• Guest Editorial: Fix the F#

    Mike Lawson | April 17, 2014

    Addressing Behavioral Issues in the Classroom


    When was the last time you had one of those days where you went home convinced you could set the world on fire if there was a way to make just a few key personnel changes in your band? 

    When I have one of these days, sometimes I speculate as if I were on some sports TV show. I wonder how good we could be if band was like professional sports, where the team’s management could put a few underperforming individuals on waivers and bring in some new blood. More often than not, the situations that frustrate us to no end, the ones that have us considering new careers and result in our students being in the doghouse, have very little to do with making music. Instead, these situations encompass the behavior and character issues associated with boys and girls who are in the developmental stages of becoming men and women.

  • MAC Corner: April, 2014

    Mike Lawson | April 16, 2014

    It’s Time to Play Ball

    With spring right around the corner, boys and girls from all across the country will soon be signing up for summer fun, like baseball and Little League. Were you also thinking about Little League? Wait a minute – this magazine and its articles are supposed to be about school band and orchestra programs! Well, read on.

    We would all be well advised to borrow a page from our sporting friends when it comes to our beginning band and orchestra programs.

  • Percussion Performance: The Drum Stroke

    Mike Lawson | November 19, 2013

    How to Enhance a Percussionist’s True Movement Potential

    I joke with my students all the time that we live in a “ppht” world, meaning that the time we actually get to interact with our instrument is extremely limited. I say this with a smile, but unfortunately it’s the truth. My motto is that because the time we actually get to connect with our sound is so short, we have to maximize that effort, and maximize it at a very minute level. In that small window we essentially have to be at our best.

    Being our “best” means being able to choose our movements. Most players will agree that percussionists move or use three main “areas,” as I’ll call them, when we play: the elbow/forearm, the wrist, and the fingers. Watch any great performer and you’ll realize that during any given performance they engage all of those areas to some degree (and a multitude of combinations, too), depending on the sound and/or articulation desired.

    We need to have 100 percent flexibility with all areas in order to take advantage of them when and if we consciously choose to. Unfortunately, most young percussionists default to one or at most two, but not all three. They do this because they aren’t comfortable moving all equally. Why is that? Because they haven’t really thought about or trained all three to be limber or truly flexible participants in their stroke. Through this reasoning, it makes sense to practice a series of exercises that will help work the maximum movement in each area, so that when and if they choose to utilize it, it’s comfortable enough to move freely.

  • Percussion Performance: Sight-Reading

    Mike Lawson | November 19, 2013

    Sight-Reading Contest Success and the Percussion Section

    One of the most daunting aspects of getting your band ready for contest is preparing them for the sight-reading room. With so much to consider, from the actual music to your preferred procedure for how your band should approach the experience, the percussion section can get lost in the mix. On a good day, the percussion may hardly even be noticed. On a bad day, the percussion section can be a real liability and can potentially create pitfalls that the rest of the band will fall into.

    Fortunately, this can be prevented when successful band programs actively apply the saying “plan your work and work your plan.”

    Being from Texas, I wrote this from my experiences at UIL Sight-Reading Contest as a band director and as a percussion specialist. It can be expected, however, that many of these strategies will work in other sight-reading Contest formats. Here are eight strategies that will make sure everyone knows their role, has a job to do, and can reasonably understand what to expect when they set foot in the sight-reading room.

  • Percussion Performance: Timpani

    Mike Lawson | November 19, 2013

    Preparing Young Timpanists


    It is late in the fall semester and marching season has just concluded. You hang up your whistle and select several pieces for your symphonic band to play – concert season has arrived. When the time comes to assign percussion parts, one of the many decisions you need to make is who will play the timpani. If you had a timpanist in your marching band’s front ensemble, perhaps that student should be given the part. If not, then maybe a tenor drum player – after all, they have been playing multiple drums all fall. The reality is that most young percussionists have not received any instruction on this staple instrument of the percussion section. Teaching your percussionists to play timpani can be easily done with a small amount of time and a sequential approach. The end result will be a better-sounding band, and percussionists who are well rounded, focused, and musically sensitive.

    Although there are a handful of good timpani method books available, the goal of this article is to help you as a band director to encourage your percussionists to develop basic timpani technique and an appreciation of the instrument. Even without formal study of timpani, students can learn to confidently play the instrument and achieve a good sound. Here are some basic points that must be addressed by every band director.

  • Woodwind Performance: Scales

    Mike Lawson | October 17, 2013

    Shedding Scales

    Most musicians are familiar with the expression for practicing known as “wood shedding,” or “shedding” for short. When I was a student at the University of North Texas, the lower-level players were referred to as “lizards” because “they hadn’t shed their scales.” Scales are a part of music that many student instrumentalists treat as a hoop to jump through rather than a necessity for becoming a better player. They will only work on them because a teacher insists on it, “but they ain’t gonna like it!” Part of the resistance to embracing scales stems from the fact that every instrument has at least one key center that doesn’t lay well on the instrument. For example, the key of F# on the saxophone is difficult.  Another problem is that scales can be downright tedious, and that can lead to a student glossing over details such as making them rhythmically even.

  • Woodwind Performance: Practice Routines

    Mike Lawson | October 17, 2013

    Developing a sustainable practice routine

    No matter if they are students, educators, or professionals, today’s musicians need to strive for quality of practice. Developing a sustainable routine is really a lifelong process. While young people can function off desire and youthful animal energy, in the long run, the creative person needs to find a way to maintain a level of interest and vitality in the art. This takes work and intelligence.

    The concept of daily practice is an important one, as it is the best way to make any kind of musical progress. Daily effort keeps players finely attuned to continuous movement and the incremental accumulation of progress. Practicing sporadically causes you to lose the thread of your practice and is thus much less effective.

  • Beautiful Tone for the New Flutist

    Mike Lawson | May 15, 2013

    In preparation for a day of listening to young instrumentalists, a panel of judges were given guidelines on how to keep scoring consistent. One of the suggestions revealed much about the state of flute instruction: "When judging new flutists, be lenient with their scores on tone, because we all know that developing a clear tone takes years." This is simply not true. Furthermore, it is immensely easier to begin with great tone and flexibility than to attempt to reverse ingrained habits months or even years later. This typical expectation of a hollow and airy sound for the beginning flutist needs to be transformed into an expectation of a full and clear tone.

  • The Top Tips to Great Flute Playing

    Mike Lawson | May 15, 2013

    By Jennifer Cluff

    A flute clinician collects and distills the tips and tricks that instantly work to help young flutists reach a higher skill level. These tips may be particularly useful for those educators who do not have years of flute-playing experience. Display these great secrets from flute experts, with their "at a glance" illustrations, in the rehearsal room, or keep these tips on hand when your flute students have technical questions. Here are the top tips I've amassed from a quarter-century of flute teaching.

    Chair Set-Up for Flute Players

  • ¡Mariachi!

    Mike Lawson | March 8, 2013

    If you pull out a yearbook from the 1960s and look up the band section, what will you see? A marching band, a concert band, small groups, and maybe a stage band? Take out a yearbook from the 1980s and you will probably see the same thing, except the stage band has likely changed its name to "jazz band." What about your 2011-2012 yearbook? Still a marching band, a concert band, and jazz band? That's how the yearbooks look at Denison High School. The problem is that while the students have changed dramatically in Denison over the last 50 years, the instrumental music program has been made of the same three major components: concert band, marching band, jazz band. When the 2012-2013 yearbook comes out, something will have changed. There will be marching band, concert band, jazz band, and mariachi.

  • Percussion Lessons That Work

    Mike Lawson | November 16, 2011

    I am a musician who is a percussionist, plain and simple, and in that order. Yet, how I interact with my instrument and make my music is different than, say, the wind or string instrumentalist. Perhaps because percussionists strike to create sound, we, unfortunately, have many traits that do not encourage our musical sides. Those areas need to be addressed, as well as the technical issues that arise from how we generate our sound.

    I've done numerous clinics and masterclasses all over the country and what always amazes me is that the longer I'm in this field and sharing my knowledge with others, the more I find myself saying just about all of the same things! I'm sure this fact is true for many people, but for percussionists we have such a unique way of approaching our instruments that it almost breeds a bunch of problems, or "pitfalls" as I call them. And we need to address these at an early age or they can become habits that are very hard to break.

    Let's get one thing straight: these issues are not always our fault. It's just part of who we are and how we play; but they are our problems to deal with and address so we better be aware of them and have them on our immediate radar to avoid falling into the trap of keeping them going.

  • Woodwinds Continue Winning Over Would-be Students

    Mike Lawson | October 13, 2010

    Gaining a national perspective on trends in the woodwind world can be a daunting task. Fortunately, there are several prominent organizations dedicated to promoting the awareness and popularity of particular woodwind instruments, among them the North American Saxophone Alliance, International Double Reed Society, and National Flute Association. SBO recently reached out to leaders of these three national and international groups, who were happy to share their thoughts on the goings on in the reeded world from their uniquely informed vantage point.

    School Band & Orchestra: What's your impression of the popularity of woodwind instruments these days? Has it been affected by the increased access to music via iPods, the Internet, social networking sites, and so on?

    John Nichol: The saxophone continues to be very popular. I believe that music performance has been impacted in a very positive way by the quick and easy availability of digital downloads. Sigurd Rascher told us, "Music is not something you need, but it is something you want," and that is very true. When meeting with parents, I often list equipment that I think their children will need, and one of the things I list is an MP3 player or iPod and a budget of $7.00 per month to pay for downloads. People are listening, but their taste is often eclectic. We music teachers need to appreciate the various music our students listen to, but also guide them toward the music we want them to listen to.

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