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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Marching Band is an All Weather Sport

-from a post (love note) to my band after a first competition in bad weather

In 4 days, we went from a heat index of 96 to a wet, windy wind chill in the 50’s. We’ll have more details to share after we study all the judges’ recordings, but parents and friends should really know how proud the directors are of these all-weather, flexible-schedule, take-whatever-comes teens….and their parents.

Saturday is supposed to include a morning rehearsal, an afternoon parade and an evening competition. I bet ours is the only one of the 22 bands at Bluffton with a parade the same day.

Saturday morning the woodwinds and brass rehearse outside in a steady rain to clean the end of the show for a potential, yet doubtful outside competition. Because the weather forecast is for rain all day, the full ensemble then rehearses in the fieldhouse for an expected inside performance setting at Bluffton.

Less than an hour prior to departure, the Roanoke parade is cancelled and we catch the bus drivers as they are preparing to come pick us up…. leaving us with a sudden couple hours of nothingness. No complaints. More bonding time, right?

After hearing of another competition in the state moving to inside, it looks like we’re still on for outside at Bluffton, in the rain on artificial turf. Although the rain will prevent use of our props, we really want the field performance feedback.

With a steady rainfall, we bypass the planned trip to the stadium to watch a few bands — and the band huddles under BPO-provided tents for another extended time while enjoying a great BPO meal.

We will march without hats and props.

Spending nearly an hour in the walk-around-the-school warm-up cycle, the band comes to the field in a steady heavy drizzle and moderately heavy wind in which the color guard has to spin wet flags while holding onto cold, slippery poles — and toss and catch slippery rifles. Mallets and drumsticks can also be challenging. Cold fingers are harder to move fast, but our woodwinds especially impressed the field music judge, who was right in front of the flutes, clarinets and altos at the perfect time (as Mr. Petek predicted).

Especially given the weather, the performance went well. Sound was especially good. We had issues that we can address, but we came away with a solid first score that included the highest music performance and music effect scores in our class — with a 2nd place in class finish. Our newbies have their first competition behind them and we have judge feedback to consider.

Kudos also to our devoted parents and staff.

Rest up. Get warm. Stay dry. C’ya Monday. Let’s Keep Getting Better.


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Using Google Docs to gather specific item donations

By John Gardner

Our marching band travels to competitions most Saturdays during September and October, and our Band Parents organize food donations. In the past that has been done by posting and asking for volunteers….or for the food committee chairperson to make lots of phone calls.

Now we use Google Docs. Here are the steps:

1. Create the document with blanks for people to claim items.

Food donation blank

2. Share the document.

Options are to enter individual email addresses, but that would be time consuming. Click the button to SHARE and then GET SHARABLE LINK. Make sure anyone with the link CAN EDIT. Other options are to ‘view’, but that won’t work for this purpose — or the ‘comment’, but that would require additional editing.

I usually post a PIC of the document (see above) and publish the link to the sharable document. I also link the pic to the google doc so that if someone clicks on the form, they will go instantly to enter date.

3. Watch the blanks turn into names…..

One parent emailed me that she had fun watching several people in the form simultaneously typing and editing.

The food chairperson can then deal with any remaining blanks.

The form posted above was completed (nearly) within 24hrs (see below)


Google doc filled in privacy


A few other ways I use Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides….. I have Microsoft programs at school, but not at home. This way, I can work on the same document and share it from anywhere.

  • Google Slides for classroom announcements.
  • Google Forms for quizes, surveys
  • Google Sheets for band roster (can share with parent officers who help keep the form up to date).

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