Teens I Admire #1

By John Gardner

Large group of smiling friends staying together and looking at camera isolated on blue backgroundAdults who are afraid of teenagers or who feel like teens of today are nothing like those from their day (adults have been saying that forever, right?) ….. or who think the quality of teens is crumbling….. should come hang out with the teens I get to spend time with.

As a teacher, I can’t use the “love” word, must avoid the “creepy” label (they DO use that word too much), have to be careful how I compliment the way someone looks, and often settle for handshakes and high fives when a good pat on the back or a hug seems so much more appropriate for the circumstance …. but I thoroughly enjoy my time on the school clock. I LOVE the youthful enthusiasm. I ADMIRE their dreams, goals and aspirations. And I RESPECT those who make the best of their circumstances as they strive for excellence. I am all about encouraging achievers and I think it is because they recognize that, that they allow me into their lives. I “love” this job AND these teens.

My response to the parent who asked recently, “How do you put up with a room FULL of teenagers?” is “I feel sorry for those who DON’T get to experience a room FULL of teenagers.”

Some of the “types” of teens I admire…. (first in a series)

I admire teens who thrive because of their parents… Band students have complicated schedules that can challenge parental patience. There is the expense of instruments and extras (reeds, valve oil, drum sticks) — not to mention private lessons, summer camps, etc. Vacations get adjusted and, especially until the teen can drive, there are countless trips to drop off and pick up.

Some parents sacrifice soooo much in time, energy and money so that their teen can focus on being a better student, athlete, musician, academic or whatever. But all of that is for naught if the teen doesn’t take advantage of it. I admire teens who appreciate what they have and commit themselves to “getting their parents’ money’s worth”.

I admire teens who thrive in spite of their parents.

I was outside Door 34 prior to a rehearsal when she jumped out of the car and ran up to me, crying and wiping tears from her eyes, “G… I’m sorry…..I’m so sorry.” As she ran off into the building I got the impact of her emotion when I saw the approaching papa angrily waving a copy of our schedule.

Additional random examples….

“We’re going to pull our son out of band…..his room is a mess.”

“I can’t come to band today. I’m grounded and part of my punishment is whatever consequence I get from you for not being here.”

” He really loves band…..which is why this has to be part of his punishment.”

“She can’t major in color guard in college….so there is no point in the expense for her to be in this activity.”

“My parents took my band card money and my paycheck money. What do I do?”

“Here’s my paycheck to pay you back for letting me go to Disney. I will be able to pay you back from my job over the next three months.” (And did.)

“I have to stop taking private lessons because my dad says if I have money to waste on music lessons that I can pay rent.”

“G, I just got kicked out of my house.”

“Why are you telling my kid (s)he needs extra money for music lessons? Aren’t you the teacher? Why don’t you do what you’re getting paid for?”

“Why should I buy another [instrument]? I bought the one they told me to buy when (s)he started.”

Some of the most determined to succeed band students have parents I never meet. I understand busy and I understand the struggles of single parenthood (there were five kids in my single parent home) and it can be hard….yes, it can be hard. But it is sad sometimes to watch students try not to show disappointment when the parent is not there…. just sayin’.

I admire students who, despite the potential negatives of their circumstances…..are determined to succeed…..

….to be continued

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

Raise the bar with PRACTICE

Raise the Bar with Practice

Posted in Assistant Directing, High Schools, Personal experience, Storytelling, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , ,

Sight-reading Tips

By John Gardner

Solo and Ensemble no frameMusicians auditioning for acceptance or for music scholarships are working on prepared pieces — likely the same piece he/she is using for solo contest. An aspect of many auditions that are a challenge is the demonstration of sight-reading proficiency. Colleges want to know how quickly you can learn their music.

In most sight-reading circumstances, there will be a period of time for you to preview what you are about to play. In a concert band festival, the sight-reading session involves 10 minutes to look over a piece (counting/clapping rhythms, checking out different aspects, before time is up and the judge is ready. In the Smartmusic.com practice software, sight-reading exercises begin with a user (or teacher) determined amount of time prior to the click off and the assessment. Whatever amount you get, gage the time to get through the following:

Key signature. What key are you in? Think through the scale. Look throughout and see if or how many times it changes during the piece.

Notes. Check range. If possible, sing what you see…. Can you hear and sing what you see? That is another skill we will address in other posts.

Time signature. Does it stay the same or change?

Tempo. If marked, this should give you a general guideline, but keep in mind that is a performance tempo. For sight-reading, look for the most difficult passage that you will play, get a quick idea of how fast you think you can play it accurately, and use that as your overall tempo. Once you start, you don’t want to change the pulse depending on difficulty.

Rhythms. Scan for anything that looks tricky and take a moment to count, clap, sing or whatever — to get that/those rhythm(s) in your head.

Dynamics. Scan for them and then be aware as you play.

Stylistic markings. Staccato, legato, articulation, accents, etc. The tendency in sight-reading is to concentrate on notes, which are primary, but watch for the other signs as you go. Like driving the car, staying on the road (notes) is important, but watching the road signs (slow down, stop, cross-walk, etc) are equally important to getting to your destination safely.

Once you start – DON’T STOP! If you miss a note, that one is history, you can’t go back and fix it … part of practicing for sight-reading (or for any performance) is to force yourself to continue.

Finding music to sight-read. Get books from other similar-range instruments. Pick random hymns in a church hymnal. Check the band director’s office. Go to the music library and pull out random pieces. For sight-reading practice, however, don’t keep playing the same piece(s), unless it is to prepare them for performance or to see how quickly you can perfect them.

Another important aspect to sight-reading is evaluation. If possible, have someone else listen to you and critique what you played. You may be playing a rhythm wrong that you will continue to play wrong.

Hope this helps. Add your comments or send questions.

Music Coaching

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

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

Click the pic to get to the article.

Click the pic to get to the article.

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

Solo contest judge’s #1 recommendation

By John Gardner

excellentMost participants in high school solo competitions are only in the performance room long enough for his/her performance and maybe for a couple friends’. They could learn so much by sitting and listening/observing for a while.

During some down time in between local student performances at a state level contest, I sat in a few performance rooms just to hear examples of what other students around the state are doing.  I did not expect to see the wide range of performance quality given that I was at a STATE level contest and everyone participating had already received a GOLD (top) rating at district competition. If I had to summarize that experience, it would be with the conclusion that…

…not all music education results are created equal.

Read more ›

Posted in College Prep, High Schools, Music Department, Music Performance, Parenting, Solo Prep, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , , ,

The Cost of NOT Volunteering….one story


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

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

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

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Teacher to Student after Talking To Parent: Is It True?

By John Gardner (view LinkedIn Profile)

Is It TrueSometimes, engaging and talking to teens, outside the authoritative imbalance of parent/child or teacher/student is challenging. If you catch them with the wrong group of friends, they may ignore or give you the peer-pressure-influenced reaction. Or you picked the day that they just broke up or had some other type of unrelated tragedy.

Never let a less than stellar first attempt turn into a lasting negative impression.

Of course, there are those who make and even start fun, friendly conversations. Most are engaging and appreciative (even if they don’t admit it) that a teacher is showing interest in them or in what is going on in their lives.

For some of the others, what follows is one of my favorite tactics.

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Posted in Classroom Teacher, High Schools, Music Department, Personal experience, Public Schools, Storytelling, Teaching, Teaching Music

Band Students Make Better Employees

Hire MeBy John Gardner

Teens are looking for part-time jobs during high school. Common is the parental directive that he must at least pay the insurance and for the gas to drive the family car — or to purchase her own vehicle.

The challenge, for both the student and the employer is the complexity of band student’s schedule.

Band  students make better employees and employers find the payback for working around rehearsal and performance schedules is a win-win for the business too.

Marching bands start training right after school is out in the Spring, if not before. During these early sessions, a challenge is to keep the newbies from giving up.

After enjoying top-of-the-heap status in middle school they start high school marching band at the bottom of the section with the lowest status and the least seniority. New skill requirements include memorizing music, horn angles, posture and feet-with-the-beat. Never before have they had to endure high temperature rehearsals that last 2-3-4 hours at a time, often standing with water and restroom breaks few and far between. Everybody (directors, staff, section leaders, seniors, upperclassmen) is telling them they’re messing up and pressuring (hopefully constructively) them to “get it”. They are thrust into a whole new level of physical activity with a strict discipline code. Some will quit and most will think about it as they try to answer the question, “What did I get myself into?”

“Band will be fun. It is fun being together during the football games, on the buses for those long trips, and for hours at competitions. But before you get to the fun part, you have to pay the price…..and there is no short cut, no easy way out, no discount. Pay the price and enjoy the results.”

By the time they are old enough to get a job, they have learned to pay the price. They have seen the benefits of dedication and are willing to commit to a job. Band students won’t quit the job because the manager gives them criticism because they understand that is what makes them better. And they learn that striving for excellence is a worthy goal.

Band students understand dedication, commitment
and that striving for excellence is a worthy goal.

At the age they are joining marching band, teens are battling with balancing the reality that they are not quite adults with the increasing desire for freedom, responsibility and individuality. Some rebel against parents, push back against teachers and are super-sensitive to peer-criticism. And yet, marching band requires they give up individual freedoms for the good of the cause, makes them earn responsibility and tells them they have to look, act and behave like everybody else – uniformity.

The first time they are thrust into a fast-paced, pressurized workplace environment, teens from the general school population will be more likely to throw a tantrum, quit — or get fired. Not band students.

Band students understand the value of,
and respect for chain of command

Students are together in lots of different classroom mixes, but only for fifty minutes on school days for a semester or two. Band students can be together for 10-15 hours Monday through Thursday, plus 3 hours for a Friday night football game and 14 hours for a Saturday rehearsal/competition. Couples break up, personalities don’t mesh, they come from different parts of town and with different family and economic situations — but they learn to work together, a skill many non-band teens and a lot of adults never develop.

As I talk to teens (and even many of their parents), one of the most common reasons to quit a job is because of relationships with co-workers. Band students will be even more frustrated with the mediocrity and lack of cooperation and weak work ethic they will find in the workplace, but they will commit to making it work.

Band students know how to cooperate
and collaborate with those from
different backgrounds and capabilities.

In a part-time work environment there will be competition for hours, raises, promotions and responsibilities. The tendency is to look out for self and to heck with the other guy. Students compete within a band but they want everyone to do well. They compete with other bands but will wish them good luck as they pass on the way to the competition field. They will applaud for other bands – even those that beat them. Band students are team players and they understand sportsmanship.

Band students learn good sportsmanship.


By the time they’re ready for that first job (students usually turn 16 during sophomore or junior year), band students have already learned patience as marching band staff is teaching or fixing drill; perseverance and endurance through extreme temperatures, long rehearsals and so much more we teacher types throw at them.

They understand, through the system of seniority in most bands, that they will need to prove themselves and demonstrate strong work ethic to earn leadership positions or, when they get a job,  a raise.

Band students learn patience,
perseverance and endurance.

There is often a penalty for arriving late to a band rehearsal. When I was in a marching band, it was a lap around the field per minute late. Some bands use push-ups — or job assignments. Arrive late today and you get to take the water to the field tomorrow. And because there are always new things happening in a rehearsal, missing is never an option. Some bands will make you an alternate for an unexcused absence. So when band students get a job with a schedule, they are there — and on time.

Band students learn the value
of attendance and punctuality.

Bands rehearse scores of hours per minute of marching band show. Stretches, running and endurance exercises, fundamentals (yes, they already know how to march, right?) and then sets of drill over, and over. Do they get tired? Absolutely, but they understand the price of success and that there are no shortcuts to achieving it.

Band students learn that there are
no shortcuts to success

Most years, prior to the final competition of the season, we allow seniors to talk to the band. They say a variety of things, but there are two predominant themes: 1) Band is family, and 2) band taught them responsibility with accountability.

Band students learn
responsibility and accountability

Where, outside of public education, is the focus on making the student (or employee) feel good about themselves at the expense of excellence? We read about schools eliminating valedictorians and class rank or even grades, so lower achievers don’t get a negative vibe.  

When my child was in first grade, the education fad of the day was a program called “writing to read”, where the emphasis was on the child being able to read whatever they wrote. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc…. were not corrected. Teachers emphasized that a child reader would have a higher self-esteem.

Students who have gone through a feel-good system can hit a brick wall when they get to college or into the workforce. Good band directors instill in their students that a healthy self-esteem comes through achieving excellence. In that pursuit, however, the student learns to accept criticism from directors, staff, seniors and section leaders – and they are willing to pay the price to get the prize. Here is a post I wrote about Excellence and Self Esteem.

Band students learn that self-esteem
is raised by achieving excellence

Because of their extreme rehearsal schedules on top of homework and, especially with the responsibilities of a job, band students develop good time management skills.

Band students develop time management skills

Band students make better employees. Hire them.



Posted in How May I Serve YOU?, Job Search, Marching Band, Respect, Teaching, Teaching Music Tagged with: , , , ,

7 C’s Students Deserve from Teachers

By John Gardner

7 C’s Students Deserve from Teachers has nothing to do with mediocre grades.

Students are worth fighting (advocating) for and deserve teachers who CAN (proficient, competent), who CARE (compassionate, empathetic), who CONNECT (communicate with, not at), who COLLABORATE and COMMUNICATE with colleagues and parents, who COORDINATE all that goes into providing an organized, informed and inspiring atmosphere,  and who CHALLENGE what constricts their enthusiasm. I want to be one of those.
John Gardner

I used a portion of the above as a facebook status and received a significant response from students, parents and others. One assumed I had just returned from a professional seminar…I took that as a compliment.

Have you ever heard comments like these from students? I have.

He is a terrible teacher. He can’t do anything outside his teacher textbook or PowerPoint presentation that he got from the textbook website. 

If I am going to learn this, I’m going to have to do it myself.

I used to like [insert subject]. 

She doesn’t care about me, doesn’t know who I am or anything about me and probably doesn’t even know my name….’cause she never calls me by name.

That was probably up to date information a decade ago.

Digitizing Media as a Profit Center

Students deserve teachers who CAN. In a music setting, students deserve teachers who are proficient musicians. Whether you call it modeling or some other name, they need to know that you know what you’re talking about. Vocal students probably get to hear their choir teacher sing more often than instrumental students hear the teacher play or perform on their main instrument.

I was working with a group of freshmen students on a combination of scale, finger technique and breathing skills by playing a scale multiple times on one breath.  At one point, a clarinet student interrupted me with, “C’mon, these instruments can’t go any faster than that.” I got my clarinet out and zipped through a 3-octave chromatic scale multiple times in a breath. The next question; “How did you do that?”

That provided an amazing teaching moment.

Students deserve teachers who CARE. Yes, there are lines, boundaries and appropriate behaviors and otherwise…but one of the problems with teens is that they feel they are nothing more than educational fodder into which we professionals are to dump vast amounts of useless (their perception) information.

At what age are students no longer touchable or hug-able? I have had students in my office (even on the side of the marching rehearsal field) break down with emotion as they tell me about heavy duty drama at home, with job, boy/girl friend, or when they can’t get that marching set or flag toss. I don’t make a habit of hugging everybody (and shouldn’t), opting more often for high fives, hand shakes and shoulder taps….but sometimes ….sometimes, that student, boy or girl, needs a hug or an arm around the back onto a shoulder. Sometimes a proper touch is a powerful force for which there is no equal substitute.

“Moneytizing the Band Blog”

Students deserve teachers who CONNECT. It is difficult to connect with a student unless they perceive that you know your stuff and that you care about them as an individual.

He talks at me, not with me.

She’s up there and I’m down here.

My grandma/grandpa died, but if I cry in class I’ll be in trouble.

I got this in a thank you note following a graduation open house visit:

Thanks for being there for me during my troubled teenage years. When family and parents are so totally dysfunctional, it is good to know that I could go to someone and share my burden and get encouragement and advice. I don’t know why (well, yes I kinda do) so many teachers are afraid of students…. but thanks for not being one of them.

Students deserve teachers who COLLABORATE and COMMUNICATE with other teachers, parents, and others on their behalf. Have you ever had a student who is stressed about another class because he/she is convinced the teacher has mis-understood (or mis-judged) him and is afraid to say anything….and you help out? Or how about a student who has zero support from home and trying to get through the FAFSA/Financial Aid jungle alone….and you help or make a call to the college FinAid department? Or what about students applying for jobs and scholarships. Do you make a call or write a letter on her behalf?

Simple Goals
“S-Steps To Success”

Students deserve teachers who plan, organize and COORDINATE all that goes into providing an organized, informed and inspiring atmosphere. The student’s locker and probably their home bedroom are likely disaster areas. Their home life might be a total wreck. They deserve structure and to know that they are important enough that you have spent some time getting ready for them. Some teachers may think they can “wing it”, but students can detect that. When they want improvisation, they will go to a jazz/rock concert. They need structured freedom to explore and learn, not disorganized chaos.

Students deserve teachers who will CHALLENGE what constricts them. 

It was about one of my own sons that I sat several years ago in a middle school principal’s office enduring a fist banging on the desk accusation of “pushing” my kid. 

My response as a parent, and now as a teacher, is to prevent walls from being erected in the path of student progress.

7 C's Gardner Quote


Thanks for reading,
John Gardner

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

Digitizing Media as a Profit Center

By John Gardner

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

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

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

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

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

There are options…..but…

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

Level of Service

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

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

Some negatives to the Internet providers…

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

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

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

Hence, people tend NOT to mess with it.

But what if…..

…there was a LOCAL OPTION?

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

…YOU were the service provider in your area?


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


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

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

Profitability Potential

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

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

  1. SUBSCRIBE to this blog so you get email notifications of updates.
  2. EMAIL [email protected] and let me know your interest.

Thanks for reading.
[email protected]


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