Working Back into Mallets After a Long Break

All mallet players have gone through periods in their lives where they have a hiatus from mallets. Many of us have recently had one because of the pandemic. The question is how do we get back into a consistent routine after months after taking a break? I’m going to discuss this topic to help your students.

As a mallet player, it’s very easy to lose the approach to the instrument after time off. Here are some suggestions to rebuild your students’ playing.

Establish Proper Stroke

Even before your students start playing scales, it is important to establish the piston stroke once again. We do not strike a mallet instrument the way we do a drum. The mallet has to come off the instrument and pull the sound out. The “piston” stroke is named after the motion of a piston in an automobile. The best analogy I like to use is bouncing a basketball. You allow the ball the rebound up to your hand just as you allow the mallet to rebound off of the key.

Striking Position

It’s so important to review the basics after time off. One of these basics is making sure your students are striking the center of the bars whenever possible, and the edge of the accidentals during fast passages. 


Work in scales playing eight on a hand up every scale in the circle of fifths. Right hand should play on the way up the scale and left hand should play on the way down, focusing on proper grip, rebound, mallet and body position, and proper stroke. At this point, when the basics are reestablished, your students can play faster scale exercises in major and minor keys.

Basic Etudes

Your students should start with basic etudes and practice both sight reading and playing by memory. The latter is important so your students can establish muscle memory again. Here is a great etude book:

Burton Four Mallet Grip

Basic exercises with the Burton cross grip should be implemented at this point, playing both linear lines and chords. Remember that when playing linear lines, the left-hand mallet position is at a 45-degree angle and wrist rotation is used to produce the stroke and the inner mallet plays the passages, whereas the right hand has the mallets at a 90-degree angle and the motion is vertical with the outside mallet playing the passages. The mallet that is not playing should remain as still as possible. Here is a great book for your students:

Comp Chords

Have your students review chord comping and improvising using a jazz book. Playing along with recordings that come with the book is a great way to get back into the groove.

Steven’s Grip

All mallet players want to master both grips. They are completely different beasts and used in different styles of music. Having your students practice permutations and wrist rotation in this grip is very important at this point. Remind your students that this is not a cross grip and it is based on rotation technique. Here is another great book for your students:

In 2016, The Huffington Post called Kevin Lucas “the most talented percussionist since Lionel Hampton, Ginger Baker and Tito Puente”. He has been nominated for 38 music industry awards for his “Echoes in the Sand” album, and he won the 2016 American Songwriting Awards. Kevin Lucas performed with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps from 1992-1994 and won the DCI Midwest Individuals in 1994 for keyboard percussion. He placed second in the United States for concert hall percussion at the Music Teachers National Association collegiate competition in 1997.

Flute Repair Basics

September rounds out our focus on repair basics. In October, we will cover essential tips and tricks for teaching woodwinds in the classroom. Our goal is to help you better understand what to focus on and where to invest your time and energy to strengthen your student abilities. – Lisa Canning,

Flute Assembly

The flute has three parts: headjoint, footjoint, and main body. To keep the flute in best playing condition it is important to put the flute together properly. Hold the body by the barrel (where the manufacturer logo is located usually) and the headjoint below the lipplate (do NOT grab the lipplate). Put the headjoint straight on and twist in one direction-not back and forth like a seesaw. You may need to go all the way around in a circle to line it up. Then put the footjoint on by lining up the body tenon with it and go straight on as you did with the headjoint in a circular motion.

Unlike all other woodwinds that have corks on the tenons, the flute tenons are metal—keeping them clean is important. Do not use any lubricants on the tenons (pencil lead, cork grease, oil) If the flute was able to be assembled easily before and not now, the first thing to do is clean the tenons and their receivers. If this does not help, check to be sure the tenons are still round and not damaged or loose. 

Flute Care

It is important to swab after each use. Leaving moisture inside creates issues including mold, pad fluctuation, and headjoint cork issues. Do not store anything inside of the flute or on top of the flute while it’s in the case. Wipe off fingerprints on the outside of the flute to prevent pitting on the silver/silver plate. Flute stands are highly recommended so the flute will always have a home. Do not put the flute on the: back of a chair, music stand, bed, ground, or left unattended in a busy area outside its case.

Headjoint Cork

The headjoint cork is hidden in the top of it and effects overall sound and intonation. Headjoints vary in taper size so each cork should be custom made each flute as it is vital to its response. Red repair flags include: crown keeps turning or the cork easily moves in and out. When the headjoint cork gets old it can get stuck to the inside of the headjoint and not want to move at all. Headjoint corks usually last about a year.

Identifying the Problem

A visual diagnostic of the flute is a great place to start. Most reasons why a flute has suddenly stopped playing is from being dropped, stepped on or sat on. Send it to the repair shop, if this has happened, to avoid further damage. 

Are all the keys moving properly? If not, what is stopping it?  If just a spring came out of its catch, putting it back is simple. You’ll need a small screwdriver and a Fixit tool. If a section of keys is all moving at once, this will be caused by any of the following: bent mechanism, rust inside the hinge tube or the oil is dirty and gummed up inside of it. (The hinge tube is the rod section of the keys.) Don’t add oil to the surface of the rods as the mechanism of a flute does not allow for the oil to penetrate when the keys are assembled. The oil will travel underneath the pads and felts and cause further expense at the repair shop.

Leaks in a flute mainly develop in two ways.  There are multiple places on a flute where keys work together and must close at the same time. If they do not close at the same time, you have a leak. Many times this can be a simple adjustment of the proper screw. Follow the connection to see how the two keys are connected and make the adjustment once you can see how it works in tandem. 

If the leak is in the pad itself than either the key is bent or the pad has settled/shifted. Flute pads have shims hidden under them – they are not floated like most other woodwinds. You will need av repair tech to assist you.

Pivot screws and rod screws (steels). Many times, pivot screws or rod screws have backed out because the entire flute vibrates when played. This can cause an entire section of mechanism to not be lined up just right. If you see that a screw or steel is backed out, tighten it back into place. After you tighten the screw or steel and a key is suddenly not moving than you tightened just a bit too much, so back it out just until the key is moving freely again.

Did I Fix It? 

Many times, students refer to the keys by the note they are playing, not the name for the actual key, so best to have the player test the flute as you make small adjustments. Less is more when it comes to adjustments. If you cannot find the connection we usually can quickly help you figure it out. See our video for a few more hints on how this all works.

Service vs. Repair

Flutes should be serviced every year. This means the flute should not just be “checked” but taken completely apart, keys taken off the steels, oil removed, fresh oil put on, pads cleaned/leveled, body cleaned, and headjoint cork replaced. This is known as an annual servicing or clean, oil & adjust (aka COA). When this is done annually, the flute rarely needs repair during the year. On the other hand, when a flute needs a repair, it is having a specific issue: keys are not moving correctly, a leak has developed, or an accident happened. 

Carolyn Nussbaum is a flutist and a certified repair technician for 25+ years. Learn more:

Basic Stereo Recording Techniques

One of the simplest ways of recording a band of any size is to record in stereo using just use a couple of same model microphones. That sounds easy enough, but for anyone who’s tried it, you know that there are so many ways that you can set up just these two mics that it can be mind-boggling. And they all sound different too. Let’s take a look at some of the stereo recording techniques.

Why Record in Stereo?

First of all, stereo miking is an improvement over mono miking because it provides:

It’s hard to believe that you get all that from just two microphones, but these techniques have been used in recordings that go all the way back to the 1930s.

The Spaced Pair

Probably the simplest stereo technique is called the Spaced Pair. With the spaced-pair technique, two identical mics are placed several feet apart, aiming straight ahead toward the musical ensemble (See Figure 1). The mics can have any pickup pattern, but the omnidirectional pattern is usually used for this method. The greater the spacing between mics, the greater the stereo spread. If the spacing between mics is too far apart though, the stereo separation seems exaggerated. On the other hand, if the mics are too close together, there will be an inadequate stereo spread. It’s best to start with a distance of 10 to 12 feet between them and go from there.


The most commonly used technique is the ORTF system, which uses two cardioids angled 110 degrees apart and spaced 7 inches (17 cm) away from each other horizontally (ORTF stands for Office de Radiodifusion Television Française or the Office of French Radio and Television Broadcasting), which is approximately the distance between each ear of a typical human head.

This method tends to provide accurate localization; that is, the instruments appear in the soundfield of the recording as they’re placed in the room or on stage. ORTF provides a much greater sense of space, since the capsules are as far apart as your ears (see Figure 2). This technique is often mistaken for the XY technique, which is much different, as you’ll soon see.


Another version of ORTF is called NOS, which stands for Nederlandshe Omroep Stichting or the Netherlands Broadcasting System. This technique places two cardioid microphones 11.8 inches apart (30 cm) at a 90-degree angle from one another (see Figure 3).

NOS has better mono compatibility than ORTF and a stronger center image as well. It’s also somewhat easier to set up than ORFT because the angle is easier to measure.


Which brings us to the real X/Y configuration, which requires two identical directional microphones. Unlike what you might think, the mics shells are not crossed in an X pattern in this configuration. In fact, it’s the mic capsules that are placed as close as possible to one another in a 90-degree angle (see Figure 4). XY gives us very good imaging, but the stereo won’t seem as wide as other techniques.

The Stereo Mic

The very easiest way to record in stereo is with a stereo mic. This is actually a pair of capsules mounted in an XY configuration placed in a single housing for convenience. Because of their close proximity to one another, this method provides the simplest setup, since accessories such as a stereo bar or multiple mic stands are not required.

And More

There are yet still more stereo techniques that are either a lot more expensive to get into or have a more complex setup, such as the baffled-omni pair like the Neumann KU 100 dummy head and the home-made Jecklin disc. Then for orchestral recording there’s the Decca Tree. And then there’s the Blumlein Array and M-S technique. We won’t get into those here because we want to keep things simple, but it gives you an idea of just how extensive the subject of stereo recording can be.

Which technique works best? Great results can be had with each of the above methods, but it can take some experimentation to find just the right placement. When that happens, you’ll find you may have captured a recording that goes far beyond your expectations.

Producer/engineer Bobby Owsinski is one of the best-selling authors in the music industry. His latest, The Music Mixing Workbook, provides exercises to help you learn how to mix on any DAW. Visit Bobby’s website at

Music Gives Students a Break from Learning Loss Stress

After a year of remote schooling, the K-12 education sector is focused on reversing learning loss, seen in New York City’s recently announced $635 million academic recovery plan for the coming school year. But beyond learning loss, the pandemic had devastating mental, emotional and physical effects on students, particularly those who were in stressful circumstances before the pandemic. 

Students will need a creative outlet and safe space to express their emotions of the past year while managing the stress of going back to school in person and the pressure to catch up from learning loss. As the executive director of New York City nonprofit Education Through Music (ETM), I believe music class — and the arts as a whole – is an excellent way to incorporate creative camaraderie, reflection and optimism at a time when students need it most. Here are three critical ways to create constructive breaks for children in the upcoming school year: 

Gather to Connect 

In music, “ensemble” describes a group of musicians. The word itself means “togetherness”, apt for the feeling of gathering to perform together. This concept of ensemble can be applied in every classroom — but students lost it last year. 

Last year, ETM teacher Amanda Keil quickly recognized that her students were overloaded by individual screen time during the pandemic and needed collaboration and joy in their lives. Deciding that this was “not the year to teach these kids about sonatas,” she focused on combining music and dance to get her students connected and moving outdoors. 

The arts have a powerful impact on students’ engagement, mental health and life direction. Our research shows that music can help students stay engaged across subjects. Nearly 60% of our middle-school students in ensembles considered skipping school but went anyway, because they wanted to go to the ensemble. And an ETM partner school in The Bronx found that students were more likely to attend school when they moved music class to the first period. 

With the emphasis on the loss of academic progress this past year, the upcoming semester could be one marked by heavy workload and intense assessment. Students may be overwhelmed after a year of virtual school from home. Therefore, schools must equally prioritize creative breaks throughout the day. These can increase students’ productivity and provide them with opportunities to develop creativity and social skills.

Reflect on Emotion 

To move into a new school year, we must reflect on the barriers our students faced in the past year. As well as online learning, students witnessed a devastating public health crisis and racial injustice. 

In New York City public schools, a majority of students identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). These communities were disproportionately affected not only by COVID-19 but also by limited access to educational and mental health resources. One in 10 NYC students lacked adequate tech needed for remote schooling, and students of color had an increased likelihood of experiencing mental health challenges during the pandemic. 

Virtual learning impeded emotional connection and engagement, which are vital to education and development. An instructor can teach content through a screen, but supporting, motivating, and inspiring students is best-done face to face. Likewise, a student can attend class, but will not truly absorb the material if there are physical or emotional barriers to overcome. This disengagement begins in primary school and can contribute to mental illness and antisocial behavior in adulthood. 

After the intense presidential election cycle, one of our music teachers, Taylor Smith, tasked students with building musical playlists inspired by Vice President Harris’ acceptance speech at the January 2021 inauguration. This project gave students the opportunity to engage creatively and reflect on the world around them, specifically on the significance of having a woman of color in that office. 

We cannot ignore these challenges when we are evaluating students’ academic progress in the upcoming school year. Assessments and curriculum must be culturally responsive and incorporate moments for reflection and creativity. 

Look Forward

We must refrain from looking at the past year exclusively in the lens of learning loss. School systems should take steps to ensure next year is one of collaborative inspiration by reconnecting all students to creativity, education, resources, emotional support and each other. 

We have an obligation as educators to create safe, encouraging spaces where students can process and express their emotions. I challenge you to find moments for creative, collaborative celebration with your students, whether in person or online. By recognizing their collective persistence during the past difficult year, teachers and students can move forward with optimism. 

Penny Swift is the executive director of Education Through Music. 

Student-Centered Decision-Making in Modern Band: Allowing for student ownership in school music programs

Shemeka Nash

As a midwestern band director, Shemeka Nash has a very typical workload: overseeing beginning, intermediate, and advanced concert bands, as well as the marching band and jazz band at the school. But what sets her apart from many in the region is the role students take in these ensemble offerings—reshaping the repertoire, feel, instrumentation, and more in the image of their own cultural identities and personal preferences—an innovation she attributes to the influence of modern band, which she also offers as part of her program’s ensemble roster. She leverages her modern band and this student-centered approach, not only as a way to motivate more students to participate in music, but also as a way of facilitating students’ personal development, allowing them to make decisions throughout the music-making process, and by extension, learning about themselves and developing critical social and interpersonal skills.

As an 18-year veteran teacher, Nash has taught modern band for the past 11 years in Chicago Public Schools, ever since she attended the first modern band workshop offered in Chicago in 2009. With an already budding concert band program, she saw the inclusion of modern band as a way to give more students who didn’t see themselves as musicians the opportunity to engage in music at their school on the far southside of Chicago. “I’m getting kids in my room that wouldn’t normally be here, because getting the chance to play instruments like guitars and basses was something completely new for them,” she says, though she is quick to dispel the idea that the culturally responsive pedagogy of modern band compels students to quit their more traditional ensembles. “I haven’t lost any students in my band program to the modern band.” Nash suspects that this is because students are allowed to participate in both ensembles, with each offering the time to work on different skills. One prime example is one of her lead concert band students. “When I opened up the (modern band) ensemble for any students to participate, my lead euphonium player said that she could sing. She showed up and started singing all of these Bruno Mars songs! We ended up doing a Bruno Mars medley and she became the lead singer.” Yet despite her new place in the modern band, the student’s enthusiasm for concert band never wavered.

Why allow her students so much agency in their music-making? The answer, according to Nash, is authenticity—a concept she wants her students to understand and live by, from being genuine about their musical choices and expression to owning and embracing their own voices, thoughts, and opinions. This idea is central to her approach with all of her ensembles. “You know, as a band director, I always try to put on a pops concert, but it doesn’t always sound as authentic, due to the arrangement being published with a different key, instrumentation, and so on, and the students feel it. I think that as educators, we need to give our students authentic experiences in our classrooms to keep them engaged.” While she continues to allow space for some popular genres in her concert and marching band repertoires, she now mostly reserves that music for her modern band ensemble, and to great success: the ensemble, whose name, “1744,” was taken from the address of the school, has performed at notable Chicago venues such as The Metro as part of Little Kids Rock’s JamFest series, the Back to School Kickoff Concert at the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park—the largest public stage in the city—and other events in support of their school, performing incredible arrangements of student-selected repertoire by artists such as Mars, Michael Jackson, and Destiny’s Child. 

Nash enjoys giving her modern band students more flexibility by providing them with these choices. But, she admits, trusting this process was initially daunting. “Giving my kids more decision-making ability was the hardest part for me, with my marching band and concert band background,” she recounts. The key, in her estimation, is that students must have some fundamental skills before they’re ready to make those decisions. “In addition to learning the repertoire they would want to play, we do some basic warm-ups, which include learning their chromatic scales, improvising on their instruments, and singing the roots of the chord progressions.” In addition, she has the students learn how to play and memorize root movement around the circle of fourths. She does this so that her students know their way around their chosen instrument and can speak more fluidly about it when the time comes to make key musical decisions. “Learning the circle of fourths is key, since we see it happen in lots of popular music,” she says. “This continues to develop their ear when analyzing music.” She explains that these warm-ups were taken from her experience as a jazz band director, but lent themselves perfectly to this pursuit of getting modern band students comfortable with their instruments.

Once students are prepared to effectively play their instruments, the music-making starts with the arranging process. “The students find live performances of the songs they would like to perform,” she says. “[They] bring in YouTube videos or live recordings of different performances and make artistic choices deciding on the instrumentation, and variances in the groove, keys that best fit our vocalists, and others.” 

Nash’s experiments with student-centered pedagogy have recast her students as collaborators in the creative process and help them feel proud to present their choices onstage. More importantly, though, they have given her students life opportunities they often don’t find at school or anywhere else—to express themselves, to experience a sense of empowerment, and to exhibit ownership over a small piece of their world.

Joe Panganiban is formerly the senior director of programs at Little Kids Rock and is currently the program officer of arts learning at the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation.

Braeden Henderson is the senior manager of community outreach at Little Kids Rock.

Making Investments Where They Count

Don’t pay attention to what people say is important to them. Look at where they put their resources to see where their real priorities are.” – Lieutenant General (USA Retired) Michael D. Rochelle

At the time I heard him say these words, he was Colonel Rochelle and he was my boss. His words stuck with me and allowed me to more accurately deduce what leaders and organizations truly valued. It also served as a guide to me to ensure my allocation of resources (time, people, money) matched my rhetoric.

I am an active guest teacher, the new term for a “sub,” and am able to teach in a wide variety of schools and I receive all of the correspondence the regular teachers get. Despite a healthy number of “teacher days” on the calendar, I have learned there are almost no resources devoted to really improving the effectiveness of most teachers, and especially those in the performing arts.

When Mike Lawson, editor and publisher of SBO Magazine, first asked me to write a monthly column called “InService,” I think he envisioned more reflections on my nearly four decades in uniform than I have offered in this platform. More often I have tried to highlight a variety of ideas (hopefully) relevant to band and orchestra teachers on their “front lines.” However, I see a strong correlation between something I experienced during my Army career and what is happening in schools.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the American people and Congress decided the Army would transition from being draft-based to an all-volunteer force. Luckily, the leaders who had come out of Vietnam saw a need for a completely reimagined organization based on quality, not quantity. They recognized what made the Army different from its sister services is it measured its power in people, not the number of aircraft or ships. And so, they developed a program to invest in people that was unprecedented among the world’s militaries.

At every stage of a Soldier’s career (and note the capitalization of “Soldier” to indicate their primary importance), they would attend a school to prepare them for the next phase in their career. Out of a 20-to-25-year career, one could expect to spend about five years in some type of schooling. After entering the Army as either an enlisted or officer Soldier, one would complete rigorous training common to all specialties followed by a specialized school in their specialty, such as the Army School of Music. About every 3-6 years there would be another school required to be eligible for promotion and assignment to jobs of greater responsibility. The capstones are graduate level programs such as the Army War College which awards a Master of Strategic Studies (I am a graduate) and the Sergeant Major’s Academy.

Corporate America has learned the value of investing in its employees. Google approaches employee learning as a right regardless of role, tenure or level. It is also considered a company-wide responsibility to enforce, rather than an obligation that falls solely on a learning and development team’s shoulders. Or perhaps one could attend the Disney Institute or Apple University 

Compare those programs to the norm for most music educators. Yes, nearly all licensing bodies require accumulation of “PD” hours and/or graduate credit. However, when someone transitions from being an assistant to a director of bands/orchestras, are they given training in leadership, counseling/coaching, human resources management, budgeting, and strategic planning? How about when moving between high school and middle school? Are they sent to study the very different teaching techniques required? When appointed a department chair or fine arts administrator, how are they equipped to succeed in those important positions?

I recently presented at the Colorado Bandmasters Association Convention (I am a life member of this great group of teachers) and my topic was “Mentorship is Not Just for New Directors.” I discussed that most mentorship programs were aimed at new music educators when in fact, the professional enrichment needs of mid-career music educators was perhaps even greater. The more attendees talked about this, the more it was revealed how many mid-career educators feel ill-prepared to excel at their jobs and may not know where to go for help, particularly if they are a one-person department in a remote community.

Back to the Army for a moment. As the demands of long-running conflicts around the world and a shrinking force accumulated there were pressures to reduce the time Soldiers spend away in training. “Distance learning” replaced in-person instruction and mandatory courses were frequently waived. Additionally, extra required subjects were added to deal with topics such as sexual harassment, suicide prevention, and the gender integration of combat arms units, to name just a few. If this sounds familiar to teachers attending “PD” days that address lots of topics but rarely “how to be a better teacher,” the parallels do exist. Let me be very clear, this is in no way a criticism of those important added programs, but rather an acknowledgment that unless teacher development resources and time are increased, every topic added must displace something else. Many Army leaders are calling for a return to investing more in the education of people but just as in our schools, budget and policy decisions are usually made at higher levels.

So, to the “alphabet soup” of professional associations, music industry partners, school districts, state departments of education, and institutes of higher learning; if you say people, and especially students and educators are your highest priority, does your investment of resources match your rhetoric?

In the June 2021 issue of SBO I described what the Conn-Selmer Division of Education is doing to meet these needs ( ). In a future SBO article, I hope to describe what the Colorado Bandmasters Association is working on to serve its members.

Col. (Ret.) Thomas Palmatier

Next month I will take a look at musical life for us and our students after graduation.

Colonel (Ret.) Thomas Palmatier was the leader and commander of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the largest military music unit in the United States and was the senior musician in the U.S. Armed Forces. He now dedicates his efforts to music education and to maximizing the success of arts organizations as a clinician, guest conductor, and consultant. He is an active clinician, guest conductor, and consultant on organizational structures and leadership around the world. His academic credentials include a Doctor of Music degree (honorary) from the State University of New York, a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College, a Master of Fine Arts degree in Music Education from Truman State University, and a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the State University of New York at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music.  He can be contacted at

To Tape or Not to Tape

It’s that time of year. The time of year when you think “are finger tapes on the instruments really worth it?” What to use that won’t leave a nasty residue and stay on the entire year. For my wind/percussion players turned string teachers, this is always a moment of shock if you are newer. If you are one of my college readers, this article is something to keep in mind. Good finger taping can help you with your pedagogy, and if done right can last the whole year (or even longer) allowing beginner students to develop that critical hand shape and muscle memory so that hopefully they can move on from tapes in a couple of years. Though in full disclosure, some students never move beyond some tapes, though there are different strategies for older students.

First, let’s talk about material. I have seen EVERYTHING with marking instruments. Electric tape, those fancy sliders that claim to do all fingers, cutesy stickers, paint pens. The single best thing I have found that works on every instrument without fail is auto detailing pinstripe tape. You may have to take a tour of your local auto parts stores, and you are looking for Prostripe 1/8th inch pinstripe tape. It comes in a few colors, but you want to stay away from any shiny metal colors, as these have an extra coating that can peel, and become annoying. White is available, but I find white hard to work with because it is the same color as the backing. The go-to colors at my school are red, a soft grey/silver, a soft gold, and black. I have also heard from teachers in my area who have blue as a school color that blue is good as well. The reason I use pinstripe tape over those fancy sliders with all the half-steps marked, is depending on how the instrument is set up, string instruments are not nearly as standardized as wind instruments, and I have found those pre-made ones to be off pitch and sometimes overly confusing for the students. 

Next, let’s talk about color selection and pedagogy. Yes, we ultimately want our beginners to read music, but for some learners, a color association, especially in younger grades, can help make a lot of difference. For our beginners, we use red for first finger, first position, like the top of a stoplight. Then we use black for fingers two and three, as these start the move around the quickest with low two f-naturals. Finally, we use the soft gold for 4th finger or “couch position” on cello, as that is a marker that they will go to often. Consider using color for major shifting points, usually 1st positions and 3rd positions, as that will help in 2-3 years when you concentrate on shifting. 

Now your beginners have reached high school, and their original tapes are wearing off (though some tapes at my school have lasted up to five years). Some students are reluctant to give them up. This is where I use the black pinstripe, and I also reduce the number of tapes. For high schoolers, I give them a first finger first position, a third finger for third position and a fourth finger for 4th position, all in black. Some of them express some hesitancy, but most come on board with it after a few days, and they gain confidence that they don’t need the bright visual reference anymore.

Finally, here are some do’s and don’ts for finger taping. Do pre-cut lengths, this will save much time. Do investigate 1/4-inch tape for basses, that is teacher preference. We have used both at my school. Don’t worry about making sure the instrument is spotless. In most cases, the fingerboards just need a wipe with dry cloth and the pinstripe still sticks fine. Don’t assume each instrument is exactly the same. Use your ears to place the tape, and don’t trust any light markings that may be left from the previous set. This takes practice, but eventually you will get to the point where you can eyeball it and then just adjust finely. The brilliant thing about pinstripe tape is that you can reset it a time or two to get it placed correctly. Hopefully this article has taken some of the mystery out of finger taping and given you confidence that you can do it.  

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as the Ohio Chapter President and on the National Conference Committee. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. In her copious amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family and making TikToks about her cats.

“Has to Be Better Than Last Year” – MI Retailers Look to Capitalize on a Return to In-Person, Classroom Schooling

The 2020 academic year was challenging in a number of respects (maybe you noticed?) and school music programs – and the MI dealers who serve them – felt the crunch.

While there are, unfortunately, signs that we’re all not quite in the clear and “back to normal” yet, it nonetheless seems probable that in most areas of the country, in-class learning will once again become the rule, rather than the exception. Many retailers are anticipating this shift back to more familiar territory by planning accordingly. More than half of the participants in this month’s dealer survey (51%) report that they’ll be hosting some type of “Back to School” sale or promotion – a complete 180-degree shift from last summer, when just over half (50.8%) said they had no plans to launch any initiative in advance of the fall semester.

“Lots of unknowns still, but we are thinking positively and trying to be as ‘normal’ as possible,” offers Drew Parker of Separk Music in Lewisville, North Carolina, while David Garmon of Elberton, Georgia’s Dave’s Music perhaps sums up the overall hopes for the coming school year most succinctly: “Everyone I talk to is ready to get back to business!”

What are your overall expectations for “Back to School” sales this summer?

“Schools are spending leftover cash from ‘20-‘21. We expect ‘21-‘22 to be strong with re-recruiting in multiple grades.”

Dave Krogan
Frank Rieman Music, Inc.
Des Moines, Iowa

“Increased from last year (pandemic).”

Ruth O’Neil
Song-a-Day Music
Coventry, Connecticut

“A great year. Everyone I talk to is ready to get back to business!”

David Garmon
Dave’s Music
Elberton, Georgia

“We are expecting them to be up (fingers crossed)”

Pat Bowles
Saied Music Company
North Little Rock, Arkansas

“I think things are slowly getting back to normal. We are planning on starting next year like a normal school year.”

Bart Breber
Breber Music Co.
|Elkhorn, Wisconsin

“Looks better than 2020. We expect music enrollment down 20 percent [though].”

Ted Kuehnert
Jim’s Music Center
Tustin, California

“Over the summer, sales are shaping up to be a bit thinner than prior to the pandemic. We do anticipate a strong fall and holiday season, however.”

Jonathon Breen
The Music Shoppe, Inc.
Normal, Illinois

“YTD sales are record-setting, we are more concerned with keeping the supply of products flowing than discounting merchandise.”

Geoff Metts
Five Star Guitars
Beaverton, Oregon

“Has to be better than last year. Hoping we can get people excited about getting back to music.”

Richard Frankel
Musical Offerings
Derby, Kansas

“We sell pianos and along with supporting local music festivals, we have scheduled early summer visits with local school districts and colleges.”

Dave Bender
Cunningham Piano Co.
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

“Hopefully much better than last year.”

Ron Shuff
Shuff’s Music
Franklin, Tennessee

Jazz Focus: Creating Intervallic Phrases on Guitar Using Pedal Tone and Slide Patterns

The vertical nature of scale positions found on the neck of the guitar has an unavoidable conditioning effect on a player’s phrasing tendencies. Selecting notes that lie on the same string or adjacent strings to each other within whichever “box” a player is occupying is common due to our comfort zones and muscle memory. 

This default approach typically results in melodic sequences of a linear nature where each sequential note lands a single interval apart from the note that preceded it. Of course, this is not exactly a problem, as such melodic sequences have their place in the vocabulary of the most seasoned, sophisticated musicians. Many of the most memorable melodies contain this sort of structure, which lends itself to accessible, digestible, singable, and memorable music. However, due to the nature of the guitar and the scale shapes that we all commit to memory early on in our journeys, it can be difficult to deviate from linear melodic sequences when the occasion arises. 

A few years ago, I found an approach to creating intervallic sequences through navigating the fretboard in a more horizontal manner. In the first example below, there are four techniques occurring: one-note-per-string pedal tones, alternate picking, slides, and string-skipping. This is in the key of F# minor and was written with a triplet rhythmic pattern to fit the groove of the song that it is taken from. The tune is called “Nu Gods” and will be featured on my band Followship’s debut album due out later this year. 

The “shapes” that you see here will be very familiar to most beginners – the power chord and the octave. At the beginning of this sequence, you will notice a power chord with pedaling between the root and fifth of the chord. After pedaling between both notes twice, a dramatic, ascending slide follows. This is the basis for the pattern of the lick. Each phrase consists of pedaling between two notes on separate strings that form either a root and fifth chord relationship ,or an octave relationship. 

Utilizing familiar shapes while beginning this approach will allow for building a quick foundation for this technique while also demonstrating to players the versatility of power chords and octaves beyond a polyphonic application. Throughout this first example, the pedaling occurs two or four times in sequence before the next intervallic jump is achieved through the slide to a note further up or down the neck on the same string of the preceding note. This exercise can strengthen slide accuracy, speed, and intonation, which in this context can add a unique articulation to a phrase. Moreover, connecting these pedal tone phrases across the neck can expand fretboard visualization and inspire intervallic lines that are easier to discover than one might think. 






The second example is taken from a guitar clinic livestream that Greg Howe provided via Kiesel guitars. Because of his virtuosic ability, jazz-fusion vocabulary, prolific solo and session career, humility, and transparency, Howe is widely regarded as a pillar of the guitar community. During this clinic, Howe played over backing tracks to demonstrate various harmonic and improvisation concepts. The first concept he demonstrated falls in line precisely with the subject of this article. It consisted of navigating the pentatonic scale horizontally across the fretboard by using a similar pattern of pedal tones across two to three strings with the result of playing 5ths and octaves in relation to the first pedal tone (or target note) before ascending and descending the intervals of the scale by sliding. He very approachably demonstrated this concept by playing in the key of A minor to a funk/fusion backing track. You will notice the sequence below shows an ascending and descending pattern of 16th notes through the A minor pentatonic scale with pedaling between fifths, octaves, or both before shifting up or down a position on the neck. 

This particular line hits the listener with intervallic complexity that at first masks the simple ascending descending pattern. A sequence like this can be a great tool for familiarizing oneself with the different pentatonic scale positions in a key across the fretboard by navigating the target notes across one string and relating them to the fifths on the adjacent string while also serving as a handy trick for phrasing variety during soloing. 

Using fifth and octave pedal tones is a great starting point for this fretboard navigation technique. As your muscle memory becomes accustomed to the sliding and pedaling, you will likely be inspired to try pedaling between different intervals in various positions and going beyond the linear ascending and descending sequencing of the sliding notes to create your own unique lines. Beyond soloing, this approach works very well in other musical contexts. For example, using fill licks in between rhythmic chord stabs can be very interesting with intervallic pedaling of the appropriate chord tones, giving you more options than simply ascending or descending an arpeggio. Once internalized, a deceptively simple trick like this can open the door to many possibilities for musical phrases.  

Dylan Edwards is a guitarist and instructor based in Richmond, Virginia who has performed and recorded with several bands in the region and self-produced his own solo material.

Music & School Culture is more than Friday Night Lights

As teachers and families head back to school for the 2021-22 school year, there is still much uncertainty, feelings of loss and anxiety, tempered with the excitement of being back in the classroom again. Faced with the enormous task of picking up where we left off—only better– it’s time to talk again about the role music plays in creating a healthy school culture. 

Organizational culture can transform the workplace, in both positive and negative ways. Though most of us in the education arena would be hard pressed to define the elements of good school culture and how to make it better. We know it when we see it, right? 

While it takes good leadership and a host of interwoven elements to bring about a cultural shift, school leaders should be aware that a strong arts presence brings tangible benefits to overall culture, creating a learning environment that is welcoming and inclusive. Exactly what we need at this moment. A wraparound environment that supports the physical and mental health of everyone in the building.

School Culture Defined

A good working definition of the elements of school culture is found in Harvard University Graduate School of Education’s Usable Knowledge forum citing the work of Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell:

Culture is Connections

“In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions among all members of the organization.  As a result, knowledge about the organization’s distinctive character — and what it takes to thrive in it — is widely spread and reinforced. In a weak culture, sparse interactions make it difficult for people to learn the organization’s culture, so its character is barely noticeable and the commitment to it is scarce or sporadic.”

Culture is Core Beliefs and Behaviors

“Within that weak or strong structure, what exactly people believe and how they act depends on the messages — both direct and indirect — that the leaders and others in the organization send. A good culture arises from messages that promote traits like collaboration, honesty, and hard work.”

In other words, culture in a school community reflects an organization’s distinctive character (e.g., warm/inviting vs. cold/exclusionary). Culture is a mirror of a school’s values, and it also becomes a harbinger for teacher and student morale. 

Music and the arts are vibrant and visible reminders that students and teachers are engaged in creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking— the hallmarks of a 21st Century education and also evidence of the norms and behaviors of strong school culture. Your efforts to advance the presence of music in a school community will pay off. The presence of the arts tells me there are shared values around access and equity as well as efforts to honor student voices and opportunities for expression. It tells me that there is a fundamental belief in a well-rounded education that includes music and the arts. It tells me that leadership supports the arts as a driving force that connects members of the school community, enables positive interactions, and gives the school distinctive character and flair. It tells me that music and the arts are a necessity.

What Do You Experience When You Enter A School?

As a parent or school visitor, how do you feel when you walk into an elementary school with student artwork lining the hallways, bringing learning to life with color and creativity? Or hear music coming from practices rooms and auditoriums? Or witness displays of accomplished high school artists that show great imagination, maturity, and skill? As opposed to walking through clean, but featureless hallways painted an industrial blue. Nothing on the walls to tell me this place is ALIVE.

The tangible signs of positive school culture go hand in hand with artistic culture. When I enter a school building, I want to see students with instrument cases, hear vocal and instrumental warm-ups and rehearsals, and witness impromptu pop-up performances during lunch. I want to see flyers and playbills promoting musical, theatre, dance and visual arts events and exhibitions, and students staying afterschool to rehearse. As some joke about having strong marching bands as a support to the football program, I want to see those students on the football field, learning drill and supporting each other. Research tells us that band students are among the most engaged and successful students in high school. They (and their parents) bring a positive force to the school every day, not only on Friday nights.

Give it a Try

Take a reading of music and the arts in a school building when you’re looking to gauge culture. If it isn’t as robust as you’d like, take the opportunity to start the show. Make connections, model positivity, and reflect the core values and beliefs you want to see. Use those Friday night lights to shine on the public persona, indeed the very essence of your school community. 

Laurie Schell is a lifelong advocate for music and arts education. She is founding principal of Laurie Schell Associates | ElevateArtsEd, providing consulting services and issue expertise in coalition building, public policy and advocacy, strategic planning, and program development with a focus on arts education.

This Seems… Familiar

What a long, strange trip it’s been. So…. where do we go from here?

Similar to the world of music education, the performance travel world has been turned upside down and inside out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most music programs, the travel industry found itself in hibernation—working to find ways to survive at a slowed pace and with scarce resources. And similarly, the resilient will come through stronger, some face a long recovery, and some sadly will not return.

However, there is reason for optimism. At least as of this writing (August 2021) schools are returning in person and travel has come roaring back in ways unimagined a year ago. The pent-up desire to travel and the essential loss of two travel seasons has created a wave for the coming year that continues to build. Like many great moments, it is simultaneously exciting and daunting.

My wife, who is also a music educator, recently heard a great saying that has become a mantra in our home. “We’re not returning to normal—we’re returning to familiar.” It’s a brilliant way to reframe the moment and create a forward-thinking mindset that embraces the positive and recognizes the changes around us. (I definitely married up.) So, what is the ideal approach as we return to familiar in performance travel?

First, understand that there will be bumps in the road. Just like Interstate 80, this long “winter” has created numerous potholes that will take time to repair! Solutions to challenges will require more patience and creativity than ever before, and resilient and flexible groups are setting themselves up for the greatest success.

Here’s a perfect example: recently I had a client group travel to New York City—our company’s first group there since the shutdown. At 6 AM the Sunday morning of their departure my cell phone rings; it’s our representative at the airport assisting with check in. The airline has just cancelled their flight because the plane was weather grounded the night before. Because of the high volume of travel—everyone’s been cooped up for so long—and because the airlines are not back at full capacity the next available flight to NYC for the group was 24 hours later. (And this was a small group of 30 travelers.) They were potentially going to lose 1 1/2 days of a 4 day trip.

However—there were seats into Boston, arriving at midnight. First hurdle cleared…now to find a bus for the 3 1/2-hour drive to Manhattan that night.

Call after call to coach companies in the northeast yield the same results: we have a coach, but no drivers. Because during the pandemic the furloughed drivers found other jobs and coach lines are also not back to full capacity. Finally, a call to a small company yields a single coach and driver. 

Nearly 24 hours after it all started (with another 3-hour weather delay thrown in to make it interesting) the group arrives at their Manhattan hotel. The on-site tour director describes them as tired but in good spirits. They sleep for a few hours while we rebuild their itinerary, preserving the “can’t miss” experiences. That evening on Facebook I see video of a happy group sailing from under the Brooklyn Bridge and taking in a perfect skyline sunset. In the end, they only missed a dinner and one activity. 

Ultimately what made this successful was not the work done by our team (but I do work with an AMAZING team) but rather the director’s approach to the situation. Rather than making screaming demands of the airline (or me) he remained calm, looked at the cards we were dealt, and together we played the best hand. That’s not to say there wasn’t frustration—there was, all around, myself included. But what a tremendous example he set for the students (and parents)—a valuable lesson in overcoming adversity. 

This is not meant to suggest we should “settle” for less and lower our expectations. What this means is simply an acknowledgement that there may be temporary moments that are less than you hoped, and to look instead at the larger picture and the eventual goal. It’s like having that first teaching job—the group probably isn’t ready for Carnegie Hall, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make positive progress. 

The reality is things are likely going to be a bit different—at least for a while. But the solution isn’t to dig in our heels or to sit around waiting for normal. The past year has reinforced that the opportunities you have with your students are too precious and fleeting. While the easy answer may be to just skip it and stay home, our musician DNA reminds us that anything worth doing is rarely easy.

Besides this mindset, what are the tangible things you can do as we enter the familiar?

Understand that change is the new constant

Even as I write this virus variants are leading to the return of mask mandates. Much of what I’m writing may not be relevant by the time you read this. The key is being aware of this fact and, in the words of the U.S. Marines, adapt and overcome. 

Knowledge is power

Stay informed. A good travel planner will keep you updated on the latest situations and have health and safety information and protocols in place to help guide your experience. And while it may sound self-serving, I’m going to say it anyway: now is NOT the time for you to be planning travel without a professional.

If there is a new normal, it’s travel insurance for individual participants

More directly, it’s insurance with what’s usually called a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) clause. Because most basic coverages include specific conditions to be met for claims…and pandemic-related cancellation is usually not among the covered reasons. 

Group cancellation policies

Related to that, awareness of group cancellation policies is more important than ever. Having the flexibility to make plans far in advance while minimizing your financial risk will help alleviate many concerns from administration and parents about proceeding with tour plans. Ask about your planner’s policies and how they will advocate on your behalf. 

There are going to be more boxes to check

Are all your students vaccinated? Who isn’t? Is it required for your visit? Yes, there are going to be awkward and potentially heated conversations around this, and you will need to have them. Sooner rather than later.

Think about what your program needs now

Just because you’ve always done “x” or traveled to “y” doesn’t mean it’s the right plan for right now. Maybe instead of performing or competing, a workshop has more value for a group that’s been dormant for a year. Maybe instead of that cross-country trip to Orlando you need something closer to home that meets the comfort level of your community after a year of seclusion and economic impact. Maybe you simply need something to get kids excited about being part of a music program to rebuild numbers lost after a year of teaching music through a camera and screen. 

In the end, the potentially life-changing experiences performance trav

el can bring to your students are far too important and rewarding to fall by the wayside. Your students have had to sacrifice so much through these challenging times. The terrific news is there are already groups and travel planners out there blazing the trail, showing that this can be done safely and successfully. Showing that familiar is out there…waiting to be rediscovered. 

Tom Merrill is a travel consultant with Bob Rogers Travel. He has over 30 years’ experience as a music educator, festival and event organizer, and travel planner.

A Lieb of Faith

SBO is excited to introduce the new editor of our sister magazine, JAZZed: NEA Jazz Master and Grammy nominee David Liebman. “Jazz education has come a long way since its beginnings,” Liebman observes. “JAZZed Magazine is now the head of the class and guardian of the pathway. I am excited to join the staff and contribute to its success and relevance.” Read on to learn more about the newest member of the JAZZed editorial team and his thoughts on music scholarship and instruction.

Jazz educators: subscribe for free at

For Dave Liebman, the most difficult part of dealing with our world in flux may be the need to stay put. The legendary saxophonist – an NEA Jazz Master who’ll be celebrating his 75th birthday in September of 2021 – has been one of the most active forces on the scene for half a century. Having initially carved out his place in the early ‘70s while working for Elvin Jones and, shortly thereafter, Miles Davis, Liebman would go on to blaze numerous trails with his own breakout bands – the Open Sky Trio, Lookout Farm, the Dave Liebman Quintet, and Quest. Even with his eventual rise to prominence in the world of jazz education in the ‘80s and ‘90s – working with Jamey Aebersold, authoring numerous books and resources, and founding the International Association of Schools of Jazz – he remained one of the most relevant and productive artists in the business. To date, Liebman has appeared on over 500 recordings – more than 200 of which are under his own name or leadership – and he remains omnipresent as a performer and beacon of wisdom for those who surround him.             

Characteristically generous with his time, knowledge, and memories, Liebman spoke to JAZZed about everything from personal developments to technological advancements, the impact of the coronavirus on the jazz ecosystem to the mechanisms supporting artistic growth, and the impetus behind thorough documentation to the passage of information across generations. Candor, good humor, and a wealth of experience informed the easy flow of this 45-minute conversation (which has been edited here for concision and clarity). 

For the bulk of 2020, COVID-19 ground things to a halt. What was that stretch of time supposed to look like for you, before everything shut down, and how have you refocused?

I had a couple of big band engagements, some work with Richie Bierach, gigs with my regular group. But, of course, as you know, everything went down to zero. And we moved – my wife and me – right about when things broke, so we got in under the wire with that. We’re in Manhattan now, in the same apartment complex as our daughter, Lydia. We downsized from our house in Pennsylvania. We were there for 35 years. So we started a new phase of our lives. It took a lot of time to do that, and there’s still a lot to do, so for a minute I didn’t miss things. 

While this crisis has caused so many problems in so many different ways for musicians, if you were to say there’s a positive to come out of the technological shifts in the way things are happening now, what would it be?

I think live streaming. It’s like we have a club on the internet. And everybody knows that at whatever time on whatever night there’ll be two sets, and so-and-so playing. And on another night there’ll be another band there. I think this is going to grow, and not only as a result of the negative – that we’re trying to make up for what’s missing – but with a connection to the positive because people will be able to hear you, in other parts of the world, who would never have heard you before. And that’s a good thing. We just need more of it. And the clubs need it. This could be the end of the clubs if they have a bad winter. New York has always been known as the center of jazz, and all of this could be in danger depending on the situation in the coming months. 

It’s interesting to see how the clubs have started to pivot, live streaming music and dealing with all of the new health concerns and restrictions.

I’ll share a story that I’ve been telling recently. I was playing at Smalls. It was one of the early gigs when the scene started to open up [in the summer]. And at the end of the first tune, I felt strange. I quickly realized it was because there was no audience there. And it really made me reevaluate the role of and the need for an audience – customers, the people who listen to the music. Because without that vibe, it’s kind of empty. And then, along similar lines, there are the students I teach that I think about. They’re not having a chance to interact – with their peers, with other people. And if jazz is anything, it’s about getting together and performing and playing and thinking about music as a group. The whole group aspect with everything is completely gone. 

So what advice would you try to impart on music students and artists who are new on the scene who are attempting to live and learn through this pandemic? 

That’s hard to answer. It’s a very individual thing. First of all, there’s the financial aspect to contend with, which is always a problem for students and artists and certainly jazz musicians who don’t make a lot of money. There’s no alleviation there, except to get more gigs. And there aren’t any gigs right now. There’s not much they can do [since] they have to negotiate an environment that doesn’t have gigs. With that in mind, a young person has to be ambitious and try to keep the inspiration going. The longer this goes on, the harder it gets. But to be inspired – by your peers or giants like Wayne Shorter or whoever it is that motivates you – is important. Once the inspiration goes, and the energy to support that inspiration goes, it’s pretty hard for a young person to get that back.

Let’s change topics and talk about your music. In looking at some of the records that you’ve been a part of in the last two years – a Saxophone Summit album with Joe Lovano, Greg Osby and a Rolls Royce rhythm section; a live On The Corner reworking with Jeff Coffin and Victor Wooten; Earth, the conclusion to your elements suite; dates with John Stowell, Fred Farrell, Martial Solal, Jim Robitaille, Adam Rudolph, Richie Bierach, Quartette Oblique, Kaleidoscope Quintet, and so many others – I’m struck by how different each one of those projects are. In one respect it seems like there’s no tie to bind them. But then it dawned on me that the common thread is really this idea of relationships – with different musicians and languages and legacies. Do you think that’s accurate and do you feel that’s been important in your artistic pursuits? 

It’s been crucial. When you read that list of most of my recent recordings – and I’m sure there are a few more – I get all out of breath [laughs]. This is eclecticism. And there’s no shame in eclecticism. Being eclectic was kind of a negative thing or had a negative connotation back when I started – like, “oh, you dabble.” But eventually, by the late ‘70s and ‘80s, that became a rallying call for a lot of musicians. For me, the first time eclecticism took over was with Miles. Because if there was one thing about Miles, it’s that he was a master at putting his own thing into or over a different background, therefore making it sound different. When you looked at Miles, if you took the wah-wah pedal away, which he was using when I was with him, you hear he’s playing pretty simple. Pretty much blues with a couple different kinds of notes. But it’s surrounded by two guitars, congas, drums, effects, a saxophone player who played in post-Coltrane [style]. He was a master at this. He was basically saying, if I have to change, I’ll get those guys who can help me change that way. 

You document your work so well and so often. You obviously feel it’s something that’s important. Why do you feel that need to document so many different endeavors?

Because you can shut the door on something once you know it’s in the room. I’m not going to do it again once it’s done. I’m not going to make a life out of it. For example, that duo with Martial Solal that you mentioned. That’s a very particular thing because he’s such a master and he’s in his nineties. And mastering bebop fits into that situation. So each of these recordings has a little story about it. And making the recordings is a way for me to clear my plate. And my plate is usually very full – with different styles and so forth. So why not record if you can find the opportunity. And also, the other aspect of cataloguing your work is that those in the audience – those that listen to you – are being educated. I’m helping to educate them. With this music, you have to know what’s going on. You have to have experience listening to it. I look at all of my music as being part of a whole, with different aspects [of myself] being brought out from record to record. But I do like cataloguing – liner notes, my website, the music – because I think that the people who enjoy me already will enjoy things more then. When they read what I write and listen to what I say and play, there’s a good chance that they’ll be a fan for life.

How do you approach these vastly different collaborations? Do you have a general guiding philosophy in terms of your openness or do you walk into each of these situations – the Sidney Bechet tribute with John Stowell, any of those other projects, really – with a very different mindset?

 Well, the mindset comes from the music itself. Sidney Bechet was somebody I knew about but wasn’t too familiar with. So going through 30 or 40 or 50 songs, trying to find the right material, was a real learning experience because I didn’t know what he was doing before. What you’re doing, when you taste the wine, so to speak, is building your repertoire. And each record is a world of its own. I learned pretty quickly that the only way to keep interested and not repeat yourself is to play this eclectic card. And I was certainly interested in enough music. And I still have more to go. So you do your research. The Beatles is a good example. I went through 150 tunes of their music to [find the right songs] for the record I made – Lieb Plays The Beatles. I’m good at spotting the things that I can use. I’ll never forget, Miles turned to me one day and he just said, “I only steal from the best” [laughs]. And seeing how well he did it – switching styles – convinced me to do that. What ties all of my work together is that I’m still one of the people improvising and it’s my vocabulary, which doesn’t change too drastically. I also pair myself with different repertoire and different musicians, like Miles did, which gives me the opportunity to create something new and different in the world. 

How do you keep the creative juices flowing so freely in terms of conceptualizing these different projects and bringing them to fruition?  

 Well, I’m a big finisher. I just like finishing things. You have to finish it. So once I decide it’s going to be Sidney Bechet or Kurt Weill or Earth, I do my research. And that might mean going outside of jazz and music. It might mean reading philosophy or books on a different topic. If you’re going to be interested in different things like that, you’re going to get educated. And educated musicians are great because they have more resources to use. I could play a post-bop repertoire for years, and it would be okay. But for me, eventually, it would be boring. I have no interest in doing the same thing over and over again. You do it once, you move on. But you have to be able to put the record out there to make it a reality. And record companies have, sadly, disappeared. 

That mention of record companies serves as a decent segue. I know a few years ago you started to release some personal recordings under the banner of the Lieb Archive. Do you have any thoughts about what you’d like to do or where you’d like to go with other archival recordings?

 Well, I have the archive, which is mainly [recordings from] Quest. And Richie Bierach and I have a 5-CD box set coming out in the spring on a label called Jazzline, based in Cologne, Germany. I figure that if you do something and record something, it will get off your shelf [laughs]. It’s my goal to get it done. And then I can turn to something else.

You’ve often discussed your experiences with Miles Davis and learning on the job. And you’ve studied formally or informally with a pretty unique cross-section of other musicians – Lennie Tristano, Charles Lloyd, Joe Allard, Pete La Roca, on the bandstand with Elvin Jones. What are the big takeaways that helped you get to where you are?

 Well, you have to develop your personality/individuality. It’s the idea that as soon as you hear three notes you should know it’s Joe Henderson; or you should know it’s Michael Brecker; or you should know whoever it is that’s playing. And in order to get to that position, you have to believe in what you do and believe in who you are and keep carrying the ball over the goal line. And eventually, you develop a personality if you want it bad enough. I always talk about the difference between standing next to a musician and being in the audience. When you stand next to somebody, you get more than just the notes. You get the whole vibe of a person – that personality or individuality. Miles, I’ve spoken about that way. But Elvin was another thing. I learned more about humanity with Elvin. I don’t know how else to put it, except Elvin was a beautiful person. His vibe permeated everything he did. Miles’ vibe was not that warm, but his direction was very clear and you could see where he came from. So I’ve been lucky to have these mentors that you’re mentioning and I’ve been lucky enough to get something from all of them. I’m grateful for that. 

A young person has to be ambitious and try to keep the inspiration going. The longer [the pandemic] goes on, the harder it gets.

And you’ve kept it going and paid it forward, both through your work with Jamey Aebersold’s camps and the many books you’ve put together. But on an even broader scope, you’ve done that with the International Association of Schools of Jazz. I believe that organization, which you founded, just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Can you share a little bit about your work to create that?

 Well, I was looking to do a little more than just playing in the ‘80s. I went to the Peace Corps and an organization called Save the Children. But, of course, they don’t need a saxophone player. They need people building wells and dealing with agriculture. But I wanted to do something that would have a real impact on the world. So I started to think about this with education. And Jamey Aebersold is actually a good place to start this topic. He invited me to do a workshop in the late ‘70s and I didn’t know who he was at the time. And when he called me and said it was a clinic, I didn’t know what that was. I was naïve. But seeing him, and the way he organized things, was incredible. There were four people – Aebersold, David Baker, Jerry Coker, and Dan Haerle. These four guys really organized the music all the way up to “Giant Steps.” They were unbelievable teachers. At that time, I came from an environment in New York City where there was very little talk about the music. You were there every night so you didn’t have to talk about it. But after that experience, I was looking for something that would have an impact on people in other spots in the world. So I decided on a United Nations of jazz. I called a meeting in 1989 at my publisher’s offices in Germany, and 13 schools from 10 countries showed up. It was unbelievable. It’s been a long road for 30 years, in a different place each year for the annual meeting. It’s usually a week spent with people from 20 countries. I call it cross-cultural communication using jazz as the vehicle. When people ask me what’s the most important thing I’ve done besides my family, I say it’s starting the IASJ. 

At your position now, having been so involved with the music for 50 years and having pretty much played with everybody and done it all, do you still practice? Do you have a routine and still hit the shed?  

I do not have a routine and I do not practice.  There was a six month period when I finished college – NYU, as an American History major – before I went and lived in New York City in a loft. At that time I found a place up in Woodstock, with my girlfriend at the time and a bass player. I graduated in May and the next day I was up there. I drove a cab – I got a taxi license and drove for a short time to have enough money to be able to support myself for those six months. It was very low-level living – hundred dollar rent, rice and beans for food. I practiced during that period. I can’t tell you I remember what I practiced, except that it certainly involved transcribing solos because that’s a big part of what I believe in. But that was the only organized practicing I ever really did. And I’m not bragging. I’m kind of lamenting what I should’ve done, which is more practice. But it just didn’t line up that way for me. 
 Interestingly, I did learn something about practicing from Miles, indirectly. Before Miles – in my time with Elvin, for example – I was always really prepared for the gig. And then I went with Miles and saw that he didn’t touch the trumpet between gigs, if you can believe that. We’d be off for maybe three weeks or four weeks and he didn’t pick up the trumpet until the first night we played again [chuckles]. And then he’d look at me – like, “I’m having a little trouble, Dave,” – because he hadn’t warmed up. The trumpet isn’t the saxophone. You need a little time to get it going. So I saw that. And he’d miss things. He wasn’t as good on that first night back as he became three nights later. But it was so spontaneous. So I said, “You know what, there’s really something about the naturalness of this.” In other words, this is my day today. And the next day is another chance to play. And the third day is another day. Every one of those playing opportunities is another level of finding out who you are. It’s not that you’re going to play poorly if you don’t practice, so that made me stop feeling too bad about not getting practice in [laughs]. 

I think what’s hiding in the corner of those stories, which is something that aspiring musicians need to understand, is that there’s a lot to be said about the work being the practice. You were doing and continue to do so much playing that those very acts almost become the practice itself. Or the organization you’ve done to put together all of the books you’ve published becomes the practice.

Yes. Absolutely. We played a lot. That’s why I moved into the loft in the late ‘60s. It was great. It was downtown, you could play all night, you could have your friends over any time, and you could do whatever you want. As soon as I finished NYU and that six months of practicing, I immediately found a loft in a building that later became quite famous because Chick Corea and Dave Holland eventually moved in. And I realized then, for me to get good, I had to play a lot. Some people might be more talented or have some strengths that don’t demand that. But I knew that I had to play, play, play, play. And when you had a loft in those days, you could play at night; you could play all the time. And I had an open door policy. You rang the bell, I threw the key down, you came up three flights. Whoever it was, I was there to play with them because that type of thing was necessary for my evolution.

Having taught for so long – basically for four decades in some way, shape or form – what are some developments you’ve seen in students over time?

 Well, the students now are much better than we were. And that’s because of the internet. It’s very simple. You’re 10 years old, you’re sitting in your bedroom, you press a button and John Coltrane comes on now. At 12 or 13 years old you’re already seriously exposed to the music. So that, to me, has raised the level of everybody’s playing. Some of the students are really very good. Have they formed their own sound? Of course not. But they’re very talented.  And it’s hard for them because of the financial piece. They’re spending four years, with a high expense, learning to play saxophone, which they already do pretty well. I have a little problem with that, so I like to see them have something else they can do too. It can take three to five years for somebody to find their niche after school, so hopefully these students can do something besides playing. They can pursue a double major. I believe in that because it not only makes sense economically, but also philosophically and spiritually.

Assuming we get past this current crisis in the near future, which obviously remains to be seen, what are some of your hopes and plans?

 Well, I had a pretty good setup for years. I’m older now; it’s not as easy to get around. But I’d still like to do special projects with musicians I like and know. I actually have a Coltrane project coming out on the Dot Time label, with my Expansions group, in 2021. And, of course, I want to continue to mentor musicians. It’s my responsibility to give back. I got the message from Miles and Elvin. I feel like my biggest job now is to impart my knowledge to the people who are interested. I’m passing the message along. 

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!