinations. Practice with a tuner to determine which notes are in/out of tune. If you study privately, hopefully your teacher is helping you with the lesser-known key combinations and techniques as you strive for a higher level performance.

In Ensemble performance, try to tune before going into the performance room, but take the necessary time to get it right before you start. If the last sound the judge hears before you start is noticeably out of tune, you are in trouble in this category.


Resonance, control, clarity, focus, consistency, warmth.

Tone is influenced and affected by many factors; instrument, mouthpiece, reed, and performer. If you have a step-up instrument and/or a better mouthpiece than the one that came with your 6th grade year instrument, then you should have some equipment help in tone production. But a good musician can make even lesser quality equipment sound good, while a poor musician can fail to produce what the equipment will allow. In other words, it is more than just the equipment — the judge is judging YOU!

Vibrato will likely be considered here for those instruments that are, at least at the higher levels, expected to play longer tones and melodic sections with a warm, controlled vibrato, typically oboes, bassoons, flutes, saxes, trumpets, trombones and baritones. French horns and clarinets generally are not expected to use vibrato.

Resonance, control, clarity, focus, consistency, warmth….all go to the currently accepted tone for your instrument. The best way, even if you are studying privately but especially if you are not, is to LISTEN to professional recordings. Online videos can be helpful, but some of those are posted by people not better trained or farther advanced than you. Resonance implies a deep, full, reverberating sound vs one that is weak and tentative. Is yours controlled or does it change drastically per octave or when you have skips of large intervals? When I think of clarity, I want to hear the instrument and not the reed, tone without fuzziness or buzziness. Consistency requires control. When someone talks of warmth, I think of a full flavored soft-drink or coffee vs something watered down. Warmth implies some emotional involvement (more below) in your sound.


Accuracy of Note Values, Rest Values, Duration, Pulse, Steadiness, Correctness of Meter.

Note values covers a lot. When a quarter note is followed by a rest, do you go all the way to the rest? When you have a dotted eighth-sixteenth pattern, do you sub-divide to ensure the dotted 8th gets 3/4 of the beat….and not 2/3? A common rest mistake is similar; not giving it enough value or rushing to the next note, which gets into Pulse. If it were possible to hook up a heart monitor to the way you play, you don’t want the screen to look spastic, or as if you are having a heart attack. You should have a clear, easy to read (hear) ‘beat’.

Is your tempo Steady, i.e., you don’t slow down during the faster parts and increase tempo in the easy sections?

Your heart rate increases when you run, but your tempo should not change when you play runs.

Practice with a metronome. If it feels like the metronome is pushing you, you’re dragging. If it seems like it is slowing you down, you’re rushing. If possible for 8th note meters (5/8, 6/8, etc), set the metronome so the 8th note gets the click. Obviously that becomes more difficult the faster the tempo.

TECHNIQUE (facility/accuracy): 

Artistry, attacks, releases, control of ranges, musical/mechanical skill.

A question I’m often asked in a playing test setting where the student is going to be graded on how he/she plays something is; “How fast should I play it?” My answer is always,

As fast as you can play it accurately.

Facility speaks to how quickly or effortlessly you can play something, to your mechanical skill. Are you up to tempo on a technical passage or are you slowing it down so you can get all the notes. Balanced with facility is accuracy. If you slow it down and get it right, the judge might ding you a little on facility but should credit you on accuracy. The opposite is not true, however. If you play at tempo and miss lots of notes, you have demonstrated a lower level of both facility and accuracy. For the highest credit, practice it slowly, get it right, the gradually speed it up (with a metronome) to tempo. Accurately at tempo is the goal.

Is it better to play it slower and accurately, or at tempo and miss some notes?

Judge response: If you want MY highest rating, play it correctly at tempo.

Two terms above go together; artistry and musical skill. Have you interacted with Siri on the iPhone? That is a mechanical voice. Failure to demonstrate artistry or musicianship (musical skill) would be like listening to someone who speaks in a monotone, or someone who writes without any capitalization or punctuation. Similarly to the impact of a well-delivered preacher’s sermon, politician’s speech or orator’s dramatic reading, your artistry will affect your audience…and the judge.

When it comes to attacks and releases, most attack better than they release. Work at both. In a slower, melodic passage, can you start the note on pure air minus the tongue, or at least get the sound started without the sound of the articulation? Sometimes thinking of a football can work with a picture of how sound (or phrases) begin and end. Don’t start with a thud and don’t end with a chop off. Sometimes you need the tongue to stop the sound, but ending with the air is preferred.

Do you struggle with low notes on a saxophone or high notes on a trumpet or clarinet? Or any instrument? That is about consistency and control. It is more than just blowing and wiggling fingers. Can you maintain a dynamic level as you change octaves? A clarinet descending from high to low actually needs more air at the lower levels to maintain the same volume. Do you have some notes that pop out? That demonstrates a lack of control.

Record yourself using a computer device (such as iPad free app “Recorder Plus HD”) that shows your recording level. When you review, look for sudden peaks or valleys in volume… Sometimes you can get a visual of control issue.

And notice that, with this judging sheet category, “note accuracy” is assumed rather than mentioned. Playing right notes is the minimum of any performance and if that is all you do, you should expect a mediocre rating or result. In a previous article, I likened this minimal notes-only approach to driving a car and staying on the road while avoiding the other signs along the way.

Interpretation: Musicianship

Style, Phrasing, Tempo, Dynamics, Emotional Involvement

There is a lot of overlap in these categories. Interpretation involves HOW you play WHAT you play. Are you in the style of the piece. Trills and grace notes in a Mozart piece are different from those from more recent composers. The style of a rondo is different from that of an intermezzo. When it comes to phrasing, are you adding fluctuation to the sound? Is it going somewhere? Is there a beginning, a peak and an end to a phrase? Do you play the way you speak? Phrasing can also include articulation (next category) and dynamics. Just as tempo was a part of fluency and accuracy described earlier, it is also part of interpretation. If you play a technical concerto by Mozart or Weber and you take the allegro section at half tempo to get the notes right, you have mis-interpreted the tempo.


Few things are more obvious to a trained musician than to hear the errors of sloppy articulation; slurring everything, constant tonguing or a random combination.

Music performance can include articulation interpretations, but if you are changing what is marked on the paper, you need to mark your changes on the judge’s copy. Make sure the judge knows that what you played was what you intended.

If you have an extended 16th note run that is market all staccato, and you struggle with playing that, and you don’t want to reduce the tempo, then you might want to slur two, tongue two in a grouping of 4 sixteenth notes, for example. Mark the judge’s copy. He/she could still ding you a little for your articulation interpretation, but less than if you made the change without marking the original.

articulationThe other main weakness in articulation is the technique, i.e. HOW you articulate. Have you ever heard someone with a speech impediment? The challenge in fixing those is that most of what is happening is going on inside the mouth. Speech therapists are trained to do that. Do you need a specialist?

For a reed player, are you touching the reed, the roof of the mouth, or are you making some sort of ‘k’ or other throat sound to stop the air?  Not all articulations are created equal. If you make the judge spend time trying to figure out what is going on inside your mouth (articulation technique), you are hindering your success.


Performance Factors

Choice of literature, appropriate appearance, poise, posture, general conduct, manerisms, facial expression. 

I wrote an article about selecting literature. Read it….

Choice of literature: Demonstrate your strengths, hide your weaknesses. If you struggle some with rhythms, have trouble with fast passages, perhaps you should choose a slower piece. If you struggle with vibrato, don’t select the slow, melodic romantic-style ballad.

Appropriate appearance has nothing to do with your beauty or your weight. If you go to a job interview that would require you working in a business office and you arrive in jeans with holes and a t-shirt advertising an alcoholic beverage, you start with the wrong impression. Most solo/ensemble festivals will accept clean casual. Understand that most of the judges are college professors, where their performers are often required to wear tuxes and formals. Don’t shock them. If you come to the performance room looking like you have dressed for success, that you are showing respect for the judge, the audience and the event, you will earn credit in this area.

Poise and posture. Look like a performer. If standing, consider having both feet flat on the floor. If sitting, move forward on the chair with both feet on the floor. Poise includes the idea of selling both yourself and what you are doing. A college professor was advising a modest, yet talented musician and explained it this way:

Humility is a virtue. It is okay to be meek and mild….UNTIL you put that [instrument] in your hands and walk out onto that stage. THEN I want you to be an arrogant, confident, mean son-of-a-[band parent]. Take the stage. Command and control the audience.

My college professor told me to…

…make them stand up.

General conduct / manerisms, facial expression. Avoid toe tapping. Don’t grimace when you make a mistake. You’re in the spotlight and everything is important.

This is generally a catch all category and judges can use it to give you a higher rating here than maybe they were able to on other areas. This should be the category in which everyone can do well.



Respecting, Preparing For and Appreciating your Pianist

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Halloween 2018

I enjoy Halloween. Most of it. Gets a little expensive, but the kids are cute. Several parents dressed up. Yay! Most kids were very polite. Some of the older ones were even friendly. Good for you. The teens were impressive. They must have good parents and/or teachers. The out of town van fills showed up. Twice the street was car/truck blocked in front of our house – 3 across in the middle of the street. Saw a few bandsters. Missed getting a pic. Two parents really got me. One was a mom who tells dad to go to get the candy cause the kid is asleep in the stroller. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. The other was a mom trying to convince a screaming toddler to come get candy. Kid screams nooo. Overall a better show of decent parenting than some years. We had enough candy this year. Maybe band candy tomorrow (?).

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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Trust: Today I failed.

This is a re-post – not a current event. I try hard to build, earn and enjoy healthy, appropriate, trusting relationships with students. I want them to be comfortable coming to me — and I think most are. About anything. Yes. I want to believe what they tell me — and try to. I’m not so naive to think that I’ve never been lied to, but I’m willing to take that chance by trusting first — and until I can’t. Through the years that I’ve taught, I think I’ve done pretty well most of the time. Today I failed.

I’ve written about this before =====> “I WANT to trust you. I WANT to believe you. I WANT to say ‘Yes’. I WANT you to be truthful with me and I’M willing to take the first reasonable risk. The danger, for me then, is that some people are so accustomed to saying what is convenient at the moment (situational ethics?) that they do that with ME (automatically or intentionally – doesn’t matter) …..and I get burned, disappointed, even hurt. Why do I take it so personally? I wish I didn’t, but I do.”

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Why Practice and Prepare for the PSAT

10 Ways To Earn Student Respect and Trust

This is my garage the day before it was being re-sided. I called it the "GGG" (Gardner, Garage Graffiti) event. They came to my house on a Saturday morning. Do you think they will remember this day? What if they had not come?

This is my garage the day before it was being re-sided. I called it the “GGG” (Gardner, Garage Graffiti) event. They came to my house on a Saturday morning. Do you think they will remember this day? What if they had not come?

Students know which teacher(s)….

  • are more interested in being popular than in providing and expecting academic excellence . Students will “like” this teacher, but will not “respect” him/her.
  • are there only for the paycheck. These are the people who deserve the quote, “those who can – do, those who can’t – teach”.
  • stopped working hard when they got tenure and are now just putting in time.
  • are incompetent. Students recognize those who read only the questions in the teacher’s edition, use publisher-provided Powerpoint presentations and read them word for word, who have artificial conversations or Q&A sessions.
  • are invested in the totality of the student, beyond what is required by the contract and mandated by administration.
  • are the go to adults for help, support and understanding with life’s struggles

“When students feel that teachers and school administrators genuinely care about them and help them to feel welcome, they are more motivated to cooperate and to succeed.” -Robert Brooks, PhD

A former student remembering her band experience wrote that,

“It is more than just about music.”

She attributed the life-skills she learned in band (time management, team building, respect for authority, commitment, self-discipline….) to have been major factors in her success in college, medical school and life.

In a Facebook message from a Music Education major;

“I just wanted to take a moment to thank you again and again for steering me in the right path, …! There is no way I will ever be able to give you the thanks that you really deserve, for the potential you saw in me, for the care you gave me, for the trust you put in me, and for the time and energy you invested in me! You changed a life…MINE.”

Responding to a blog post called, “I Want To Trust You”, another former student wrote;

I’m remembering a little white lie that Tina and I told you just to get out of class for a minute or two……..Unfortunately, you found out about it. I’ve never felt so guilty as when I was caught tricking YOU! You were the TEACHER to go to when things weren’t going ok. And a trusted teacher…….I was SO sorry!”

Four days before Christmas, I received a text message from a senior,

“G, I just got kicked out of my house. Please help me!”

How can teachers get past the compliance expectation and earn respect….and TRUST?

  • Be real. You can’t fake it with teens, they will see right through you. If you can’t be real, you should not be there. Please leave education.
  • Be available. How easy is it for a teen to say to YOU, “Can I talk to you?”? What if it is not during class or immediately after school? In how many different ways are you available and do students know and understand that? Do they know if it is ok to email, call, text or instant message you? When a teen says they need to talk, somebody needs to be available. Be that person. Consider your use of texting and social media.
  • Be there. Yes, you’re “on duty” at school. What about when a student is in the hospital, at the funeral home, pitching in the softball/baseball game, getting baptized, being awarded Eagle Scout status, or when their garage-type band is playing at the coffee shop? Take your spouse or your kids and just be where you can when you can. They will notice.
  • Trust them. If you want trust, you need to give some. I have a periodic discussion about trust, abusing it, losing it and the difficulty in earning it a second time. Read: “I WANT To Trust You“. Teens make mistakes and the trust area is one of those places where they can mess up. But help them learn. Take a reasonable chance. Yes, you’ll get burned some….but you will also empower leaders to rise up.
  • Respect them. There is a good chance they will recognize and return it.
  • Advocate for them. Of course you have students who are financially challenged and could benefit from music lessons, a better instrument, participation in a select ensemble or some other training. You won’t always succeed, but try to find funding to help. Call the employer to help him get that job. Write a letter to help her get that scholarship. Help them with college applications their parents can’t (or won’t).
  • Listen, really listen. Teens typically think that people don’t listen. They think adults are quick to lecture, criticize and correct, but are slow to listen. You don’t always have to have the answer. Sometimes there isn’t an obvious answer. Sometimes listening is the answer, because in allowing them to share, you enable them to find their own answer. Unless they are sharing something illegal, dangerous, hear them out. Don’t argue. Don’t interrupt. Don’t pre-judge. And when you can, share your wisdom, experience, expertise and advice.
  • Expect and Encourage Excellence. Students will complain when the load is heavy and the challenge is significant, but they know, even when they won’t admit, that achieving excellence requires work. They want to achieve and succeed. Being there for them doesn’t mean lowering your standards. Make them stretch. They’ll appreciate you eventually, even if not today.
  • Don’t assume. A question I ask often is, “You okay?” Simple question….and sometimes they shrug it off, but there have been many times for me that this gives them the opening to ask for help.
  • Don’t give up. It can be difficult, disappointing and even deflating when teens mess up. Don’t give up on them. That’s what the rest of society wants to do sometimes…. They will be disappointed that they disappointed you, but your unconditional support (not approving what they do) is vitally important to them.


Sometimes I complain about my job; about the part-time-ness, the pay, the union, my bosses, the financial realities, and more…. but I will ALWAYS love the teens I get to work with. They can be challenging; sometimes immature, making decisions without thinking through to the consequences of those decisions, they can love you today, hate you tomorrow and love you again the day after……, but if you’re in it for them, you’re positively impacting lives and as the commercial implies, you cannot put a price on that.

Thanks for reading,


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High Teen Standards

By John Gardner

I post variations of the picture advice below every year about this time — because this is Marching Band season.

Marching band students are together soooo much, 6-8-10 hours a day during camp and multiple hours daily during school. They rehearse together, eat meals together, have breaks together, travel together, perform together.

Lots of couplings happen during band….and that is not a bad thing. I met my wife  of 38 yrs during college band. There are some terrific couples I know, parents of teens, who were high school sweethearts.

Over the years, however, and too many times – I’ve seen good people have to drop out of band due to decisions made in some of these couplings. A few years ago, I got a response from a former student…..

Read more ›

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What crushes their dreams?

Below is one of the more depressingly negative parts of a page I have ever written. It comes from a 3-page section of an eBook I wrote, College Prep: A Strategic and Systematic Strategy that was the basis of a college presentation I made recently. I am convinced that many teens treat college prep the same way they treat any homework assignment. On the three page excerpt below, I answer the question, “what crushes their dreams”?

They take what comes and go with the flow. Given their life history, why are we surprised? Teens coming into high school have had almost no control in their life story. They didn’t choose their parents, or where they live, or what economic condition they would endure. They have moved away from their friends as the parents get jobs or flee bill collectors. They are the unintended wounded in divorces and then have to “learn” to get along with parental “friends” or to have to go back and forth between parents. They have to learn to become brothers and sisters to someone else’s children. They have two and three bedrooms in different homes. Some jump from home to home weekly while others make a long summer move every year. The reality of single-parent households often includes a poverty component, or an absent parent working multiple jobs to try to make it. And what choice does the teen have?

By the time they get to high school, they are numb to relationship building. When they apply some of the standards and practices they’ve witnessed in their homes to their first boy/girlfriends, they experience similar traumatic results. Hearts are broken, and many erect shields of protection as a defense to both students and adults – including teachers.

So when the realities of their short-sighted focus, crushed dreams and dashed hopes come to bear as they approach time for college decisions, they default into the same mode they already know so well. They just take it. They go with the flow.

Download these 3 pages: =====> Harsh Reality of Getting To and Paying for College.

Hopefully, I am NOT describing anything close to YOUR reality. If I am, I’m open to a conversation.

The good news is that with a systematic strategy, many students can get into higher priced schools paying less than they might have to go to a lower priced option. Depending on response/reaction, I may periodically post more as we move closer to the October PSAT test, for which I hope to convince you to “practice and prepare”.


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The PSAT is more than just a practice test

In many high schools, the PSAT is administered to Sophomores in October. Teen Life Blog writes that the PSAT is more than just a practice test. 

Here is how the typical Sophomore takes the test.

The day before the PSAT, Sophomores are instructed to get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast in the morning.

On test day, they report to their assigned room, spend several hours taking the PSAT and then exiting the room saying variations of…..

“That was terrible.”
“I blew it.”

And then a few weeks later, the scores come out and they find out they were right.

Don’t do it that way!

The PSAT does two important (and valuable) things

First, the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is also the NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). Here’s a good blog article, “How To Become A National Merit Semifinalist“.

“Doing poorly on the exam, taken most often by sophomores and juniors, won’t hurt your college admissions chances”, points out Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Counselors in Hollywood, Fla. “But doing well on it could mean more money for college—in some cases, a lot more.”

That’s because the PSAT also serves as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test for juniors hoping to be National Merit finalists.
-Money / Family Finance

I have some personal experience with the PSAT with my two high school sons.

The older acquired National Merit Scholar Status and received a $2500 annual award at his college, specifically because of that status. So in his case, the PSAT was worth $10,000. Is that worth “practicing and preparing”? I vote YES!

I didn’t keep track of the collegiate response to the older son’s PSAT, but I did for the younger. A few examples from the mail he received following his PSAT in 2000 and prior to graduation in 2001.

If you treat the PSAT like it doesn’t really matter, like the average high school student treats most homework and tests, then it will not do much for you. To be in the top 1% (what it takes to earn National Merit status), a strategy of “practice and prepare”, can help you get significant money for college.

Toward that end, here is the best place to practice. I say that because the PSAT is the College Board’s test.

Hope this helps.

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I WANT To Trust You

Screenshot 2015-07-05 13.01.12
“Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honesty, I lose myself.” –William Shakespear

“Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”–Janis Joplin

“Some things are black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. Honesty is one of those things. You have it or you don’t.

I can trust you – or I can’t.” -G

On TV, honesty seems to be relative; use it when you can, abandon it when it helps the moment. That is a sad reality that we must avoid in band. Trust requires honesty. Without trust, everything you do or say must be doubted, questioned or verified. Trust lost is hard to earn back.

In a conversation with band students, I asked for the most common answer from a teacher after a student request. “No.” I asked for the most common response from parents… “No.” Could it be that the tendency to say ‘No’ is at least partially driven by a low trust factor caused by a questionable honesty level? I say yes….in many cases.

So who goes first?

Dear students,

I WANT to trust you. I WANT to believe you. I WANT to say ‘Yes’. I WANT you to be truthful with me and I’M willing to take the first reasonable risk. The danger, for me then, is that some people are so accustomed to saying what is convenient at the moment (situational ethics?) that they do that with ME (automatically or intentionally – doesn’t matter) …..and I get burned, disappointed, even hurt. Why do I take it so personally? I wish I didn’t, but I do.

I almost lost my job once, as a young District Sales Manager for a national fundraising company, when I went to bat for some reps only to discover they had been feeding me lies. My boss’ response to my frustration and question about how to know who to trust was, “Trust is a treasure that some people haven’t earned, don’t value or can’t handle. You have to learn WHO you can give HOW MUCH to.”

Trust, but verify.” -Ronald Reagan

“You won’t get away with it.” -my pastor

My mama used to say…

“Burn me once, shame on YOU!
Burn me twice, shame on ME!”

A former student from my first teaching job posted on my facebook:

“I’m remembering a little white lie that Tina and I told you just to get out of class for a minute or two……..Unfortunately, you found out about it. I’ve never felt so guilty as when I was caught tricking YOU! You were the TEACHER to go to when things weren’t going ok. And a trusted teacher…….I was SO sorry!”

So this is not a new problem for me. It isn’t something that JUST happend. IT happens…. Sometimes you can get me …. yes you can. Some of you are very good at trying, because your moral compass is off….or broken. Sometimes, I DO give you the benefit of my doubt.  Burn me once….

Here’s the bottom line, the brutal truth, the real consequence… and it is important that YOU KNOW IN ADVANCE.

If I give you MY TRUST and you respond with YOUR LIES …. it changes EVERYTHING, including my ability to trust and respect YOU….probably for longer than it should. I can still be your teacher. I can still treat you with professionalism and dignity. But, burn me twice….

So what? Maybe nothing…..because then I become like all the other adults in your life who will almost always say no and who will be compelled to question and verify everything you say….and the games go on.

That makes me sad.

With respect and trust,

Cracking and crumbling of the word Trust

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