2024 Show Best Tools for Schools!

This year’s NAMM Show hosted over 62,000 attendees, welcoming 16,000 more visitors than last year. Alongside the rise of attendees came an increased presence in small businesses. Two steps in the showroom, and you’d see dozens more small booths filling up the empty spaces left over from nine months ago. The sound was immense too, with hundreds of companies demo’ing their products to the hungry crowd of ear-candy connoisseurs.

I approached their booths intrigued and left inspired. Their instruments and products were well-made, with designs that were innovative and practical for the music classroom. The friendly team members were also very eager to share, offering stories of inspiration from students and teachers. It was nice to see their family-like comradery too — something you don’t get to acknowledge when just buying their product online.

Aside from the bustling show-floor, there were also 250 music education sessions on interesting topics like SEL in the classroom, developing a mariachi or steel pan program, orchestral instrument maintenance, public education funding and more. It was refreshing to see a wide variety of presentations from respected educators and musicians in the industry. Thanks to the new President and CEO of NAMM, John Mlynczak, were sure to see an even stronger music education presence in future shows. Be sure to look out for next year’s sessions and dates online at

Wait! Before you start booking your flights, here are the finalists for this year’s 2024 NAMM Best Tools for Schools! Special thanks to Richard McCready, Elisa Janes Jones, and Ryan Van Bibber for your additional recommendations. I hope you enjoy learning about these tools as much as I enjoyed discovering them.

Best Disability Inclusion Tool – Barcussion by Suzuki
Suzuki had quite a few music therapy-based instruments on display this year. The new Barcussion series stood out to me as a great alternative for students who want to perform on traditional Orff instruments but need extra accommodation. The four auxiliary percussion instruments (shakers, cymbals, woodblocks, and tambourine jingles) are attached to simple mallet levers for simplified performance. All students need to do is press the piano style key in time with the music. For a child with limited hand dexterity, this tool removes barriers with mechanics and engages them only in rhythm accuracy.

Best Music Technology Tool – AKM320 Midi Keyboard Controller – MIDIPlus
I’ve been searching for years trying to find the right type of classroom piano MIDI controller. Most options are either too expensive, have too many controls, are not durable enough, or don’t have the right output ports. Thanks to the wonderful team at MIDIPlus, that vision has finally become a reality! The MIDIPlus AKM320 is a simple, low-cost, high quality piano midi controller without all the unnecessary bells and whistles. It fits perfectly on a student desk without making the computer keyboard keys unreachable (especially nice for Chromebooks). The best part is that it’s only $38 dollars! Now you can purchase a whole class set without having students share, or even designate a few for digital projects in your ensemble classes. It also contains all the necessary features for recording into a digital audio workstation, as well as a sustain pedal input for more advanced

Best Modern Band Tool – Kala U-Bass  I have used Kala ukuleles in my classroom for over five years and absolutely love them. They hold their tuning and endure the wear and tear of daily use. This year, however, I discovered a completely different product available for students. Check out the newest Kala U-Bass! Granted, the U-Bass has been around for many years, but their most recent version is a finished electric bass guitar with all the same components (magnetic pick-ups, tone knobs, nickel round wound strings) in a more lightweight and portable size. In fact, it’s about 33 inches, just over half the size of a regular bass guitar! I didn’t get to play it, but from the demo the quality of tone was identical to any other bass I’ve ever heard. As a female with small hands, I would prefer the U-Bass’s smaller fretboard too, and so would as my young students who suffer from hand fatigue from regular size models. It could also work as a great portable option for teaching. The new U-Bass comes in three funky colors and will be available in four more new finishes this spring. Each one is also packaged with a leather-like strap and nice plush case.

Best Brass Tool – Prelude ¾ French Horn by Conn- Selmer
As recommended from lifetime horn player Elisa, I had to check out the two new Conn-Selmer French Horns. In F and Bb, these horns are specifically designed for young players (suggested for fourth and fifth grade students). They are smaller, more lightweight, and provide a much more comfortable experience for beginning learners. She suggested not buying a single size French horn and instead going from this Conn Selmer ¾ size to the double. It would save money and help you retain your young players. The retail price is under $1,500 (and even less with a school bid), giving you the opportunity to buy a French horn for the price of a trumpet!

Best Musical Accessory Tool – The Artist Model by The Mute Caddy In what took over a day and a half to finally reach the edge of the exhibit hall, I managed to stumble upon a booth run by the enthusiastic Steven Klein who specializes in music accessories for trumpet and trombone. I noticed the Mute Caddy on display and immediately knew this invention was something special. Designed to attach directly to a music stand, the caddy can hold up to four mutes and two mouth pieces, making it a much more organized and accessible method of holding brass accessories. There are a few different models, one of which attaches to the bottom shelf of a music stand and another with flexible rings.

Best Woodwind Tool – Kanter Cinema BH Custom Mouthpieces by Chedeville After some laughs and stories about the good-old-days of NAMM with Colin Schofield, I was ushered over to the display case to check out Chedeville’s newest mouthpiece. The new Kanter Cinema BH Clarinet Mouthpiece, designed in exclusive collaboration with James Kanter, legendary studio musician (featured in over 1,500 Motion Picture scores) and mouthpiece maker, was an unforgettable product. After Tyler Harris gave me the story of its inception, it’s safe to say that this mouthpiece really is “sublime!” The mouthpiece’s sound is beautifully warm and focused while still being very flexible. It stands in the middle of tip openings and facing designs and performs well in a variety of settings. It’s also very comfortable to play.

Best Choir Tool – The Choral Folder with Hinge and Fusion Music Folder by Protec The first time I saw these, I thought to myself… “it’s about time we ditch those plastic folders!” In the mix of a lot of other great accessories at the Protec booth, these two leatherette folders had a sophisticated look to them while offering some great hidden features. The Deluxe Choral Music folder ($31.50) fits sheet music up to 8.5 x 11.5” and includes elastic string dividers for keeping papers together while also dueling as a bookmark for page turns. It also includes an adjustable hand strap with a buckle for hand support and a small pencil holder. The Fusion Folder (for other ensembles) features the same leatherette accents, pencil holder and fits even larger sheet music (up to 10.5 and 12.75”). It also includes 1.5” deep large capacity pockets for extra paper storage. Did I mention they were only $12.95 apiece!

Best Marching Band Tool – PCTS Valves – The Compression Training System Briefly after visiting “The Mute Caddy” I scurried over to another booth managed by Larry Meregillano, inventor of the Compression Training System. The CTS, as he calls it, is a system for employing correct muscular coordination and maintaining embouchure strength with a silent but effective series of exercises. The included measuring device provides natural fluid back pressure with feedback displayed in an analog meter dial on the front.  This tool is great for brass players of all skill levels, from those who are refining their technique to active players working to maintain their strength and coordination. His website also includes a few other models for those interested in simultaneously practicing valve combinations or who want the full-size model.

Best Wind Band Tool – Sound Artistry Intermediate Method There are many students who may want to take private lessons, but don’t have the financial support to do so. When they don’t have access to a private teacher, it becomes nearly impossible to figure out what next-step repertoire and technique books are right for them. The Sound Artistry Intermediate Method helps aid in this process by providing an all-in-one book for motivated students. Its sequential and logical sequence makes it easy to follow along with, alongside the helpful piano accompaniment tracks on MakeMusicCloud (old SmartMusic). Each instrument book was developed alongside professional musicians in the industry and was refined to reflect their sequence in learning and practice. The series is available for all woodwind/brass instruments.

Best String Tool – Series+ Violins by Eastman Strings A traditional violin with a hidden tech twist! The Series+ has all the components of an acoustic violin, but inside hides a small pick-up connected to a 3.5mm output jack (which is cleverly disguised as the end button). Now students can have an instrument that blends into their ensemble and yet also can be used with headphones, recording on a computer and plugged into an amp for use with external pedals. Eliminating extra sets of violins in the classroom, students can now plug and play for outdoor events, or even perform with jazz or modern band ensembles. Students can also apply a mute to their violin and plug in their headphones for quiet anytime practicing. The opportunities are endless.

Best Creative Composition Tool – Sketch by Pro Tools After a great conversation with Pro-Audio Specialist, Christopher Mallamaci, it was clear to me that the industry-standard DAW Pro-Tools was opening new doors into the field of music and audio education. Their first big venture was with a newly developed iPad app called Sketch. Completely free, Sketch allows students to experiment with loops and arrangements in a vertical workflow. Similar to the Launchpad grid, students can now experiment with high quality virtual instruments, cue scenes of sound clips and even organize loops into arrangement sections (intro, verse, chorus). Afterward, students can export their projects directly into Pro Tools Intro (a free software version of ProTools) for a more linear composition experience.

Best Collaboration Tool – JackTrip JackTrip. These guys have gotten rid of the box and gone full browser- or app-based. Players can jam live with fellow musicians around the country. Teachers can jam with fellow teachers! Get your horns out and play again.

Best Comprehensive Music Program Management Tool Get the tools and data you need to reduce admin headaches, maximize your program’s assets, and boost your daily workflow from the people who’ve walked in your teaching shoes. This do-it-all suite of applications includes music library, instrument and uniform inventory, financial and fundraising tools, email and text communications, eSignature capabilities, and much more. Designed by music teachers for music teachers.

Thanks for reading and I hope you will join me next year at NAMM 2025! See you then!

Better Together

I recently returned from the American Bandmasters Association (ABA) annual convention, this time held in Washington, D.C. If you’re not familiar with ABA, it was founded in 1929 and its first president was Edwin Franko Goldman. Members must be nominated, their qualifications and recordings reviewed, and be recommended for membership. While its members have included (and still do) the prominent conductors of leading bands in the United States and Canada, membership also includes the very finest middle and high school band directors who have a sustained record of excellence and contributions to the profession.

Like many professional organizations founded decades ago, ABA is making great efforts to ensure its membership, its energy, and its resources reflect our diverse society and profession. I have had the privilege of serving on ABA’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equality, and Access (IDEA) committee for several years and the progress ABA has made has been impressive. At a gala concert in Constitution Hall, the committee’s first commissioned work was performed, conducted by Dr. Paula Crider. Stride! by composer Kevin Day is an exciting new work for Grade 4 bands that will be featured in an upcoming SBO+ issue.

This issue features Best Tools for Schools that were selected by three superb music educators at the 2024 NAMM Show. There is an incredible volume of new instruments, new method books, new compositions, and innovative technological tools coming out practically every day. SBO+ tries to help you stay abreast of what’s new. Another great way of keeping up with the industry is by subscribing to our sister publication, Musical Merchandise Review ( It’s the same great price as SBO+ (FREE!).

I was going to write about the arrival of spring and the start of the busy student travel season, but as I look out my window in Colorado, there’s nearly four feet of snow. Maybe next month!

In the next few months, look for an exciting monthly feature addressing how to build a culture of musical excellence. I’ll keep secret the identity of our chief collaborator for now, but his last name starts with “L” and ends with “autzenheiser.”

How to be a Nice Pest!

Be an Unapologetic Advocate!

As a director of a music program, it can often feel like you show up each morning with an excitement for teaching and connecting kids with music, only to end up in a series of daily “battles.”

One of the most deflating of these battles is the simple justification for your program’s needs… and in some cases its very existence! And, at the risk of sounding a bit “Dooms Day”-like, 2024 may make budget discussions additionally challenging. A recent article in Fortune Magazine states the pandemic-era revenue surge fueled by federal spending and inflation is now is receding, and in some states even reversing into negative numbers.

So how do you make sure music education is a priority for your school and district?

As music teachers we are extraordinarily aware of the transformational impact a quality music education and participation in a music program has on students. 

But are you sharing this information with others in your school community? The evidence has always been there; music kids are often at the top of their class, have higher GPAs, lower discipline referral rates, and better attendance rates than other students in the school. Use these and other metrics to advance your cause!

Do not be afraid to connect student academic success to participation in YOUR music program!

-What is the average GPA of the kids in your band?

-How many of your orchestra students are in the top 25% of their class?

-How many of your seniors have a 30 or higher on their ACT?

-What is the graduation rate of instrumental music students across a 4-year period? (often 100%)

-What is the combined college scholarship offer amount for the seniors in your program? At my school it is not uncommon for the band seniors, who represent about 15% of the entire senior class, to hold more than 60% of the entire class’s scholarship offers! 

-How many band and orchestra kids are National Merit Finalists/Semi-Finalists, Presidential Scholars, etc.?

When it comes to asking for the necessary resources to not only maintain, but advance the quality of your program, approach every conversation with the following mind set. 

You were hired to provide the best possible music program for your school and its students!  

When you interviewed for your job, it is likely someone said “we want you to give us the best possible program our school can have!”

Therefore, it’s completely appropriate that you ask for the things to help you achieve the goal you were hired to achieve!

Being an unapologetic and aggressive advocate is not saying you should be combative. But I do believe it is usually a positive to be viewed as a dogged advocate for your kids and their experience by the people in your school and district. Be a respectful and consistent advocate, let everyone know you are fighting for your kids and then, (and this is important) when some administrator says “okay, we’ve heard you,” you should back off! 

Talk about your program’s needs through the lens of the student experience.

People will forgive you for most things and you can survive many tense situations with both parents and school administrators, if you can articulate how all your decisions are made with the student experience in mind. 

Articulated through this lens some might still question your decisions, but they are less likely to question your motives!

The need for additional music staff resonates better if your request isn’t framed as “I just can’t do it all and I need help.” Instead, articulate your request as “these students will get an even more meaningful music education if we can reduce the student/teacher ratio” or “we have the opportunity to hire a specialist to produce an even higher degree of student excellence.”

It is easier to advocate for your program if it provides access to a great experience for ALL students in your school. 

In the national music education community, there is a growing perception that ensemble music is elitist and only excels in affluent demographics. Now, we can all think of MANY examples of great school bands and orchestras in communities that don’t fit that description, but you must continually look for any barriers to participation, real or perceived, that might exist. These perceived barriers take many forms including band is too expensive, and band takes up too much time. When structuring your school program’s budget and any expenses attached, be aware of your community’s financial realities. Combat the fear of time commitment sharing students with athletic teams and working to facilitate music participation with AP, IB and other academic programs.

These strategies and talking points help you be an unapologetic advocate for your kids and your program. Now go forth and spread the good word about what involvement in school music does for ALL students!!!

Lafe Cook has been a high school band director for thirty-three years and is in his twenty-seventh year as the director of the Dobyns-Bennett Band Program in Kingsport, Tennessee. 

Composing for Middle and High School Choirs – A conversation with Laura Farnell and Reginald Writer – Part 1

Mark Rohwer is the director of fine arts for Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX). He was previously the director of choral activities at Flower Mound High School for over twenty years. He is a member of the ChorTeach editorial board. 

Laura Farnell is an active choral composer, clinician, accompanist, and adjudicator who resides in Arlington, Texas. She earned a BME from Baylor University and taught elementary and junior high music in Texas. In 2004 she received an Excellence in Education Award as the Arlington Independent School District’s outstanding junior high teacher of the year. 

Describe the path that led you to composing music for middle school and high school choirs. 

Farnell: I was fortunate to have a musically rich childhood, supportive parents, as well as caring and talented musicians and educators in my life, which laid the foundation for me to have opportunities in music. The path that led me specifically to composition likely began with my participation in the “improvisation” category of piano guild in elementary school. While at Baylor University completing my music education degree, I took a choral composition class with Dr. Robert Young. During my third year of teaching, I transitioned from teaching elementary music to junior high choir, at which point I found myself spending quite a lot of time adapting pieces to make them work for my seventh- and eight- grade tenor bass choir. At one point, I thought, “It would be so much easier to write my own pieces,” so I gave it a try! When my students seemed to enjoy my arrangement of “Deck the Halls” and were successful performing it, I thought, “Maybe other directors and choirs would be able to enjoy this piece,” which prompted me to submit it for publication. After it was accepted, I was encouraged to write and arrange more pieces for my students. 

Wright: I started composing music for school choirs due to a need for music for my high school tenor/bass choir. We had a strong, but mighty, twelve-voice men’s choir. The required music for the state festival list was well above the accessibility level for this band of humans. The more accessible music for the group was below their level. I composed a middle-of the-road piece that contained some cool stylings along with a difficulty that was within their grasp. 

As a singer or choral conductor yourself, what helped prepare or give perspective to your composing? 

Farnell: My experience teaching junior high choir probably shaped my perspective most as a composer and was also my primary motivation to begin to write. I wanted my students to have successful performances, and I felt the literature options available then were limited in many ways. I first wrote for my students, and doing so prompted me to shape my writing styles for their needs, such as what ranges would work best, what types of styles and texts they would like to sing, and how to make the pieces simultaneously interesting and accessible. 

Wright: My experiences as a middle and high school teacher/conductor gave me the best insight on what and how to compose. I tended to pay attention to the musical elements my students liked, as well as voicings and compositional devices that allowed them to be successful. I loved writers like Morten Lauridsen and Z. Randall Stroope, who incorporated interesting harmonies, and Stephen Paulus, who used instruments as a continuation of the vocal sonorities. 

Do you have anything specific in mind related to middle school or high school choirs when you are composing a piece? 

Farnell: Definitely! When I’m writing a piece for a specific choir, I try to tailor it to that ensemble, which can be a challenge when I’m working on a piece for a choir and director I’ve never met! When I’m working on a noncommissioned composition for a developing choir, a limited range is something I strive to prioritize, especially in tenor-bass compositions. I also try to incorporate optional notes to allow directors the flexibility to make the best choices for their ensemble. I also learned, first from Dr. Earlene Rentz in my choral methods class and later from personal experience, the importance of a supportive piano accompaniment part. Finally, I try to keep the text choice in mind as I write. I try not only to write music that uses poetry that speaks to my soul, but also to keep in mind, “How can I make these beautiful words accessible to the young artist?” 

Wright: I am always doing my best to stay in tune with the needs of the student musicians, as some things have changed over the years in terms of the make-up of some choirs. I’d like to think I am in tune with the overall specifics of young choirs in terms of appropriate skill level, tessitura, societal interests, and musical preferences for the age groups. 

What are the challenges you find yourself facing as a composer?

Farnell: When I first started writing, one of my primary challenges was finding enough time to balance the writing process with the demands of teaching. When I stepped away from teaching full time, I found a similar challenge of balancing my creative process, which often requires large chunks of uninterrupted time, with the demands of being a mom and a part-time musician. I also face the challenge of “staying connected” meaningfully in classroom work so that my writing remains relevant. Additionally, finding public domain texts that simultaneously speak to my soul and are accessible enough for use with young singers is an ongoing challenge. 

Wright: The biggest struggle I face at the present time is working to balance my life as a full-time husband and teacher while composing and conducting, where travel is mostly required.
Reprinted from ChorTeach with permission of ACDA.

Teaching by Ear, Learning by Heart Creative Musical Arts at New England Conservatory – Part III

SBO+: This is part 3 in a series of articles by faculty members of the NEC who share their tips on teaching deeper listening.

Jerry Leake, world percussion: Harmonic Time – Your Body as the Instrument

Over the years I have developed a body and language-based rhythm method called “Harmonic Time” that educates musicians of any age or background about world rhythm systems without having to play a complex traditional drum. Harmonic Time integrates a three-tiered orchestration of musical time, groove, and mathematics into the entire body, not just the intellect, allowing one to “feel” how parts combine. The method incorporates side-to-side stepping (with ankle bells), counter clapping/sticking patterns and spoken drum syllables and songs from Africa and India. This “language-based” model, drawing on aural/oral traditions, allows one to practice rhythm away from their instrument, strengthening short and long-term memory skills while developing coordination and independence. From young children to professional musicians, practitioners discover the power and depth of rhythm using a “theory meets practice” approach to composition, improvisation and, most importantly, education.


Dr. Hankus Netsky, Co-Chair CMA: NEC’s Contemporary Musical Arts Curriculum as a Template for Teaching Creative Musical Artistry

As a longtime teacher, I’ve developed a project-based aural skills curriculum that starts with detailed listening to the music of major creative musical artists. In doing so, I draw from the teachings of our founding chair, Ran Blake, who calls this practice developing “Long-Term Melodic Memory.” Over the years we’ve drawn our departmental repertoire from recordings by singers Billie Holiday and Abbey Lincoln, recordings of Bollywood pop and Greek protest songs, compositions by Stevie Wonder, George Russell and Dmitri Shostakovich, and from folk and popular performers of many diverse nationalities. When using such recordings as springboards the student will naturally want to consider the intention of the performer and/or composer. What emotions does the performer and/or composer seek to express in the piece? What are the characteristics of the performer’s gestural language? What story are they trying to convey? And most importantly, what are the specific and unique signifiers of the culture the music comes from? Whatever the answers to these questions, my goal in using classic recordings as texts has always been to push the student to realize expressive and creative melodic, harmonic and rhythmic invention is something a lot of cultures can agree is important – and that cannot be expressed effectively through notation.

After basic melodic work, students take on detailed listening projects that help them discover how composer/performer/ improvisers create their unique musical “dialects” using personal conceptions of sound, narratives from lyrics, harmonic progressions and strategic use of voice leading and register. Reference points in creative musical artistry are many and varied.  Moreover, the goal of an emerging artist might be to follow a traditional form or invent a new one, work within an existing context (prayer, ritual, etc.) or create an imaginary landscape, use rules of a genre or modal system or purposely break them, articulate limitations or push boundaries. 

I introduce harmony not as a series of common chord progressions taken from Western musical repertoire but as vertical structures that complement the tension and release of a melodic line.  For the purpose of learning to hear and identify these structures, I place a pedal point on the top and work downward from there since, in my experience, harmony is usually heard in relation to a melody and not so much in relation to a figured bass, the approach still most used in teaching harmony. Confident the student has mastered melodic intervals while working on melodies (they’re another important component of the curriculum), I start this process by introducing harmonic intervals. Next, I introduce triads working downward through two harmonic intervals and then I add a bass note. By the end of a student’s second semester, they become fluent in recognizing and notating seventh chords of all types and, by the end of their third semester, they’re fluent in recognizing many different common and uncommon vertical sonorities containing up to six or seven pitches.  

Along with their work on chord recognition, I expect all students to memorize actual pieces of music that use harmony, register and chord voicings in innovative ways and perform them on the piano. I draw these from the recorded repertoire of creative musical icons including pianist Jimmy Yancey, singer/pianist Nina Simone, pianist/composers Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington and bassist/composer Charles Mingus. I give out no lead sheets or manuscript versions of pieces for students to study. Of course, our students are also required to demonstrate proficiency in transcription, something we incorporate into our curriculum at every level.  If students can’t figure out a piece with larger harmonic structures, I give them easier pieces to figure out.

In the context of a conservatory education, it has often seemed to outsiders that our department is one of the most innovative programs out there but, from a more objective viewpoint, our program might be the most traditional one. Learning through oral tradition likely predates learning through notation by at least five-hundred thousand years(!). Empowering our students to learn the way great musicians of all traditions have learned from time immemorial is the greatest gift we music teachers can give them.

Teaching Students with Differences and Disabilities in Music Classrooms and Ensembles

I am often asked to provide strategies for teaching students with differences and disabilities. To me, it is more important that we integrate a culture of belonging among our music classes and ensembles. When our philosophy is inclusive, the strategies are easier to determine. 

Once our inclusive philosophy of belonging is in place, we can begin to create adaptations that fit a universal design for learning (UDL) framework. For students who need more and extra from us, I recommend the following framework. 


Kinesthetic – It is important to use movement activities to accompany listening experiences. Many students learn best when their bodies are in motion. Concepts like tempo, style, dynamics, and genre can be practiced through movement. Students can also benefit from three dimensional figures that represent abstract concepts like notes, rhythms, solfege, dynamics, and artistic markings.

Visual – Displaying a score on a screen and asking students to track the measures while listening to a recording can be very helpful for students who need to visualize the music. A picture or written schedule to accompany any aural directions and procedures in class can ease student frustration.

Aural – Students may excel when given the choice of modality for response to a quiz or performance test. They may also perform best when given the choices to respond in two or more ways to a question or task. 


Removing extraneous material (things you are not focusing on during the current class or rehearsal) and creating a large space for notation can be very helpful. As music repertoire choices include greater difficulty or grade levels, the staves become smaller. Some students are no longer able to distinguish the notes and the staff. It is also important to use a simple font with no decorative elements.

Size adaptations can also apply to the number of pieces a student performs in a marching show, the personal space a student needs around them, and the space a student needs around them when they are being assessed can be determined once the student feels safe in the environment. The amount of music you ask a student to learn or perform for an assessment or concert can be adjusted for students who are not yet able to perform the same amount of music as their peers. Enlarging the size of notes, staves, and dynamic markings on a page can help bring the attention of the students to the exact objective you are teaching. 


Colored transparencies placed over music or written pages can assist students in reading. Some students have great difficulty with the black and white used in music. The transparencies help to relax the rods and cones in the eyes so the student can see the material without the strain. Erasable highlighters are also a game changer. Students may highlight an area or a note they are using as a focus. Erasable highlighters come in a variety of colors for use by students who need to color code their note reading. 


It may be necessary to simplify a part (use bass line, chord outlines, first note of each measure) to meet the musical needs of a student. As the student improves, these parts can be adapted to fit their growing musical achievement. A student may need to begin with a blank score that is filled in slowly as they become more comfortable with the repertoire. For some students, the amount of ancillary information on a page (title, composer, tempo, and dynamic markings) can be distracting. In addition, some students may need to learn less material. For example, learning the A section of a piece, practicing the rhythm only prior to the rhythm combined with melody, or mastering one portion of the music can be a beneficial way for students to make a meaningful contribution to the class or ensemble. If students have difficulty with aural questions, try writing the question on a piece of paper or index card prior to class. Give the student the question you will be asking and tell them if they know the answer when you ask the question to raise their hand. Partial participation in class is another important aspect as some students become overwhelmed with the sensory information during class or rehearsal.

Through use of adaptation strategies, we can begin to increase our culture of belonging and access. By providing music materials that fit the chronological age of a student while using objectives that fit the developmental age of a student, we begin to honor them as individuals. We also build a collaborative relationship with all students as they see us modeling inclusiveness (walking the walk). 

Finally, being a good team player, reviewing IEP and 504 paperwork, cultivating relationships with the special education faculty and staff, and providing musical opportunities for all students at every level of PK-12 education are critical to success. When in doubt, think about how you would want to be treated if you were having difficulty in the music ensemble or classroom. It may also be helpful to think about how you would want the experience to take place if the student were your own child. We are all trying our best every day. Every day our best looks a little different, and that is okay. Be the best human you can be on any day.

Saxophone Altissimo Register Fingerings and Exercises

When playing in the altissimo register, the most important factors are tongue position, air stream and the ability to hear the pitch before it is played. After these issues are resolved, the proper altissimo fingerings should be examined. For each altissimo note, there are several possible fingering choices. Some fingerings may produce a better tone while others are easier to play technically. Initially, saxophonists should try various fingering combinations to see which ones they prefer the most. Eventually they will develop a set of fingering combinations that work best for them in almost every performance situation. 

Since altissimo fingerings are somewhat more difficult to perform when compared to other note fingerings, saxophonists are sometimes limited in their ability to play quickly in this register. The following set of altissimo fingerings are designed for speed and will give the saxophonist the agility sometimes lacking when playing in the altissimo register.

Altissimo Speed Fingering




Altissimo Exercises
Once the tongue position, air stream and note fingerings have been established, saxophonists should practice to develop speed and agility in the altissimo register. There are many ways to develop this technique but several of the most common exercises are detailed below. One exercise to develop fluency in the altissimo register is to play all the major scales and arpeggi into this range. This means a C major scale and arpeggio normally played two octaves should now be played three octaves. The saxophonist should use Forked E and F fingerings when playing scales into the altissimo register when appropriate as these fingerings prepare the performer’s tongue position, air stream for this register. The chromatic scale can also be practiced with this extended range.

C Major Scale Three Octaves



C Major Arpeggio Three Octaves


  C Chromatic Scale Three Octaves




Another exercise is to play the same note in all available octaves. An example would be to play low C, then C on the third space of the staff, then high C above the staff and finally altissimo C. 

Playing C in All Registers



Other exercises are to play simple folk or children’s tunes first in a lower octave and then in the altissimo register. This can be done by writing the tunes out or by playing them by ear.

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Mary Had a Little Lamb in the Altissimo Register



By practicing the above listed altissimo speed fingerings, altissimo scales and arpeggi, playing notes in all registers and playing children’s tunes in the lower octave and then in the altissimo register, saxophonists will soon be able to master the altissimo register.

Dr. Tracy Heavner is an accomplished saxophone performer and is an endorser for SBO+ advertiser JodyJazz.

In His Own Words Musician First Class Marcus Flores, U.S. Naval Academy Band

A native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Musician First Class Marcus Flores auditioned and was selected for assignment to the U.S. Naval Academy Band in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2020. Following Navy recruit training in Great Lakes, Illinois, he reported to the Naval Academy Band as a trumpet instrumentalist with the brass quintet, brass ensemble, marching band, and ceremonial units. He is also a public affairs assistant and auditions assistant. He recently reenlisted in the Navy for a second tour of duty.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your musical background/when you started playing the trumpet (or other instruments)?

I started out on the French horn, not the trumpet! I played the horn throughout middle school in our band class, but then decided I wanted to play in the jazz band which met after school.

A case showed up in my room soon after. My dad had gone to Sam’s Club and bought an inexpensive trumpet, along with a basic book of exercises which would prepare me to play it in the jazz band. I remember practicing for hours to get the right fingerings and notes. It might not have been the best trumpet I’ve ever played, but it was what I had. And I had a lot of fun playing it! 

Q: When/how did you decide to pursue music professionally?

Music is my voice – the true window to my soul. I think I always had a special passion for it because of the colors, emotions, and sounds you can create. Each piece has its own story, and you help bring the characters to life when you play.

When I was in high school, it started to become obvious I wanted to perform and teach. I listened to any album I could get my hands on, played in every group with the name “band” in it, and would practice before, during, and after school–whenever I could find time. I would help others out who were having trouble with their parts, and I learned about music theory, ear training. I even started playing other instruments to support the different bands we had at school.

I went to Las Cruces High School (Go Bulldawgs!). I earned my bachelor’s degree in music education at New Mexico State University, my master’s degree in music at Bowling Green State University, and was working on a doctorate at the University of North Texas before I won my position with the Naval Academy Band.

Q: What are some highlights you’ve had with the band so far?

We were able to take a brass quintet out to the Naval School of Music for a recital last year, and I really enjoyed the program we put together. It was challenging, featured music of various genres and time periods, and allowed us to push ourselves musically as a group. I especially enjoyed playing Oskar Böhme’s Sextet for Brass – I’m a huge fan of music in the Romantic style.

Q: As part of your duties with the band, you teach trumpet sectionals as a part of Midshipmen Musical Activities. How is mentoring these future naval officers rewarding for you?

For me, it’s a nice way to reconnect with my time prior to joining the Navy as a music educator, where I was part of a great staff as a band director in Clovis, New Mexico. I constantly draw upon the lessons I learned from my colleagues and supervisors there – teaching helped me monumentally in becoming a better performer. 

 The midshipmen are fantastic students. They take precious time out of their demanding military and academic schedules to be a part of the various musical groups here. I always appreciate how attentive they are and how they are so willing to be coached. 

Overall, I’m just glad I get to share a little bit of my passion for music with them. I hope to impart to our future military leaders how music can inspire and uplift others.  

Q: What advice have you received along the way by a trusted friend or mentor you would want to share with younger musicians who might be considering a career in the military musical organization?

I’ve been blessed to have great mentors throughout my musical development: my elementary school teacher Susan Raby, my high school band director Matthew Talmadge, my mentor Dr. Frank “Pancho” Romero, and the trumpet gurus who helped me develop my musical voice, Charles Saenz, John Holt, and Caleb Hudson. I think what they have passed on to me the most is how to be a professional not just in music, but in life: be a good colleague, cooperate and communicate with others, strive to understand the entirety of the ensemble (not just learn your part), and work hard to contribute to a greater group performance.

Intermediate or Professional Clarinet: Which Do You Choose, Why and When?

The journey from a novice to a skilled musician is paved not just with practice and passion, but also with the proper tools to let your talent shine. Whether you’re a young beginner, an aspiring artist, or a seasoned professional, the instruments you choose will play a significant role in your musical growth.

Choosing the right clarinet for each stage of your musical evolution can be a daunting task, with a confusing number of variations available. This article will help you make these choices while considering stages of development and expense.

Young clarinetists typically begin their journey with a plastic clarinet, accompanied by the standard mouthpiece that comes with them.  These are most often obtained from the band’s inventory or rented from a local music store. These are fine for this stage of developing their fundamental skills.  I remember carrying my first clarinet, a plastic Vito, back and forth to school every day. However, please be aware if purchasing a plastic clarinet, you need to consult with a trusted seller of these instruments. There are some truly terrible plastic clarinets being sold now. A beautiful picture on the internet does not necessarily translate to a quality instrument.  Brand matters. The Buffet Prodige is a wonderful example of a quality plastic clarinet.

However, as their musical skills develop, students may find themselves limited by the basic capabilities of beginner equipment. These instruments and mouthpieces cannot deliver the rich, resonant sound or precise articulation expected of more advanced players.  Eventually, an upgrade becomes essential.

The initial upgrades should be the mouthpiece, reeds, and the ligature. I recommend the Vandoren M-13 Lyre or M-15 as ideal choices for a first mouthpiece upgrade.  These are affordable professional level mouthpieces most students can sound wonderful on. Once this upgrade occurs, the next step is a wooden clarinet.

For serious budding artists in middle school or high school, a wooden step-up model is essential. A step- up model clarinet is one made of better materials with a bit more attention to detail.  Wood is the important factor because its resonance gives the clarinet its warm and complex sound. All the major clarinet manufacturers make an intermediate model. Of these, I always recommend the Buffets, specifically their E-11’s, a long-standing favorite that can aid in the transition towards a higher level of performance. However, a serious student who aspires to the professional level will eventually need to upgrade from an E-11. At this point, looking for the option that makes the most long-term sense involves an honest assessment of the possible future plans of the student or artist.

There are alternative options such as the Serio line from Lisa’s Clarinet Shop, crafted from Grenadilla and featuring double plated silver keys. While slightly pricier than the E-11’s, they are still quite affordable and are designed for advanced students and professionals in need of a budget-friendly choice. An advancing student who purchases a Serio model may find they will be able to delay the purchase of a more expensive clarinet. The sound produced by the Serio clarinets is a warm, rich, professional sound. If a parent suspects their student may be interested in a long-term commitment to excellence in clarinet playing, the Serio would be a great upgrade choice.

For the true connoisseurs or serious students contemplating a top-tier upgrade, Buffet clarinets are the epitome of excellence, providing an unparalleled complexity and beauty of sound. Buffets produce all the colors of the clarinet rainbow. When a student is seriously considering continuing their music in college, and beyond, I suggest investing in a professional Buffet clarinet, if financially feasible. College level studies demand a professional level instrument. The R-13 is the instrument most of my college students play.  It is the most affordable of the many excellent professional models offered by Buffet and is a reliable and outstanding choice. I also have students on the wonderful Tradition and Prestige clarinets from Buffet.

Let’s be honest, professional clarinets are expensive but are well worth it. However, not everyone is able to obtain one right away. Used Buffets, or the Serios, can be affordable and quality choices for dedicated clarinetists. Although purchasing a used instrument requires very careful vetting, as they do not come with warranties of any kind, they are absolutely a viable option.

Developing a strong concept of a beautiful clarinet tone is often the first step a student takes before realizing some new equipment is required to achieve it.  Once that happens the genie cannot be put back into the bottle.  Seeking a qualified private teacher can be a great resource for information and guidance concerning upgrades. Also, studying privately is the most efficient and reliable way of developing the skills of a serious student of any age.

The first step in upgrading a clarinet will often be to an intermediate clarinet.  But there are options to explore, as discussed, that could postpone the expense of a top-of-the-line professional model or provide an intermediate student with a more fulfilling experience.

Examples of beautiful clarinet playing can easily be found online.  Having students do extensive listening is the quickest way to develop an appropriate concept of sound. Live concerts are always the best venue for this, but our electronic world makes it easy to find wonderful examples.

Practical Ways of Implementing Peer Mentoring in Modern Band Classrooms

Peer mentoring seems like a simple enough concept but identifying ways it can manifest itself practically in popular music education classrooms may prove to be a bit more challenging for practitioners unfamiliar with the approach.  I will give you steps music educators can take to democratize their classrooms through peer mentoring and move toward a more authentic approach to how popular music has historically been learned outside of traditional school environments. Modern band programs are particularly fortunate in that the approach is already set up to introduce peer mentoring in successful ways. As a music educator, I saw the incredible impact peer mentoring had on my students and once I stepped aside from being the sole source of knowledge in the classroom, students prospered and the pressure on me to fix every issue and address every student who needed help was relieved. Through my own research and hearing the findings of others, I have concluded peer mentoring is more than an ancillary teaching tactic but instead, a vetted approach and methodology of teaching within the context of modern band. It is not just a supplemental approach to teach modern band but a fundamental and foundational facet of what it is to facilitate authentic learning within our classroom and ensemble spaces. Students also develop social skills and bond with each other in a variety of ways when given more chances to interact with peers.

Peer mentoring can exist as a pre-determined pairing of students of differing ability levels but also as an approach allowing students to help each other and move continuously from mentor to mentee and vice versa more organically. The students in our classrooms know a great deal about popular music (potentially more than we do) and bring with them a myriad of ways of understanding and educating their peers that formal educators may not be able to recreate even with advanced degrees! Students have noted in previous studies they often prefer to hear critical feedback from their peers as opposed to their teacher. Students have also said their peers communicate with them in ways that are often less confusing. Peer mentoring fosters leadership skills among students and potentially prepares them for roles in education themselves. When students are provided with agency and autonomy, they may become more invested in their learning. Some practical ways to incorporate peer mentoring in your classrooms are as follows:

Leave Room for Students to Fix Issues with Each Other

It may be difficult to step aside and not feel compelled to fix issues you see in ensembles/classroom activities within modern band but asking students to work with each other and help where they can gives them a chance to work through their problems and be creative in solutions rather than simply adjusting to what you ask them to do. Learning should be experiential as we have learned from so many education theorists along the way. 

Purposeful Seating

There are many considerations when it comes to where students sit in an ensemble or classroom. A powerful consideration that encourages peer mentoring is to situate students in pairs/small groups based on ability level. I do not mean to say all students of the highest ability level sit together while those struggling should be separated. Just the opposite! Be purposeful in juxtaposing students of less experience with those who have more. This arrangement will foster the organic development of peer mentoring within the class. When students are tasked with “helping their neighbor,” I often see students paired up who have no way of knowing how to help each other and others who are both competent and are not in need of help. Peer mentoring between students of varying abilities leads to successful peer instruction and the development of leadership and teaching skills within your student population. Students like to hear feedback and instruction from each other but will only give it if they are near someone who needs help!

Creating an Environment that Encourages Socialization

By nature, peer mentoring is a social endeavor. Students communicate and interact with each other while it occurs. Establishing your classroom as a place where it is OK to move around (within reason), talk openly about musical topics, and not “face the teacher” for all guidance all the time are just a few ways to set the stage for peer mentoring. A rigid, teacher-centered classroom is not the context needed for peer mentoring to happen and students will be confused when it comes to understanding how to go about helping each other when given the opportunity. Do not worry about pre-determining mentors and mentees but instead, encourage students to move fluidly between those roles and help whenever and wherever possible. Find each student’s strengths and find ways for them to add their own experience and learning to your educational landscape.

Dr. Warren Gramm is the director of music education and assistant professor of music at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. 

Patriotic Music Binds Us to the Idea of America

SBO+: Well-known author and frequent SBO+ contributor Harvey Rachlin provides this article on the important role music plays in developing and sustaining our national identity. In conversations with Harvey about this article, I suggested the traditional “American musical canon” needs to be expanded to include songs relevant to the diverse nation we have become, to which he enthusiastically agreed. The music students learn, especially in their early years, can enlighten, enrich, and educate them about all parts of America’s heritage and hope for the future.

One day, during a class I give on the history of popular music, I was taken by surprise. I was lecturing on late 19th century music, and when I mentioned the famous composer and band leader John Philip Sousa, I looked at the students spread across several rows in the crowded classroom and saw a sea of blank faces. “John Philip Sousa?” I repeated, this time as an exclamatory question. “The March King? You know him, don’t you? The students sat quietly until one said shyly “The name sounds familiar.” “Well, okay,” I responded, confident they really did know who he was. “Even if you don’t know his name you surely know his work.”

I walked over to the keyboard to my left at the front of the room, clicked on YouTube, and typed in a composition title. “Don’t you know his most famous composition, ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’? You hear it every July 4th.” From the speakers Sousa’s iconic patriotic march blared and I thought the students would fall all over themselves with recognition. Some faintly smiled and indeed, said they had heard the tune before, but to my disbelief many claimed the tune was unknown to them.

The students’ unfamiliarity with music of the past wasn’t an entire surprise. As an educator I have found many students do not have a basic knowledge of the American music canon—songs like “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee),” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” and “Anchors Aweigh.” I have taught at the college level for many years and have noticed students coming in who not only do not know these songs that were an integral part of the culture that helped shape our country but don’t even care to. They indubitably love music and can tell you all about the latest hit makers who they avidly follow on social media like Taylor Swift, Drake, Beyoncé and Post Malone, not to mention they can also effortlessly recite their lyrics, but the music that is inextricably tied to the heritage of our country is like a musty relic from a bygone age that holds no appeal to them. 

Young people have historically been introduced to patriotism through inspiring stories about war heroes and events, indelible symbols such as the American flag and monuments, and stirring songs about our nation’s past. Today, however, patriotism is looked down upon by some people. In another recent class I played an original tune to get the students’ feedback. The song had lyrics that could be construed as patriotic, and one student responded “We don’t go for that. We’re not patriotic like your generation is.” 

Understandably, from a student’s point of view, our nation today is embroiled in turmoil, torn apart by myriad social issues such as abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, discrimination, and global warming to name a few. America’s heritage is from a distant past and is enshrouded with its own bevy of social injustices. Why should we celebrate our nation’s past, they ask, when we rebuke its social practices?

Yet the America we have today resulted from people championing freedom and shedding rivers of blood to sever the manacles of human bondage as well as to uphold liberty in lands far from our own shores. Through all these struggles citizens were sundered by their own different political and social views, just as we are today. The issues may change, but the charged emotional differences remain.

Music is a glue that brings people together and we can all appreciate it in ways we find personally meaningful. During the Financial Panic of 1893, which resulted in an economic depression, Katherine Lee Bates, an English literature professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, travelled across the country to teach in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While there, she and other educators took a trip in prairie wagons to the top of Pikes Peak. 

The rarified air made breathing difficult, so the trip had to be cut short but in her short time looking down upon the land Bates was so inspired by the grandeur of the view that she wrote about “amber waves of grain” and “purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.” Bates, who some modern scholars allege to have been bisexual or lesbian, chose not to interpolate any political statements in her lyric but only to focus on “America the Beautiful.”

Indeed, we can proudly sing the songs of our nation’s past, celebrating America for its splendor and grace and for giving us the freedom to speak out today as we may, and still work to make our land the glorious nation we want it to be.

Courtesy New York Daily News

Recruitment and Retention – It’s More Than “Filling the Seats”

A key aspect of all music programs is recruitment and retention. We are often pressured to “fill the seats,” but that doesn’t matter much if they don’t stay filled with students who want to learn. I have tried a variety of different techniques to recruit and retain prospective music students. A multifaceted approach works best!

–       Introduce music programs early by collaborating with feeder schools

–       Host instrument petting zoos to spark interest

–       Encourage peer recruitment and parent informational sessions

–       Seek community involvement through diverse musical experiences

–       Regular performances to showcase student talents and accomplishments

–       Cultivate a positive, inclusive environment

–       Recognize student achievements

By using these strategies, music programs can attract and
     retain students, and spark a passion that can last a lifetime.

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