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Commentary

  • Social Emotional Learning and the Future of Music Education

    Andrew E. Morrison | June 12, 2021Andrew E. Morrison, a performer and educator, invites SBO readers to explore all of the benefits that intentional SEL provides in the music classroom for creating both great musicians and even greater people and what that truly means. Read More...
  • October 2010

    Mike Lawson | October 13, 2010

    Midwest Clinic to Recognize Stars of Music Education

    The Midwest Clinic: An International Band and Orchestra Conference congratulates the recipients of its 2010 awards: Jim Catalano (Music Industry Award), L. Dean Angeles (Medal of Honor), Frank B. Wickes (Medal of Honor), and Paula A. Crider (Medal of Honor). The awards will be presented during the 64th Annual Midwest Clinic (December 15-18, 2010, McCormick Place West, Chicago, Illinois).

    The Midwest Clinic Music Industry Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding support of music education through their work in the music industry. The Midwest Clinic Medal of Honor is given to conductors, composers, educators, and others whose unique service to music education and continuing influence on the development and improvement of bands and orchestras deserve special recognition.

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  • Arranging Fundamentals: Reinventing Melodies

    Mike Lawson | August 5, 2009

    Some of the greatest experiences an arranger can have are the opportunities to lovingly "mess with" someone else's melody. I've found that it is also the one aspect of arranging which less experienced musicians are the most intimidated by. However, altering aspects of a song's melody shouldn't be looked upon as something that is taboo. Rather, the process can be thought of as actually paying tribute to what makes a work great in the first place.

    Selection and Approach
    When picking a melody I want to reformat, I always try to select a tune I feel a strong personal connection with. But even when working with lesser material, it is important to find something to love about the given tune and to deeply understand the song's structure and history. This will keep you inspired and informed, helping creative ideas come more easily.

    If the selected tune is one the average listener is generally familiar with, then the way an arranger treats it can act as a window into his or her creative thinking and personal style. Whenever possible, it helps to start by listening to a recording of the original version of the song, or at least a version done in the traditional manner. This will help make clear the tune's original intention as a composition. Assuming there exists plenty of freedom to alter various aspects of the song (melody, harmony, style, meter, et cetera), the most crucial choice the arranger first makes is with respect to the new overall "feel" of the composition. This decision should be allowed to evolve very generally, by choosing basic things like tempo, overall level of tension, and so on. Then, the arranger should pick a rhythmic style that best addresses those overall ideas. For example, if I want to turn a standard-sounding ballad into something "fast" and more "tense" in mood, I might select a samba for the groove, with a heavily syncopated treatment of the melody, perhaps adding some unusual re-harmonizations as well. Maybe I would also incorporate some kind of underlying rhythmic vamp figure, which could possibly enhance the feeling of tension. Not every change of groove or tempo is going to work for the arranger, personally. He or she must sit with the tune for a while and play around until something feels right. It's really a matter of taste.

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  • Thriving, Surviving or Else?

    Mike Lawson | July 15, 2008Of all the topics covered by SBO reader surveys throughout the year, none evoke such poignant commentary as the subject of survival in the world of music education. Read More...
  • The Path to Professional Drill Design

    Mike Lawson | October 22, 2006

    By Dan Ryder

    For those who wish to pursue drill designing as a profession, the cost of getting into the business is relatively low compared to most businesses, but is similar to becoming a professional writer or artist. Each has certain required materials.

    First, you must have the proper equipment and a pleasant environment without distractions. Always invest in the best and fastest equipment you can afford that will save you writing time. Computers purchased the last few years are very fast - 450 MHz or more - and large enough in memory to store your shows. A computer with a CD burner should be included.

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  • Secondary Instruments in Middle School Bands

    Mike Lawson | October 21, 2006

    Whether your band’s instrumentation is stable or the periodic loss of players causes gaps in part coverage, there may be occasions when you’ll want bandsmen who can play more than one instrument.

    Encouraging Secondary Instrument Players

    Developing secondary instrument players is important for personal exploration by students, to balance the instrumentation of your band, and to increase the variety of your programming.

    An instance where “The Middle School Philosophy,” including the concept that middle school is a time for exploration, seems to best fit band instruction is when we allow experienced players to try instruments other than their primary ones. The degree of student enthusiasm may surprise you when you announce, possibly once per quarter or semester, that your band is having an instrument exchange day for all who are interested. You can also do the exchange individually as interest surfaces throughout the school year. Let students try some of your spare instruments or have them try their friends’ horns (after cleaning mouthpieces). Give them enough instruction, augmented by assistance from other students, to master basic playing skills. Afterward, their curiosity satisfied, many will gladly return to the familiarity of their normal instruments, but others especially the really bright kids will discover that they can readily pick up a secondary instrument and play it reasonably well after a short time. For those who decide to follow through, suggest a piece or two from your band folder that will most likely ensure their success at the next concert.

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  • Interdisciplinary Teaching in Middle School Music

    Mike Lawson | May 1, 2003

    This article was reprinted with permission from Tempo, the official magazine of the New Jersey Music Educators Association.

    Within the past few years, the interest and need for curriculum integration seems to have intensified through the country for several reasons. New books, new concepts, new interpretations of what should be taught and what should be eliminated present the curriculum planner with a difficult task – especially at the middle school level. State mandates and new educational standards influence the curriculum. We need to rethink these as we select what various areas to study. There is a need to teach students how various subjects actively influence their lives and it is crucial that students understand the impact of each discipline perspective in a connected way.

    In regard to the general music classroom at the middle school level, one might say, “Well, I’ve always integrated music with the classroom teachers and other subject disciplines.” Perhaps that is true, but to what degree and how detailed was the integration implemented? A mere sampling of knowledge from each discipline – a bit of history, a bit of literature, a bit of the arts, and so forth – results in a “potpourri” type of curriculum, which lacks focus. Effective interdisciplinary programs should include carefully conceived design features, such as scope and sequence, behavioral indicators of attitude change, criteria that promote and encourage critical-thinking skills and solid methods of evaluation. In “Interdisciplinary Curriculum Design and Implementation,” Heide Hayes Jacobs defines interdisciplinary as “a knowledge view and curriculum approach that consciously applies methodology and language from more than one discipline to examine a central theme, issue, problem, topic or experience. Interdisciplinary does not stress delineation but linkages.”

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  • Mixing Music and Politics

    Mike Lawson | April 1, 2002

    Politics. Now there’s a word I’ve seen many of my colleagues try to ignore. Politics is nothing more than perception. Politics is how we are perceived by others. Many music teachers do everything in their power to not let politics control their programs. And yet, it is a part of what we do, whether we like it or not. When I hear music teachers complain about politics, it usually means they have lost control of their programs.

    Over the past several years, I have been called into schools on numerous occasions to help resolve issues from requiring participation in marching band in order to be in jazz band to whether it is okay to charge for concerts to cutting music programs. In most situations, I found the music directors were just not speaking at the same level as their administrators. I’ll have to admit that most administrators, unless they have been trained in music education, have little or no understanding of just what we are doing as music educators. Most administrators truly want to understand music education but have little or no time to observe and study the subject.

    When it comes time for your administration to evaluate your performance as a teacher, most of us get a positive report. In reality, most administrators admire what we are doing, but have very little knowledge of the subject to know whether things are going well or badly. Usually, administrators only get involved when something goes terribly wrong. Even then they often have no understanding of how dealing with music education should be handled.

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