Drum Major Auditions

Below is p1 of a 3-page Drum Major Audition packet. If you share yours, I’ll send you the rest of mine.

Play Everything on the Paper

By John Gardner

Part I: If the notes are on the paper, it is your job to play ALL of them: 5 Steps for Cleaning Technical Passages

everything on the paperPart II: Play EVERYTHING on the paper

Senior year in high school, I played a technical solo for contest and was using that same piece to audition for a college scholarship.

Phillip Miller, Clarinet Professor and Orchestra Director at the University of Kentucky during my time there.

Phillip Miller, Clarinet Professor and Orchestra Director at the University of Kentucky during my time there.

The clarinet professor travelled 70 miles to hear me play at my high school. After nailing the piece that got me a standing ovation in the solo contest room, I was ready for heaps of praise. Instead, I finished and watched a guy in agony before finally commenting,

You know….NASA can teach monkeys how to wiggle their fingers.

So you can play the notes? Good for you. There is no festival rating system I am aware of that will award the top rating (Superior, Gold, I) to someone who plays ONLY the notes.

Think of driving a car. Playing the notes is like staying on the road. Staying on the road is a good strategy and you won’t get far if you are unsuccessful, but if the only thing you’re watching are the edges of the road, you might miss the other signs along the way; stop, yield, speed limit, deer crossing, If you drive like that, you’re going to get a ticket (at best) or have an accident (at worst).

When playing an instrument, you must be able to multi-task.

Honda damageI was able to reinforce this common analogy I use when my car was struck recently by a high school student apparently not multi-tasking, i.e. watching out for other vehicles and yielding appropriately in the school parking lot.

While playing all the notes, the good performer also watches for dynamics, articulation, rhythmic accuracy  and stylistic instructions.

Musicians must multi-task as he/she plays the notes. How do you play those notes; slurred, articulated, what kind of articulation, at what dynamic, in what rhythm and with what style? Let’s address some of the major common errors.

Dynamics. The two more common mistakes related to dynamics are; 1) no dynamic contrast (everything is the at the same volume level) or 2) not enough dynamic contrast (softs softer and/or louds louder).

For most people, if you are playing without thinking about dynamic level, you are at a mezzo forte (mf). You have to work at playing both softer and louder. That is one way to find a starting point, but there are others.

Look at the piece you’re playing and find both the softest and loudest dynamic marks. Those are your most extreme….emphasize those and gauge the rest accordingly.

300px-Pipe.organ.console.arpIf a phrase of music is repeated, unless markings specifically indicate otherwise, make a distinction between the two.  Historically, one technique often used was that of the echo; a phrase played at a louder volume and then immediately repeated at a softer level, similar to the effect of using multiple keyboards on the pipe organ to repeat a phrase at different dynamic levels. If you play a repeated phrase with no distinction, you risk a judge making a comment like,

I already heard that.

You speak at different dynamic levels; the cell phone call answer in the restaurant should not be the same as your second attempt at getting a parent’s attention. Dynamics is an important judging category. Get it right.

Articulation. Two main concerns; following the markings on the music …. And the method or technique used.

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

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.

Rhythmic Accuracy. (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’.

heart monitorIs 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.

Stylistic Instructions. Once you get past the basics of notes, dynamics and articulation, there are the finer stylistic instructions. Terms like “dolce” and “furioso” mis-interpreted or ignored could result in a total misrepresentation of what the composer intended. You wouldn’t play a “march” at a funeral or a “love song” at a basketball game. The composer uses terms and markings to tell you how to play what you play. It is important that you see, understand and observe them.

Here are a few music theory terms that deal with much of what I’ve mentioned in this post.

Don't try to figure out what all the words on this word wall mean. Let me go to work for you instead.

Don’t try to figure out what all the words on this word wall mean. Let me go to work for you instead.



Bullying, Band and Best Practices

By John Gardner

Bullying In Band

UPDATE: Be sure to read the parent comment at the end of this article — and THEN check out the follow up article, “Enough!”

Over a decade after high school graduation, he told his parents he was bullied as a high school freshman, not telling them at the time because he feared they’d make a big deal of it.

He DID go to a teacher who ignored or brushed aside his emotional plea. In his valedictorian speech at graduation three years later, when he listed the “Top 10 Things I Learned in High School”, one of them was…..

“….that my head really does fit in a gym locker.”

Still no response. This was before all the more recent publicity of the terribly negative lifetime impact that bullying can have….but

…there is no excuse for inaction. EVER!

Fortunately, this story doesn’t end tragically…. but that doesn’t make it right.

Bullying in Band…..surely not, right? Read more ›

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5 Steps to Cleaning Technical Passages for Instrumentalists

By John Gardner

Solo and Ensemble no frame

“If the notes are on the paper, it is your job to play ALL of them.” -John Gardner

Too often, when I have heard high school (and college) students perform a piece, there are then inevitable technical passages. Rarely do I hear long technical passages played cleanly and correctly. The word ‘slop’ comes to mind. The reason the performance contains slop is because the practice contained slop.

Here’s how a typical high schooler practices:
     Start at the beginning
     Play to the technical passage
     Go back to the beginning and start over.
     Repeat the above steps.

Cleaning technical passages

  • Stop repeating what you CAN play and concentrate on what you can’t. I suggest circling those 3-5 most problematic spots in a solo. Then, when you start to play the piece, instead of starting at the beginning, start with the problem passages. Play them first — and last, twice as often as the rest of the piece. Don’t always start at the beginning just so you can sound good.
  • Always, ALWAYS stop and fix it. 
  • Break longer passages into smaller pieces
    • Play the first 4 sixteenths plus the first note of the next beat.
    • Do that until you can play it PERFECTLY 3 times in a row.
    • Play the next set of 4 sixteenths plus one note. Get it perfect 3x.
    • Play beats one and two. Perfect.
    • Play beat 3.
    • Play beats 1-2-3.
    • etc.
  • Slow it down, get it right and speed it up GRADUALLY.  
    • Use a metronome (free apps available for iPod, iPad.
    • Start with a tempo at which you can play it perfectly.
    • Increase the speed on the metronome no more than 5 beats per minute.
    • Don’t increase until you are consistently clean and correct.
  • Change the rhythm. What you are doing is practicing small groups of notes quickly without playing all of them quickly at the same time. By reversing and changing these rhythms, you are playing different groups of notes quickly.
    • Play 16ths as if you’re playing dotted eighth/sixteenth combination, exaggerating the quickness of the 16th.
    • REVERSE. Now play pairs of 16ths as sixteenth/dotted eighth. This is harder to do.
    • Then play them as three triplet sixteenths and an eighth note.
    • REVERSE to play eighth plus three triplet sixteenths.

Practice your performance, record yourself, critique your performance, mark your music and repeat the above cleaning steps.

A youth baseball quote I recall from years ago comes to mine;

“Be sure you catch the ball before you throw it.”
Musical translation:
“Play it right before you play it fast.”
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March Madness is also Collegiate Scramble Month

By John Gardner
March MadnessFor many, especially here in Indiana, March is NCAA “March Madness” month as all the college basketball teams jockey for position in championship tournaments. High school seniors who haven’t already secured everything for college need to ensure they stay ahead of the curve in several major timeline deadlines that come this time of year.

MUSIC AUDITIONS have been going on at most colleges in January and February. If you haven’t already auditioned, you need to contact the music department at the schools you’re interested in and see if you can set one up. If you took a solo to contest this winter, you should use that as your prepared piece. Most schools will also ask for a couple scales and ask you to do some sight-reading. They may also have you take a music theory and/or history placement test to see where to place you freshman year. Visit their sites to get dates and requirements.

The longer you wait, the more of their available scholarship funds will be committed.

Here’s an article about preparing for your college music audition.

As you schedule your audition, make a day of it with an organized Campus Visit.  Contact the Admissions and Financial Aid offices. Admissions will coordinate a tour for you, and if they offer an overnight stay in the dorm, you should take it.

Our son was interested in a particular school until the morning after he spent the night in one of their dorms. When he got in the car, he was definitely ready to leave campus.

FAFSAThe Financial Aid office will have a wealth of information about grants and scholarships. With an appointment, they may be able to give you a good idea what your “package” might look like. This assumes that you have completed your FAFSA application. Be sure you  are on the right site. There are several fake sites designed to entice you into taking a loan. Here is the official government FAFSA site.

Deadline for filing in 2016 is March 10th. DON’T BE LATE!

March Madness for ScholarshipsFAFSA frenzy

There are lots of community service organizations offering scholarships and family memorial scholarships. Many are available all year, as evidenced by this listing at the local high school, Many of those scholarship decisions are timed for school-end award programs (good publicity), which means you haven’t already started, this needs to be March Madness for Scholarships for YOU.

Apply for every scholarship that does not specifically exclude you.

If the scholarship is a Teacher’s Assoc Scholarship to be awarded to the child of a teacher, and you parents aren’t teachers, then, ok, you canNOT apply for that one. Thinking back about a decade ago when my younger son was applying for high school scholarships, he received

  • $500 from the local ABWA (American Business Women’s Association) Chapter. The scholarship info said they would give preference to a girl, but did not exclude guys.
  • $4000 ($1000 ea year of 4-yr undergraduate college) from the area Catholic Diocese. The info did not specify that the award was only for Catholics

Don’t assume that everyone in your large school class is applying for every scholarship.

Our son had failed to take the application to the post office in time to get the deadline date’s postmark, but since it was a local scholarship, he called the contact person to ask if he could deliver it personally since he couldn’t get the day’s postmark on it. Her response,

Sure, honey….you bring it on over. It will be the only one I’ve received. 

Guess who got the scholarship?

Be Complete

There was a time during “March Scholarship Madness”, that we had about a dozen stacks around our living room floor. Some of them needed some financial information, others were waiting for the final recommendation, still others for a required essay.

Follow carefully the instructions on the scholarship information and do everything required. An organization that receives lots of scholarships can use an incomplete application as a way to reduce the number to consider.

Be Committed

I’m treating this like a part-time job. And I’m hoping that, in the end, I will end up with more scholarship awards than money I would have made working a few hours weekly, for minimum wage, at the local burger house. -my son

He ended up with $7500 in scholarships from his March Madness. I wonder how much he would have made in the same time flipping burgers.

Be Careful

When applying for online scholarships, ensure that you are giving your personal information to a valid and ethical operation. Loaning money for college is big business and some entities boasting “FAFSA” or scholarship help will come back to sell you their services.

I recommend anything you find on this site =====> College Board. They are also the people who organize and administer the SAT exam.

Are you coachable?

If you’re coachable, I’m available….

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Solo Judges Sheet from 46 years ago – The Story

I am so glad I found this 46 year old piece of falling-apart paper. Please allow me to share the story behind the performance and the rating.

Throughout high school, Robert Roden was my clarinet teacher. I was the first chair clarinet at Holmes HS in Covington, KY. He also taught the first chair clarinet student from Simon Kenton (where he was Band Director) and at Campbell County HS. We were all in the same grade and had been competing with each other throughout high school when it came to District and All State ensembles.

For Solo Contest senior year HE GAVE ALL THREE OF US THE SAME SOLO!

It was a crazy difficult Theme and Variations on “Au Clair de la Lune”.

I lost my copy and have not been able to find the piece. If you do, please share details.

It created quite a stir as it became a bragging rights contest between the three bands.

When the schedule came out, I was third to go.


The first girl went – got a “I” (Superior) Rating. The room was fairly full with mostly students from her school.

More pressure.

The second girl went – got a “I” (Superior) Rating. Again, the room was fairly full.

Pressure cooker.

When I went, there were students from all three schools who couldn’t even all get into the room.

The piece is structured with a theme, piano interlude, variation, interlude, variation, etc.

The judge is Earl Thomas, clarinet professor at Eastern Kentucky University. He knew me well as I had studied with him four summers at the Stephen Collins Foster Music Camp at his school.

As I am ready to begin, Thomas says,

Mr. Gardner, this is a popular piece this year and you seem to have quite the following.

(I explain we three had the same teacher).


Well sir, since I have already heard this piece twice, can we just cut out the piano interludes? Just play each section, pause, and go on to the next.

For those who know me, I hope you would agree that my biggest strength is technique while my biggest challenges are endurance (and nerves). I could play fast, but I really needed those breaks. GONE.

I got so worried about losing the interlude breaks that I forgot to get nervous about performing….. I always wondered if, knowing me, he did that on purpose just to see how I’d respond.

At the end of my performance, HE STOOD UP FOR ME …. and then gave me the highest rating of the three. Yay!

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Valentine’s Day Stress and Teens

By John Gardner

valentineThis time of year can be stressful for those romantically attached, hoping to become, casually dating, good plutonic friends or single not by preference. I understand widowed or divorced, too…. but this post targets mostly high schoolers. If you have it all figured out, STOP HERE!

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14+ Ways to Volunteer for a Show Choir to help Teens Sing Their Hearts Out

by John Gardner

In a random passing in a hallway just outside a high school backstage area, a parent stopped me and asked,

“You’re the guy who writes the
blog, aren’t you?”

He went on to tell me how similar the workings of show choir are to those that I tend to write about on the instrumental side of music. He was spot on. So…

Choir Treble ClefAs a two-time show choir ‘dad’ and former volunteer director of a backup ensemble, I’m going to re-tool some articles with a vocal focus, like this one, based on a highly read band-focused post called, “14+ Ways to Volunteer for a Marching Band to Appreciate and Applaud what is Good about Teenage America. Please read, comment and share.

Nearly all choirs have a Choir Parent Organization, but in some cities, or with smaller choirs, finding enough help is a challenge. Most of the adults volunteering with a show choir have children in the group, but very few organizations would limit help to ONLY parents. Jump in. You’ll be accepted, appreciated, respected and even loved.

“The payback from watching the result of the commitment and search for excellence demonstrated by some of the best representatives of what is good about teenage America – is, as they say – PRICELESS!”

Some schools have multiple show choirs, usually a girl’s group and a mixed group. Double your contribution — and your reward.

COSTUME DESIGN. Many competitive show choirs have 2-3 separate costumes for BOTH boys and girls. Long skirts, short, ballroom style, rock style, bright colors, layers that come off. Costume changes happen back stage at a furiously fast tempo and the design must account for that. Velcro vs buttons or zippers at times, for example.

If you are a creative type, get with the director, show designer/choreographer and match the imagination to the show theme.

ALTERATIONS / SEWING. Even when students are individually measured for custom outfits, they never EVER come in fitting everyone “off the hanger”. Groups order early Fall for delivery late Fall. Students have gained and lost weight, freshmen have grown an inch, there were errors in the original measurements — or in production. Then there are rips, tears and other damage that happen during the course of the season.

Are you good at fixing, repairing, sewing? Show choirs need you.

CONSTRUCTION / PROPS. You’ve seen the stages for musicals. Show choirs can also use props. When I was a show choir parent a little over a decade ago, we were using specialty stages that had trap doors, pull apart sections and 6 levels. Each year the stage was different. And it took about 15-20 men to help get the pieces to the edge of the stage where the student performers had stopwatch time to put the pieces together and take them apart pre/post show. More recent trends are to use the host school’s risers, but then add a back wall, doorways (stage exits/entrances for costume changes), special lighting and more. If you are creative, work with the director or choreographer to put together what they want — or be one of those who construct per instruction. Days before the season opener performance, it is not unusual to see parents wearing construction belts full of a variety of tools.

The pay is lousy but the reward terrific.

ELECTRONICS / SOUND / TECHNICAL. Once they go to competition, there are people at the host schools taking care of electronics. But for rehearsals, or for when the show choir is hosting a competition, there are microphones, monitors, stage and performance lighting. And if you are more of an electrician than a carpenter, there are often lighting effects as part of the show stage prop setup to design, install, maintain and operate. The group’s stage crew will run things during most rehearsals and all performances, but they need training and some supervision.

Teaching teens who want to learn is amazing.

BACK STAGE / STAGE CREW HELP. The official group’s stage crew are students and they are the only ones permitted on or around the stage during competition performances. But especially early on, they could use some help maneuvering and manipulating equipment and props….SAFELY.

If your specialty is grunt work, this could be for you.

INSTRUMENTALIST: PERFORMER / DIRECTOR. One of the awards at competitions is for “Best Band”. Only student ensembles , with the exception of the pianist (typically), can win that award. They need a director, however, and that is difficult (and inefficient) for the vocal director who is more effective watching and listening to the bigger picture (band, choir, crew). If you have band or church choir experience, have worked in musicals and with ensembles, volunteer to rehearse, mentor or direct the show choir backup ensemble.

When my son was a senior singer/dancer in his high school show choir, I was the parent volunteer who directed the backup band. As it turned out, I was the ‘transition’ between the choir director as instrumental director (up to that year) and a paid staff director (ever since).

Increasingly, groups are using paid instrumentalists (college students, professionals) for their ensembles. Reasons vary:

  1. Not enough student instrumentalists available. In a small school the crossover between instrumental/vocal groups is significant, and it could be that there are too many of the better instrumentalists who are also performing or participating in the choir. It could be a lack of interest. Marching band students who sacrifice so much of their time in the summers and fall may not be willing to continue that schedule another three months.
  2. Not enough GOOD instrumentalists. A weak instrumental ensemble can negatively impact the choir.
  3. Lack of cooperation between instrumental and vocal departments. This shouldn’t happen, but unfortunately too often it is the case.
  4. Paid performers can add extra punch to a performance and many choir directors are willing to sacrifice the opportunity to go for a “best band” award (professional groups are usually excluded from consideration for that award) to get the extra musical support from (usually) higher level playing.

If you are willing to be a volunteer instrumental performer in the backup group, you will save the program hundreds of dollars they would have had to pay a ‘professional’.

FOOD. Like to cook/fix foods for big events? Like to see smiles on teen faces? Want to serve?

Show Choir Competitions are all-day events, including a solo contest, multiple ensembles (all girls, mixed, concert choir), requiring most groups to arrive early and stay the day. THEN… after the announcement of the top six groups, there is a championship round in the evening. Since all activities are inside the school (vs out in the parking lot with trailers and semis for food prep at marching band competitions), groups get through the day on snacks and concessions. But there is still a food component.

When the choreographer is in, the group may rehearse from after school until 9pm, or all day on a Saturday.

C’mon, you’ve always wanted to cook for 70, right? But hey, all those smiling, appreciative faces will make YOU smile too.

CHAPERONES. Unlike the general population of the school, music students understand the behavior expectations and how they are held to a higher standard. They understand that travel is a privilege that can be lost. Music students are the cream of the crop, the best of the best, and riding the bus with them, helping them in rehearsals and as they travel…. is really a fun job. Many chaperons are “Mama [insert name]” to the students. They understand chaperons are a reality and they do not make it a hard job. 

Chaperones get in free to competitions.

DRIVERS.The bus drivers are school corporation employees, but most show choirs have a truck or trailer to carry outfits, props, instruments, etc. Do you have a trailer they can use? If it has your logo on it – consider all that free advertisement. If the group already has a trailer, can you use your truck to pull it — or volunteer to drive whatever vehicle is available for that?

Drivers get in free too!

FUNDRAISING. In most high school music programs, both instrumental and vocal, the financial requirements involved in funding a competitive ensemble (show choir / marching band) are staggering. The girls’ three specialized, razzle-dazzle outfits for the show can easily top $800 — and they change every year. The guys in the choir won’t spend that much, but half that is reality. The backup musicians are often in tuxes and formal dresses. Students are expected to raise or pay that every year, a cost prohibitive obstacle for many.

The choreographer costs a couple thousand and the music composer/arranger another grand. Add another couple thousand for paid musicians in the backup band.

Are you good at organizing events, making calls, creating publicity, motivating people? Your skills would be invaluable.

CONTEST/EVENT ORGANIZER. A show choir competition can involve two dozen ensembles from groups travelling hundreds of miles. The host group is flying in judges from all over the country, housing and feeding them — as well as providing hospitality for directors and drivers, concessions, advertising, announcing, timers, people to help each group through their event schedule, score tabulators and so much more. Competitions are large fundraisers, but also massive undertakings. Can you help with parking, crowd control, first aid — or as a runner to take care of all the highly stressed and sometimes demanding directors?

Whatever you like to do, there is probably a job for you at a show choir, marching band, winter guard or indoor percussion competition.

GRANT WRITING. There is money out there, but the competition for it is great. Are you an experienced grant writer? They could certainly use your help.

BUSINESS MENTORING. Do you run a small business? Have a business degree? Music Directors are trained educators, not necessarily heavily trained in the business skills involved in running the “business” of a travelling competitive program. And the band parent volunteers are always well-meaning parents who want to help, but don’t always have the organizational or motivational skills that could make them more effective and successful contributors to the program.

Especially in programs organizing “competitions” as fundraisers….the organization requirements are huge — and most would accept constructive help from a local business professional.

MEDICAL. Students with asthma have prescription inhalers. There are those on behavioral modification medicines (including narcotics) or with medically prescribed ankle or knee braces. An intensive performance in costume with the added stress of competition, some students need real help when they come off the stage. It is not unusual for students to get a variety of injuries (twisted ankles), wrenched backs (from picking up the girl — or from landing the wrong way after a dance move. The local show choir was fortunate for a several years when a chiropractor parent would travel with a portable examination table to competitions to work on injured dancers.

If you are a medical professional, your advice and services could be put to good use.

LEGAL. Increasingly, band and choir parent organizations are incorporating — and part of that process involves legal services. Can you help? Music groups and directors make contractual commitments to designers, instructional and expert staff, choreographers, and more. Perhaps they are building sponsorship relationships with local business.

Help them use the right words.

FINANCIAL. Choirs often have an individual participant financial requirement (in addition to outfit cost). In addition to the general fund expenses, there are individual student accounts. On a major trip year, responsibilities are magnified as families make scheduled payments into an account, or where the band treasurer must coordinate with the travel company on all those individual accounts. If you can’t be the day-to-day person, perhaps you could help set up the spreadsheet or recommend the program to use — and offer financial or bookkeeping advice.

A competitive music ensemble should be run like a business, but that is hard to do when most of those in the operation are untrained and unpaid. If you can help, please do.


ALUMS can volunteer.

BACKGROUND CHECKS. Anyone working with students must get a background check. Locally they are free and non-intrusive. If you’re building props, you may not need one. But if you are teaching students to build them, you would. If you are sewing you might not — but if you are measuring or helping students try on outfits – you do.

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

referencesBy John Gardner

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

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

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

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

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

Hire MeWhat makes a good letter?

I usually structure my letter to focus on multiple areas:

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

What YOU should provide the letter-writer.

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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Broken Trust and the Damage Bad Teachers Cause

By John Gardner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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