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Hello again!

In the spirit of New Years I thought I could reflect on my goals from this past year. Most music students and teachers are pretty good at setting goals, and nothing here is original, but hopefully something here can help someone out there to set and achieve their own goals for 2011. After all, I don’t mean to brag, but 2010 was a pretty amazing year of achievements for me. Of course, I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to, but who does? You live and you learn, right?

Set SMART Goals
Have you ever heard of SMART goals? It’s a method that really works, especially if you don’t have much previous goal setting experience, or haven’t had much success in achieving your goals (which was sometimes the case for me). For those who aren’t familiar, SMART is an acronym that can mean a few different things. In the book“Strategic Planning for Dummies”, it is geared towards planning and implementation for an organization, so it looks something like this:
S – Specific: If you say, “I want to lose weight”, that is too broad. Specific is measurable. “I want to lose 40 pounds.”
M – Measurement: How will you measure success? In the above example, it was by pounds lost, with 40 being the goal.
A – Attainable: Find a point that will challenge you, but still be realistic to achieve. If you’re building on a strength, you can push further than if you’re building on a weakness. In this case I figured 3-4 pounds a month was conservative, but at least it was achievable.
R – Responsible Person: In an organization, goals should be delegated. This would be an important step when setting goals for a program, or as a booster club. Just because one person is responsible doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have help.
T – Time Frame: What are the start and end dates for this endeavor? Again, from an organization standpoint, this can be quite helpful. You can’t do everything for the year at once. Mapping out your goal time frames for the year allows you to spread out the work, while keeping you on track by making sure you’re not starting anything too later.
At the ASU Brass Festival I got to hear a masterclass/performance by the Boston Brass. The trombone player’s segment of the masterclass was on goal setting, and he discussed SMART goals, except that the wording was more geared for individuals. I like it, and I wanted to share both. Of course it’s not much different.
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable: Same as Attainable.
R – Resources: List all of the resources at your disposal. Although it wasn’t in the SMART model above, when I set my weight loss goal, I did this. Resources could be books, friends, facilities, the internet, whatever you can think of. In the case of my weight loss, one of my good friends transformed his body in two years from being obese to being the most athletic person I know, with a body fat percentage of around (I think) 12%. Once he got down to 150 pounds, he put on 20 pounds of muscle, and I’m sure even more since then. I knew he would be a great source of information and encouragement. I had a couple of books with exercises, educational material, and routines to reteach myself proper work out techniques. I also used the internet to get additional food ideas, as well as get rough calculations of how many calories I naturally consumed so I’d have an idea of how many calories to take in each day for weight loss. After a couple of weeks I also bought a scale at home because I got tired of walking over to HEB to weigh myself.
T – Timely: For individual goals, it’s also important that your time frame be realistic. My time frame of 40 pounds in a year seemed a little like underachieving, but my confidence in my ability to get active and lose weight was also pretty low. If I would’ve said, “I want to lose 40 pounds in a week”, that probably would have been an unrealistic expectation. At that weight, 40 pounds was an achievable goal, but the time frame of a week would not have been. Had I given myself 2-20 years to lose 40 pounds, I might have quickly lost motivation. 3-4 pounds a month was at least enough that I knew I had to make some changes and stick to them for it to happen. Not the best time frame, but probably not terrible either.
Breaking Down the Goals
Of course, in school you also learn to set smaller goals that get you to your long term goal. In Strategic Planning, SMART goals are the smaller steps you take. But in my case, I needed additional steps to get started. So I sat down with pen and paper and made a list of steps to take. If you wanted, you could also make these SMART, but it might be too time consuming. Just make sure that they are Relevant (another use for the R in SMART) in that they are directly related to your goal and get you closer to achieving it. So here is what that list might have looked like:
“Call Jason about mentoring.
Research exercises
Develop Workout A
Develop Workout B
Research food
Develop a weekly diet
Buy groceries
Weigh myself”
All of these goals were in preparation of starting a healthier life style. It was around this time last year. So in the week leading up to January 1st, I was gradually carrying out one step a day. When January 1st hit, I woke up, went for a job, did some basic strength exercises, and started my new eating habits (I even had the specific times worked out).
On a daily basis I didn’t work towards the end goal, I worked towards the next 5 pound benchmark. This way my next goal was always in sight, potentially achievable any day, and I wanted to stay on track that much more. I also celebrated each time I lost 5 pounds. I didn’t celebrate by eating junk food. I just gave myself a pat on the back. My reward was that I was feeling healthier and looking better.
Breaking down your larger goals into smaller goals is crucial, and celebrating at your benchmarks (in appropriate ways) is a great way to stay motivated.
In this case, my wife played an important role as she cooked dinner 50% or more of the time, and I relied on her to cook healthy meals. My friend, Jason, was also important as there were times when I felt frustrated or outright confused, and he was always able to reassure me that I was doing the right things and put it all into perspective. Eventually I also made my goal public, which I’ve read can be a big motivator. That ultimately worked out as the encouragement from friends at the University and on facebook helped me to stay the course.
So how did it work out? Seems like a lot of planning. But it paid off! I actually hit my 40 pound goal in 3 1/2 to 4 months, at which time I reassessed my original goal and raised the bar to 50 pounds, then later to 60 pounds. After that I said, “Okay, wherever I end up at this point I’m okay with.” That was probably a mistake. I stopped losing weight at 70 pounds, from 265 to 195. Pretty awesome! You can see the before/after pics Jenn made of me below:
In retrospect, I wish I would’ve continued to set health goals to continued motivation. I maintained some of my eating habits, but I’ve since allowed some bad foods back into the mix, and I’ve stopped exercising. My weight is still in the 193-196 ballpark, but my body shape has changed a little.
It’s helpful to evaluate how things went on a regular basis. This enables you to set new SMART goals that ensure you continue on the path you’ve set for yourself.
New Goals
This year my goal is to get down to 15% body fat by the end of the year (when I had that measured in June it was 17.8%, so it’s probably between 18-19% at the moment). I need to establish a set routine of when I exercise that will work with a public school schedule and a family life. I also want to pay it forward by trying to bring a few friends along for the ride this time. I know of at least two who would like to lose weight and have asked for some help, so I’d like to see if we can work that out somehow. I can be to them what Jason was to me, but maybe also a work out partner since I live here (at least for the next several months). I also want to set fitness goals rather than just a body fat loss goal, especially for once that goal has been achieved.
I started to do that this past year. A friend invited me to participate in a 5K with him, and Jenn said she’d do it, too. But something came up and my friend was unable to do it. Then, because our finances were so tight, if anything, only me or Jenn (not both) could do it, and even then we really needed that money for other things. So I decided not to do it, and my motivation took a hit. I have nobody to blame but myself, though. If I really wanted to, I could’ve found alternatives.
This year, I’ll make my own events. Why not map out my own 5K route and just run that on a set day? I could even invite friends to join me and make an event out of it. This could be a really cool year to not only achieve my peak fitness, but to do the kinds of things that will motivate me to stick to that kind of life style.
Some other goals I set but didn’t achieve…
Quit Smoking – I spent probably 6-8 months this past year not smoking in 2 week to 3 month chunks. In this case, making the goal public only made me feel worse when I finally caved. After several attempts I finally threw in the towel and said, “No more. I’m done trying for now.” My self esteem was just too low. So what happened? My goal was to “Quit smoking cigarettes.” I didn’t do any of the above planning, though I did do some research online. I usually did pretty well until the 3 month mark. At that time I would get intense cravings until it was all I could think about for hours upon hours, and eventually I would cave. One turns into two, which goes on until you’re back to square one. My wife and I discussed quitting again, and this time we made some concessions and modifications. Hopefully it works out this time. So far I’m a week and 5 days in, and doing okay.
Organize Myself – Last year I went on an organizing rampage. I organized my life with a planner, and organized most of the apartment. Unfortunately, none of it continued. I used the planner through the Spring semester, but eventually dropped the to do list and just kept up with dates and appointments. Jenn didn’t like how I organized things, so it fell apart over time. This year I’m making some adjustments. My main concern with getting organized was to organize my time. This year I’m focusing only on that. I also want to approach it in a way that it will be easier to maintain. I haven’t completely thought it through yet, but I’m working on it.
Of course, there were a LOT of goals that I did achieve that were more specific.
Senior Recital – From goal oriented practices to goal oriented rehearsals and even setting time frames for getting programs and program notes done, a goal oriented approach to this was a big help.
Piano Proficiencies – I also had time frames for preparing for this. It was a close call, but thankfully, I got it done.
Various projects – Conducting practicums, the jazz improvisation transcription project (which took nearly 30 hours for me to complete), and numerous other projects throughout the year. It was important to give myself start times in addition to the end times, with benchmark goals to help me get to the end goal one step at a time.
Coda, or “How is this relevant to music?”
This book can change your life.
So all of this can be easily tied to music. Students could probably use some help learning how to practice with goals in mind, rather than a set amount of practice time. They probably need help learning how to set goals. The second version of SMART listed is a great place for them to start setting playing goals that can be translated into practice sessions. Band directors have to take this kind of approach all the time to help them organize their rehearsals so that the band can have a great performance. You can also use the organization version of SMART (the first one listed) to set goals for an overall band program. Of course those goals should also be relevant to a Vision and usually a Mission, which I didn’t get into here.“Strategic Planning for Dummies” covers how you can work together with your team to create good vision and mission statements. Wayne Marksworth gives an example for a band program mission statement in his book, “The Dynamic Marching Band”. Benjamin Zander also discusses Vision in the book he and his wife co-wrote, “The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life”. Compared to the Strategic Planning book, their criteria for a Vision is that it must be something that everyone can be part of. It must not exclude anyone. In fact, they advocate against Mission Statements because they are typically based on competition and scarcity. Here are a couple of examples of Vision Statements of dynamic music organizations:
“Passionate Music Making Without Boundaries” – Boston Philharmonic
Paraphrasing, El Sistema‘s vision is, “Social Reconstruction through Music Education.”
Teaching EK about Strategic Planning and leading them
through the development of their own plan for sustained
growth. Jan. 2009
Maybe someday I’ll do a series on Strategic Planning. I lead the Epsilon Kappa Chapter in developing a 2 year strategic plan, complete with research, a mission, vision, SMART goals, and so on. The first year of the plan was a little rough because it was implemented poorly after my term, but the current President has helped the chapter reassess the goals and has kept them on track, and the chapter so far has not only had a productive year (as last year was plenty productive), but they also feel great about their achievements being relevant to the direction they want to grow in. Any time I’m blessed to be a head director of bands, you can bet I will work with teachers, students and co-workers to develop a strategic plan during that first year so create a direction of positive growth for the organization that also captures the hopes and dreams of everyone involved in the group’s work.
Anyway, I know I’ve learned a lot this past year. One of those things was the effective use of goals, both thanks to failures and successes. I hope this has been helpful to you as well in some way. Use the New Year to set goals. It’s a great time to do it! Just make sure you’re going about it the right way, and you’re practically guaranteed great results. I wish everyone out there the best of luck with their goals this year. I love it, because I think it’s part of the human spirit that we always strive to better ourselves, both as individuals and as a society. And like one’s skill in music, it is a quest that never ends! Thank you for reading, and until next time, take care! And Happy New Year!


One of the most difficult things to teach students is active listening skills. I was very fortunate in my early high school experience to have someone present a schema for listening to me that was easy to understand and apply. I’ve continued to use it as a player and a teacher with success.

For any readers who haven’t taken Education courses yet, a schema is basically a model for understanding something that you create in your brain. For example, if you know the rules for the NFL, you’ve developed a schema. However, when you watch Arena Football, you have to adjust your schema (understanding of how football works) slightly to accommodate the different rules. It’s also possible to have to develop completely new schemata when the information you discover cannot be assimilated into an existing schema. Moving on…

The Three Levels of Listening


Developing active listening skills
takes guided practice. It’s like
developing a seventh sense.
(The sixth is Kinesthesis)

I don’t know who came up with this, otherwise I would give them credit. The idea is that there are Three Levels of Listening. You focus your listening on specific things in specific levels, and when you have achieved certain things on that level, you move up to the next one while still monitoring what you’ve already worked on at the same time.

Level One – Listen to Yourself
As teachers we understand that if a player does not sound good individually, it will be impossible for them to blend into the sound of the band. So, the first goal is to train students to listen critically to their sound and their playing, and to make adjustments. When you begin putting this schema into practice, you start with “Level One – Listen to Yourself”.
There are certain check offs at this level (as with all of them). They’re all related to individual playing. For example, “Are you playing with a good tone quality?” “Are you playing in tune?” “Are you playing with good articulation/style/musical shaping?” And you could go on. If they can answer “Yes” to all of these questions, then they move on to Level Two.
Level Two – Listen to Your Section
Before we can balance the sections, the players in each section must be balancing and matching each other. Their sound should become lost in the greater sound of the section. The goal of Level Two is to make the entire section sound like one player per part. This level of listening addresses those questions. You can ask:
“Are you playing the same tone quality as your section leader?” “Are you playing the same dynamic/volume as the people next to you?” “Are you playing in tune with your section leader?” “Are you attacking and releasing every note together?” “Are you matching articulations/dynamics/style/shaping/etc. with your section?”
Remind them that if the answer is ever, “No,” then they must come up with ways to fix it, and try them until something works. We have to train them to analyze what they hear and react to it appropriately. When they can answer, “Yes” to all of these, then they move on to Level Three. But also remind them that on Level Three, they’re simultaneously listening on the first two levels as well.
Level Three – Listen to the Band
Now we ask all of same questions that we did in level two, but related to the band. The trick to level three is that the section must act with one mind, so the question changes from what they are doing to what is their section doing.
“Is your section playing with the right dynamic/volume to balance the band?” “Is your section playing in tune to the lower voices?” “Are you attacking and releasing every note together?” “Are you matching articulation/style/dynamics/shaping/etc. with the other sections that share your part?”
Why I Think it Works
Master teachers in other subjects have developed simple ways for students to understand the content, and teach it in ways that are effective for students to not only learn it but to retain it. This mimmicks that more closely.
In fact, when I do this, I specify that it is the “Three Levels of Active Listening”, and define Active Listening as listening and analyzing what you hear while you play, and then making adjustments based on what you hear. They’re used to having simple definitions and models, and this provides one.
Many great band directors simply draw their attention to what they should be listening for at any given time in the music, and constantly tell them that they should always be listening around the band. Over time, students will improve at that and begin doing it proactively. That constant reinforcement is the most important part.
But I believe this model breaks it down into simple steps. Listening and adjusting while playing is a complicated thing when you get down to it. This gives them smaller chunks to accomplish it in. And who doesn’t want to reach higher levels… at anything?
It trains their thinking, which is something that Ed Lisk emphasizes in his “The Creative Director: Alternative Rehearsal Techniques” book, and which I know Elizabeth Green would talk about. We need to do more than train their lungs, lips, fingers, and reading skills. We also have to train their inner dialogue. That’s why we teach them counting systems, so that while they play they can focus their inner dialogue on counting in addition to being able to break down new rhythms. This is another way of doing that.
Introducing and Reinforcing the Three Levels
The first time you do this, introduce it during tuning exercises. In this scenario you can briefly explain the three levels, then have them play. While they’re playing a tuning note, you can say, “Level One”, holding up your index finger, and then say, “Ask yourself…..(insert question here)”. Give them a moment or two to make adjustments. Remind them to breathe and stay relaxed. After you have run down the questions, switch to level two. Do the same thing, then move to Level Three. You are focusing their inner dialogue and activating their concentration, so you should notice an improvement.
However, in a tuning exercise you can’t focus the levels with regard to dynamics, articulations, musical shaping, and so on. This is where you apply it to the music they’re preparing. Particularly when there is a section where they are not ensembling well. Simply reminding them to work on using their Active Listening on all three levels may be enough to hear improvement. If not, you can translate what you hear into the specific level and associated questions that addresses the problem. If it’s intonation in the band, it’s all three levels, but if it’s intonation with a section, it could be one of the first two levels (one person playing with a bad sound/out of tune, or a section out of tune). If a section doesn’t sound like one player, they’re not listening on level two. If multiple sections aren’t matching style/articulation/whatever, they’re not listening on level three.
A friend of mine tried this with his 7th Grade Band for the first time recently. It summed up everything he had been telling them throughout the year, but for some reason, it put it into a model they could understand. He introduced it during tuning, and then applied it into the music (because of course, as soon as they moved into the music, the students thought they could also leave the concept behind). He told me they struggled at first as they experimented, reacting to their active listening. But with some guidance, they achieved a much more “luscious” sound than they’ve had all year, and with some reinforcement of the concept in the music, the music itself sounded the best it has all semester. He’s feeling much more excited to present them at the upcoming middle school band concert next week.
The first day you use this, it’s important that you don’t leave the concept behind when you move on from tuning. Reinforce it all throughout the rehearsal. Make this your focus for the entire rehearsal. The more you reinforce it, the better the retainment. Reinforcing it for multiple days will focus them on continued improvement of their listening and adjusting skills. Pretty soon you’ll only have to mention the level, or active listening (or whatever you say that would trigger to them that they’re not using it), and it trigger their thinking to retrieve the entire schema, or at least most of it depending on how much they’ve been able to retain.
Three Levels Handout
I actually didn’t ask my friend to try this with his band. Originally I just developed a hand out as a visual aid for visual learners, to help increase their understanding and retention rates. I was soliciting feedback, and he liked it enough to go ahead and distribute it to his 7th graders and decided to work on it that day. I’m a strong believer in visual aids, and if you decide to give this concept a try, I want to offer the handout/visual aid another tool to help you and your students. I feel better about doing this since it’s been field tested.Follow this link for the Active Listening Handout or click the icon below.

In promotion of my forthcoming Senior Recital, I want to share a couple of things, particularly for anyone who won’t be able to make it out. My program notes will be next, but first up, my “Special Thanks,” which is printed on the back of my programs:

“I owe a great debt of gratitude to a multitude of people.

I thank my amazing wife, Jennifer, for her tireless love, dedication, sacrifice, and support. To her and my incredible son, Devin, I love you both so much.

To my family for their constant support and encouragement (emotional and financial): my loving parents, Charles Cooper and Leslee Scopick, my awesome in-laws, Charles and Cinthia Sipes, my step-parents, Susan Cooper and Rick Scopick – thank you all so much.

Thanks to Dr. Eleanor Elkins for her enthusiastic work as my accompanist – it is always a pleasure to work with you.

A special thanks to Gary Doherty, my high school band director, who is responsible for me falling in love with music in the first place, and for me wanting to pursue my career as a music educator.

To the teachers who have had a meaningful impact on my musicianship and character, which include: Edward Surface, Lance Flisowski, Aaron Lovely, Scott Roeder, Will Ludlow, Cale Self, Donald LeFevre, Reginald Houze, Daniel McCloud, David Scott, Stephen Emmons, Jeff Womack, Constance Kelley, John Irish, Tomothy Bonenfant, Kevin Lambert, Pamela Lee, and everyone else who has touched my musical life whom I may have left out – thank you.

Also thanks to Jaxine Boling for her help over the years.

A sincere and special thanks to the brothers of The Epsilon Kappa Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi – I wouldn’t have made it through my first two years at ASU without the brotherhood, and my time as an officer was incredibly worthwhile. Thank you for your brotherly love and support, and for your contributions to tonight’s recital. AEA!

And thank you to everyone in attendance. My primary goal was never to get a passing grade, but rather to be a contribution by entertaining you with a worthwhile musical experience. I hope you enjoy the show!

To everyone who has made an impact on me – thank you so much!”

Hello again!

This past semester, one of the things I realized is that I wished I had a visual representation for articulation markings. This led me to recently develop one myself. It is based on the system that I was “raised on”, which has a couple of components to it. This components combined give you an easy way to explain how to interpret different articulations based on previously learned concepts, which I really like. Here we go!

The Three Parts of a Note
I wish I could thank whoever started explaining articulations this way. The concept is that a note has three parts. Label them as you like. I prefer to use 1. Attack/Start of the Note, 2. The Body/Sustain of the Note, 3. The Release/End of the Note.
If you simply explain this idea to students, they can probably come up with an image in their head, especially if you tell them to imagine it this way. Once this idea is established, you can more easily move on to explaining any articulation they’ll come across.
For this next part to be effective, the only thing they need to understand when you introduce basic articulations is dynamics and eighth notes.
Basic Articulations
Staccato – “Light and separated, detached”. While my professors may not like me to explain it this way, the most common explanation is that you give the note approximately half the rhythmic value. The way you can explain this within our model is that the Attack and Release of the note are normal, but the Sustain/Body of the note is cut in half. You can always give yourself wiggle room by saying this is the default, but there may be times when they play it slightly longer than half value. As far as descriptive words, I like to say that the notes should bounce like the sound of a bouncing basketball.
Tenuto – “Smooth and connected”, but not slurred, also indicates stress. In this case, the release/end of the note touches the beginning of the next note (rather than having a rounded release and a hint of separation), and the entire note is played at a slightly louder dynamic (1 level louder or less… the more experienced the student, the more suddle they can make it).
Accent – An accent indicates that a note should be emphasized. I should note that there is some discrepancy as to the name of a “normal accent” and “strong accent” and also how “emphasis” is interpreted. I’m not going to say that one is definitively right over the other, but this is based on what I was raised, and it is a prominent school of thought. A “normal” accent is typically called an “accent”, while a strong accent is called “marcato”. I also believe and explain that in both cases, compared to regular notes, only the start/attack of the note is changed, in which case you attack the note one dynamic level louder than normal and then quickly return to the regular dynamic.
Marcato – The only difference between an Accent and a Marcato is that a marcato indicates to increase the attack dynamic by two levels, then quickly return to the normal dynamic.
In jazz, this symbol also indicates to shorten the length (or sustain/body) of the note, but I don’t believe this should be universal. This is because we also sometimes see an articulation that combines staccato and marcato, and when this happens I can simply explain that you combine the two effects (attack two dynamic levels higher, cut the length/body in half, if the note is short enough don’t worry about getting back down to the regular dynamic). There is no room to do that when you interpret it in the jazz meaning all the time.
And generally speaking, when you see a new articulation marking, it will usually be a combination of one of these four, and you can combine the effects as I just described. And you can give yourself wiggle room by saying that these are default articulations, and occasionally it will be a little different, but when it is different they will be notified of the special circumstance.
A Visual Image of Articulations

The three parts of a note created in my mind a very specific idea of what notes with articulations would look like if we could see them as shapes appearing on a horizontal line. I remembered this from my public school days.

I also have to give some credit to the two gentlemen behind Foundations for a Superior Performance, Jeff King and Richard Williams. When I started looking for visual aids and other articulation aids, I glanced at the articulation page in their book. I liked how they used rectangles for notes, and were able to clearly show the difference between tenuto, staccato, and normal notes. But it was limited in that they didn’t cover accents, nor marcato.
After I was well into creating this handout, I also found a website for a book called Warm Ups and Beyond (while looking for Pyramid of Sound visual aids) that does something very similar to what I’ve constructed. The difference is it looks a bit better in color, they use a different shape for the release, and their accent effects the entire note, not just the attack of it.
The end result is this handout, which I now present to you. It’s just something I made in hopes of helping visual learners when it comes time for articulations. What is presented in method books isn’t bad, but it only describes it in words. Speaking of the words, the wording I use in quotes is based on what is outlined in the “Concise Harvard Dictionary of Music and Musicians”, however that book only gets you so far.
The handout is free for all to use. I only ask that if you use it, please let me know, and also whether you use it or not, please give me some constructive feedback on how you think it could be improved. Feel free to leave that feedback in the comment section. Again, your feedback is always welcome!
The method itself is nothing new or innovative, but I hope you found the discussion and/or the handout interesting and helpful. Again, please let me know what you think of the handout! Thank you for reading, and until next time, take care!
Musically yours,
Mr. Cooper

I’ve redesigned the blog… what do you think? Over the break I hope to produce several new blogs reflecting on observations and other experiences from this past semester, so I wanted to improve the layout in preparation. I hope you like it!

So, for one of my education classes we were required to write our Philosophy of Education. This was actually pretty tough! What my teacher received had one paragraph subtracted, and another added about specific philosophers that influenced my philosophy. But to be honest, I didn’t even know about those guys until recently reading about them. My philosophy is based on what leading music educators have written, and on other things I have seen in action, like El Sistema. So for my blog I’ve reinserted the paragraph about character building. Let me know what you think!



Philosophy of Education

I believe music is an essential component of the human condition. It has been said that music can express that which words cannot. While I believe all students have musical potential, and can benefit even from general study of Classical Music, those who engage in music performance encounter an emotional and aesthetic experience that is unique. In doing so, they not only develop a creative outlet, but gain a deeper understanding of the human condition than what is otherwise possible. My primary job, then, is to unleash each student’s music making possibilities by helping them to develop strong fundamental instrumental performance techniques and music literacy skills while exposing them to the best music ever written, with the goal of achieving music making experiences that are exciting, emotional, and passionate. All the while, students develop a skill that they can take pride in, one that boosts their self-image, while also gaining a valuable social experience that allows them to develop emotionally throughout their teenage years. The values of a great music education are truly innumerable!

Students will discover that it is always easier to play at a higher level when proper technique is used, and therefore proper technique, when reinforced, is intrinsically motivating. Ensemble techniques can often be complex, and require incredible sensitivity to one’s own playing and the playing of everyone else involved, but again students will be motivated to give this effort once they have experienced the musical benefits. I believe the key to motivating students toward this end is to demand excellence from both the individuals and the ensemble as a whole. Students must experience music making at a high level, because that unique aesthetic and emotional experience is addicting – it becomes the key to intrinsic motivation.

I believe students learn best in a safe, structured environment. Ensemble music making is inherently a group activity, and so success requires a classroom culture based on mutual respect and collaboration. I will strive to create a community of learners, in which students work together as I guide them towards the discovery of what facilitates the most musical outcome, whether in regards to fundamental playing techniques or musical interpretation. When an ensemble is only as good as its weakest player, it is counterproductive to demean that player. Instead, students will learn to give additional support to the weaker players because their improvement will benefit everyone. Additionally, I will solicit student’s suggestions on musical interpretation, and keep those that are effective, as I believe this will result in the students feeling more ownership over the music being performed (as opposed to forcing the students to perform my personal interpretation of the music). Advocated by Benjamin Zander, this creates a rehearsal atmosphere of collaboration not only between the students, but between myself and the students, which I believe will further increase student motivation. These activities will be focused through the use of procedures to maximize our time on task, and further increase student learning.

While students will work together to improve as individuals, they will also be held accountable as individuals. I believe the key to truly great ensembles relies on the independence of each performer, and so students will be assessed on their ability to perform independently as well as in the group. To unleash their musical potential, I will offer as much support as possible, including distributing instrument specific technique building exercises, offering private lessons as availability permits, establishing a peer tutor program, after school sectionals, and so on. I will require that students set personal goals for their playing, and I believe that with their dedicated action, and my personal support (as well as the support of their peers), that every student can reach their musical goals. It is my belief that music is just as conducive to diverse, student centered teaching methods as is any other subject, so part of how I will help them to achieve those goals is through diverse, differentiated teaching methods to address not only the various learning styles (such as auditory, visual and kinesthetic), but diverse intelligences as well.

A band can be many things, but it is certainly a team. Like any team, for the band to be successful the students must cultivate certain character traits and life skills, including: teamwork, commitment, responsibility, leadership, time management, goal setting (both in playing and personal growth), self-discipline, hard work, excellence, dependability, respect (for each other, for equipment), and more. Additionally, to make music requires that the members of the ensemble let down their walls and come together, despite the often diverse make up of its personnel. The success of the ensemble requires that I work to instill these traits into the students. As a consequence, band members become positive role models for their peers and agents of social change. If the diverse students in a band can grow as individuals, hold themselves to higher standards, and come together as a group working toward a common goal, then they can serve as a model for the rest of the school to follow.

In that same spirit, I will work to unite with my peers on the faculty towards the common goal of creating a safe and united school environment that fosters a sense of community and belonging. I will model the ideas of personal growth and cooperation as I collaborate, assist, and learn from fellow faculty members. A master teacher always seeks to learn and improve themselves as people and as teachers, and I must follow this path as well. The end result, I hope, will not only be my own improvement, but the improvement of the school, to the benefit of my students.

Also of great importance is the involvement of the parents and community. Through the use of phone calls, take home communications, and digital outlets, I hope to build good working partnerships with the parents of my students. Parental support in the form of booster activities is crucial for a program’s success. While not necessarily mandatory, parental support can make a large impact on an individual student’s success as well. Participation in the band often requires a financial commitment, as well as transportation, but also a good time and place to practice. Listening to a student practice is not typically pleasant on the ears, so when parents permit and encourage their children to practice at home, the likelihood that the student will practice increases significantly, and thus the student’s success increases. Additionally, my band program will foster a number of universally valued character traits, which will also be most successful when the parent(s) reinforces these at home through encouraging their child to practice, or ensures that they’re at rehearsals and performances at the specified times. I feel I must also do my best to garner community support, because when students feel that their contributions are valued by the community, the sense that they are part of something larger than themselves, even that they are representatives of the community, is increased, and motivation rises.

None of this is original, but is rather based on what leading instrumental music educators recommend. As John Dewey, the progressivist might agree, reading about music is no substitute for the learning that occurs by playing it. While some teachers merely focus on selecting great music, the leaders of the best programs select the best music ever written with an eye toward advancing student’s abilities based on what playing and musical challenges each work contains. The El Sistema movement, which began in Venezuela thirty years ago, also proves that using music education as a means of social reconstruction, an educational school founded by George Counts, can have a profound impact on the students and society. Masterworks often have great messages, sometimes universal, and I’ve found that it is only when these students understand that message that they can effectively communicate it through the music, which results in passionate performances. It is the music, not necessarily me, that will challenge the students to grow intellectually. And so these are ideas I have incorporated into my philosophy, again, not because they are strictly my ideas or philosophies, but because they are proven and sometimes even required for making music at the highest levels. And achieving this with my students is ultimately my primary goal towards which all other efforts are aimed.

Hello again!

Can paper percussion instruments help us keep an army
of percussionists engaged when there are more players
than parts?
Several months ago I wrote a series on how procedures maximize learning, and on the blog specifically about classroom procedures for band, one of the comments left recommended I think about how to handle percussionists.

Schools that are large enough have negotiated this problem by scheduling a percussion class that is separate from the full band class, so that the percussionists can rehearse their parts and additional percussion ensemble music non-stop. This is obviously a great solution, as percussionists only have to risk boredom during after school rehearsals when they put their part together with the full band. But you see, while the separate class is a great solution, it doesn’t avoid the problem entirely. When the percussion gets to rehearse with the full concert band, they will inevitably be bored. I did my best in rehearsals this past semester, but I, too, am guilty of allowing this to happen.

At the time I received the comment, all I knew was that you do your best to keep them busy, but thanks to Dr. Peter Boonshaft’s book, “Teaching Music With Purpose”, I think there may be a much better solution that actually keeps percussionists engaged.

Paper Percussion.

What is Paper Percussion?

In this case, I’m not talking about actual instruments. A google search yields results detailing how to make paper instruments for kids. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Peter Boonshaft describes making moch instruments, such as cutting out cymbal sized circles of cardboard, and rigging a way to hold it, so that a student who normally wouldn’t be playing can shadow the cymbal player, and go through the motions. That also means they’re reading music, and hopefully more engaged than they would’ve been.

The chapter outlines how to make paper keyboard instruments (which seems quite involved), and advocates purchasing extra practice pads for snare parts, and so on. All of the basic instruments are outlined, with step by step instructions of how to put them together.

Students then can practice percussion parts without having to be on the real instrument. At some point you can say, “Switch,” to signal students to rotate, so that everyone gets to practice on the real instruments. He notes that the paper instruments do make a little noise, but not very much at all, and that it’s worth it to him to keep those students engaged throughout the rehearsal. You can even watch and comment on their grip technique and stick height.

After all, we would never let a wind player sit out for an entire piece the way percussionists sometimes do.

He also suggests where to place the instruments as part of the ensemble set up. I won’t go into the details, as that might risk copyright infringements, but everything you need to know is outlined. It would be a lot of work, but I’m really very interested in this.

I wonder, has anyone actually seen this in action? If so, what did you think? If not, what do you think about this idea? To me it sounds like quite a project, but like it would be well worth the effort. I’m curious to hear other’s thoughts.

Thank you, as always, for reading. Until next time, take care!

Musically yours,
Mr. Cooper