• David Zinman Conducts the Juilliard Orchestra

    Mike Lawson | February 13, 2015

    David Zinman conducts the Juilliard Orchestra in Carnegie Hall.

  • Julliard Opera Presents Benjamin Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia”

    Mike Lawson | February 9, 2015

    Conducted by Mark Shapiro and Directed by Mary Birnbaum, and Featuring Juilliard Singers and Members of the Juilliard Orchestra.

  • Performance: Working with Beginners

    Mike Lawson | November 23, 2014

    Break It Down: Learning it all at once is just too much for beginners - It’s the first day of handing out horns at school and the kids are off the wall with excitement about learning how to play music. Congratulations, you have created a new band member who can’t wait to get his or her hands on an instrument and start making music. Now what? If you’re a beginning teacher faced with large numbers of mixed instruments, this question can be paralyzing. When I was in my first few years of teaching, I realized that I was spending most of my time fixing mistakes. It wasn’t until I discovered how to “break it down” that my band program really took off. Breaking it down allows you to make kids comfortable, give them confidence, and, most importantly, not practice mistakes.

  • Performance: Clarinet Class

    Mike Lawson | October 18, 2014

    First steps for beginning students


    Teaching students to play the clarinet is often both rewarding and challenging. A student’s natural enthusiasm when beginning a musical instrument is hard to match. During the first few weeks, students are introduced to embouchure, breath support, and playing their first notes on the clarinet. Some students pick up each new fundamental easily, while others require additional help. Young students are especially flexible in the beginning, allowing instruction that is not grasped to be set aside and replaced with methods that produce better results. If possible, consider meeting a beginning class during the summer band program, as this allows for working with separate instruments and individuals.

  • Performance: Percussion Accessories

    Mike Lawson | September 17, 2014

    Musical instruments or weapons of mass destruction?

    A common mistake made by non-percussionist music educators is the relegation of weaker percussion students to the bass drum and cymbal chairs. While it may seem reasonable to assign the “harder” parts to stronger percussion students, in actuality it is the accessory instruments that are often more challenging to play and which provide the important rhythmic backbone of a musical composition. John Phillip Sousa knew this all too well. It was reported that his bass drummer, Gus Helmecke, was the highest paid member of the band! In Sousa’s own words:

    “The average layman does not realize the importance of the bass drummer to a band… I sometimes think that no band can be greater than its bass drummer because it is given to him, more than to any person except the director, to reflect the rhythm and spirit of the composition.”

    The “March King” knew that nothing could sink a performance quicker and more completely than a bass drummer whose sense of rhythm is poor and to whom time is only a spice.

  • Performance: Embouchure

    Mike Lawson | September 17, 2014

    Insights on Dealing with Braces


    When I was in the second grade, I had an accident that knocked out a top front tooth and chipped the corner of the tooth beside it. Over the years, the gap closed up somewhat, shifting inward, but it was still quite noticeable. I also had a tooth on the lower set that protruded out in front of the other teeth. This may have been my biggest obstacle to playing trombone.

  • Guest Editorial: Anxiety

    Mike Lawson | August 14, 2014

    Addressing Anxiety in Music Performance Using Visualization

    As a music teacher, I regularly meet students who, despite their God-given talent, find themselves unable to fully address areas of weakness, oftentimes because of fear. They persist in staying in their areas of strength, while hoping for a quick fix to any problem areas or “eureka moment” for change to occur. They seem to be afraid of confronting the areas of their skillset that require the most work, and that is disappointing for me as a teacher because, despite their talent, they never realize the level of musicianship that they are capable of. I was just such a student, and when I finally dealt with one of my areas of weakness, it not only changed my music making, it changed my life.

  • Performance: Low Brass

    Mike Lawson | June 18, 2014

    How to train (or tame) your low brass section

    Have you heard the quote from Richard Strauss, “Never look at the trombones; it only encourages them?” They say the first year of teaching is the toughest – but I would argue any year teaching beginning low brass students can be brutal. Our trombone, baritone, and tuba students are often the musicians who have an enthusiasm for gregarious mischief – keeping them engaged (and seated) can certainly be a challenge in itself. And teaching appropriate rehearsal strategies is only half the battle – more importantly, we have to teach them how to play their instruments with sensitivity and musicianship. Of course, not all low brass musicians are troublemakers; many genuinely want to be strong musicians. And this is great news because good band programs require a foundation made up of happy kids. Here are a few suggestions that have shown to be helpful within my own ensembles.

  • Performance: Clarinet Alternations

    Mike Lawson | May 19, 2014

    Teaching and Improving Beginning and Intermediate Clarinet Technique


    One of the essential components of good musicianship is the development of great finger technique. This indispensable skill is dependent upon many factors, including correct hand position, precise finger movement, knowledge of alternate fingerings, and the ability to make the correct left and right alternative “pinky” key decisions. Utilizing this alternation method is often a mystery for both the student and the director. Band directors who are non-clarinet majors might not have ascertained this information during their undergraduate studies and, therefore, might be apprehensive in teaching this essential skill to their students.

  • Performance: The Solo Festival

    Mike Lawson | May 19, 2014

    Tips on Helping Students Prepare for a Great Festival Experience

    The start of solo festival season means thousands of young musicians preparing to perform scales (from memory), solos, and sight-reading for adjudicators across every state.

    For some students, this event brings much trepidation, fear, or performance anxiety, and for others, pure excitement. The opportunity to perform in front of a musician who is trained to critique fairly and positively is a great learning opportunity for the student, the parents, and the judge.


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    Bill Allred’s Festival and Contest Tips

    Mike Lawson | May 19, 2014

    Having extensive experience both as a director and as a festival and contest adjudicator, Bill Allred has gained perspective that informs his decision making and his instruction. “As an adjudicator, it’s your job to recognize whatever great things the groups onstage are doing, and also to recognize mistakes or problems, as well as fundamental development issues,” says Allred. “We have two partners – fellow adjudicators on the panel – with whom we can confer and compare notes (after the contest). A collegial discussion about the performances you’ve seen can really help fill in the gaps. When I’m on the podium, I have a real good idea of what adjudicators are looking for both in terms of what might be most offensive, but also what might be most appreciated.”

  • Working with Disabled Students

    Mike Lawson | April 17, 2014

    Strategies for including students with special needs in standard ensembles

    Because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it is becoming more and more prevalent that students with disabilities are participating in traditional music programs. Before, it may have been a situation where educators could say, “No, this student isn’t able to be a part of my class.” And now, legally, they can’t say that. That has created a thirst for information on how to work with these special needs students and incorporate them into ensembles and classes. A lot of people have a hard time with that because, for example, they might not be able to imagine how a student in a wheelchair could participate in the marching band. However, once it’s shown to them how it might be possible, the teachers tend to become much more willing to try to make it happen.

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